Christmas among the ruins
BAGANGA, Davao Oriental—Dominga Daipan’s only wish this Christmas is to serve pansit (noodles) as noche buena to her seven children.
The problem is she doesn’t have this special Filipino dish for Tuesday’s special occasion.
The 47-year-old Daipan is among families living in makeshift houses in the coastal village of Ban-ao, which was hit by Typhoon “Pablo” on Dec. 4.
“We have nothing left after Pablo pummeled our village. We know we are poor and we have suffered numerous crises in our lives, but this will really be a different Christmas. We do not even have rice on our table. I hope I can cook pansit for my children for noche buena,” Daipan said.
“In previous Christmas celebrations, we usually serve pansit, buko (coconut) salad and grilled pork. We also do videoke and visit our friends and relatives,” Daipan narrated.
“But we are trying really hard not to allow this disaster to spoil our celebration of the birth of Christ,” she added.
With their local chapel destroyed, they have been holding their “Simbang Gabi” on a tennis court.
“Like during the time when baby Jesus was born where He gave hope to mankind, the celebration of Christmas this year is also a symbol of hope for us that we can rebuild our lives and regain our livelihoods again,” Daipan said.
Daipan’s neighbor, Onelia Mandaue, said their close-knit community of 23 families in what used to be a coconut farm would spend Christmas Eve together.
“We only have canned sardines and NFA (National Food Authority) rice but we do not care. What is important is that we were able to survive Pablo. We should be really thankful that we are breathing right now,” the 49-year old Mandaue said.
“To express our gratitude, we will gather and pray together on Christmas Day,” Mandaue said.
Aside from celebrating life, which they say is their “second chance,” they would include in their prayers their appeal for support so that they may quickly bounce back from the disaster that they are presently fighting.
“We would be really happy if we will be able to eat fresh food again. And for our long-term needs, we are praying really hard for livelihood assistance including funds and materials so that we can start fishing and farming again,” Mandaue said.
She said that they could not forever rely on relief goods and that they wanted to be self-reliant again.
For Jason Gonzales, 18, the disaster is just a “passing experience” that should be faced with an unwavering faith and hard work.
“We can overcome this. We only need patience and effort,” he said.
Fixing images of Jesus and Mother Mary, which were the only items left in their chapel, Gonzales appealed for help to rebuild the church.
“This chapel is our symbol of hope and unity. That is why I am also urging the people in my town to strengthen our unity so that we will stand firm together,” he said.
No reason not to celebrate
Gonzales, who survived Pablo, along with his eight siblings, mother and stepfather, said he thought they would all die when the typhoon slammed across the region, leaving more than 1,000 people dead and another 800 missing.
Tens of thousands are still in evacuation centers in the aftermath of the first typhoon to hit the region in memory.
“I think this is one of the greatest lessons I have learned from Pablo and Christmas—that we should always be willing to help,” Gonzales said.
He added that with or without food they would still try hard to make Christmas a happy day.
“Even if we will not be able to serve good food for noche buena, there is no reason for us not to celebrate the birth of Christ,” Gonzales said.
Residents of typhoon-hit areas, however, continue to leave their homes.
Olan Emboscado, who initiated the Help Cateel relief drive, brought his family to Davao City from his hometown Cateel.
“This will be our saddest Christmas. Not only for me or for my family, but I guess for my townmates,” Emboscado said.
“It’s been raining hard there and most of them are sleeping wet,” he said.
Emboscado said more residents of Cateel were leaving for fear that another typhoon would again hit them.
“We all can’t feel Christmas now but if there is one thing to celebrate, that is the second life of our loved ones there. With such a devastation, it’s still a miracle that they survived, and I think it is something to celebrate,” he said.
In New Bataan, Compostela Valley, Emiliano Bastial, 42, a farmer and occasional pedicab driver, will be spending Christmas with some 2,000 evacuees at the grandstand fronting Cabinuangan Elementary School in Cabinuangan village.
Bastial said Christmas seemed a “faint ring of a child’s bell in the past.”
“There are moments when I think that it’s Christmas even if I do not have a house,” the father of four said as he sat in the bleachers, watching other evacuees queuing for relief goods being distributed by a Japanese company.
The storm’s fury sent rampaging waters cascading down from the mountains of Andap, some six kilometers away, to a community in Barangay Poblacion where Bastial’s house once stood.
“We’ve lived for several years in that house. Now it’s gone,” he said.
Stench of death
A gloomy Christmas Eve greeted New Bataan on Monday. Streets were muddy and rain the night before flooded a part of the national highway. Ominous rain clouds blocked the hills surrounding the town from view.
The heavy stench of death, not Christmas, was in the air, as if to remind rescuers the exact number of those who died could never be known.
But still people were trying to go back to their normal lives, said pedicab driver Rey Teliwik, 46. He said stores and shops were starting to open again.
“We do not have a problem with food as many have arrived. The problem is what future do we have after this,” he said.
Even as stalls selling fish, meat and fruits have sprouted at the town center, anyone could notice the dearth of Yuletide-related decorations.
No Christmas lanterns, no buntings. Not even signs on colorful paper proclaiming a Merry Christmas.
“Maybe the vendors here think that wouldn’t sell. They might have thought the mood now here is different,” said Rhodora Garcia, 60, at Purok 7, one of the worst-hit areas at Poblacion. She and eight other family members have been staying at the municipal gym the past 20 days.
“We still celebrate Christmas here. We are even hoping and expecting another group of donors would bring us presents for noche buena. It’s just that we want to remember it without much merriment,” Garcia said.