Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. In fact, there are Santa Clauses.
They arrived immediately after Typhoon “Pablo” hit Mindanao. Most of them are soldiers from the 10th Infantry Division, who, along with rescue workers, were among the first to come, braving floods, mud and fallen trees to save lives in the provinces of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental.
For the soldiers, there was no need to know who had been naughty or nice, even if the village of Andap, which was hardest-hit in New Bataan town in Compostela Valley, is known to be influenced by the communist New People’s Army.
Then came the volunteers who distributed relief goods for the thousands of homeless residents in New Bataan. Among them were boxing champ and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao and actress and World Food Programme Ambassador of Goodwill KC Concepcion.
Neighboring cities and provinces also sent help—truckloads of food stuff, bottled water, medicines and tents.
Medical teams, both government and private, also arrived to check up the survivors.
The death toll from Pablo’s sweep on Dec. 4 has reached 1,067, with another 800 missing, according to civil defense officials. More than 60,000 people have been left homeless.
In Tagum City, nurses, social workers and other volunteers have been helping the local government in taking care of evacuees.
The medical and social workers are working 24/7 to provide physical, social and emotional care to the victims as Tagum opened its doors to “adopt” the displaced residents of New Bataan, Compostela and Monkayo towns.
“We provide them with medical and other services to help them cope,” Nora Lupiba, chief of the city social welfare and development office, said.
Mayor Rey Uy has allotted more than P6 million for food and nonfood assistance to 2,000 evacuees from the three towns devastated by the Dec. 4 tragedy.
“It’s our way of reaching out to them,” Uy said.
Nurse Dianne Grace Pama said taking care of the evacuees was the least she could do at this time of great calamity.
Pama and three other health professionals from the Department of Health’s RN HEALS program are also acting as caregivers, changing underclothes of female evacuees and attending to the injured.
One of the victims is a teenage Ata-Manobo girl from Compostela town. The girl was in a state of shock when she arrived by bus with other evacuees on Dec. 8. She could not even recall her identity and family.
“She was found and rescued by other residents during the flooding. She had many injuries that had to be treated,” said Dr. Arnel Florendo of the city health office.
One of the nurses was combing the girl’s hair while another was feeding her when the Philippine Daily Inquirer visited the Rotary Park gym in Tagum on Sunday.
Employees of the city government also pitched in to help, with at least 100 of them visiting New Bataan on Thursday and distributing 10,000 bread packs to victims at the town’s gymnasium in Cabinuangan village.
Uy said the city government provided flour and other ingredients for the bakeries in the city to make bread.
In Davao Oriental, private groups like Help Cateel and Samahan sa Kinablangan (a village in Baganga town), continue with their relief missions— transporting truckloads of relief good from Davao City.
At the provincial capitol in Mati City, residents, mostly students, repack relief goods that are sent to Cateel, Boston and Baganga onboard a Philippine Navy vessel.
Medical teams, like the Tsu Chi Foundation from Zamboanga City and Operation Smile from Koronadal City, also came—attending to injuries of the survivors.
The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao likewise sent relief goods and medical teams.
The Mati City government dispatched a 20-member team to start a soup kitchen in Baganga—cooking arroz caldo and roaming around town to feed residents.
Marikit Quiñones, a member of the soup kitchen team, was surprised to see how disciplined the people of Baganga were even if they were starving.
“I expected it to be a ‘survival of the fittest’ kind of thing, but residents there made sure children were first in line when we gave out arroz caldo,” Quiñones said.
She added that children even volunteered to wash the pots.
More “Santas” are expected to come during the holidays.
Mayor Joselito Piñol of Mlang, North Cotabato, said a 70-member team from the municipal office will celebrate Christmas Day with the victims in Compostela Valley.
“This will be our most meaningful Christmas, sharing our blessings with the victims of calamity in Compostela Valley,” Piñol told the Inquirer yesterday.
“We decided to cancel all Christmas parties of various line agencies,” he said. “Instead, the funds to be used for the parties were all set aside for the flood victims.”
“To make it more meaningful, we all agreed to conduct relief operations from Dec. 24 to 26, meaning we will be celebrating Christmas with the calamity victims,” he said.
The Mlang team will include several medical workers.
“We may not be celebrating this Christmas with our respective families but surely we can make the affected families happy with our presence and our presents,” Piñol said.