Latest Stories

Amid devastation, Christmas is remote to typhoon survivors in Mindanao



NEW BATAAN, Compostela Valley, Philippines – In the predominantly Catholic Philippines, the first signs of Christmas appear months before the actual event:  shops playing Christmas carols on their audio loops, brightly decorated trees, neon Santas and reindeers are colorfully displayed outside shops and plazas. It is hard to get away from the holiday over-load.

But in this province, there were no obvious signs that one of the most important festive and religious dates in the country’s calendar, was just days away.

Instead, the scenery was one of utter devastation. Kilometers of crushed banana plantations; downed coconut trees; wrecked houses and public buildings. The damage wrought by typhoon Pablo (International code name: Bopha) has been immense. (As of December 21, the latest death count stood at 1,050 with more than 800 people still listed as missing.)

Philippine authorities estimate that agricultural damage alone stands at P9.7 billion.

Families here have been left dazed and traumatized, trying to make sense of it all. Tens of thousands are still sheltering in temporary evacuation centers. Their biggest immediate problem is getting enough food and water; working out how to repair or build anew their damaged homes; and figuring out a worrying and more challenging problem:  how they’re going to get through not just the next few days and weeks, but the coming months and years.

What are they going to do when the emergency response mounted by local and international aid agencies winds down? How are they going to be able to rebuild their lives, with no immediate prospect of getting work?

The most devastated areas had never before experienced a typhoon, despite the fact that the Philippines often experienced 20 typhoons every year.

It was one reason that so many crop plantations have been established in this part of the country, as it was considered to be safe from violent winds and storms that often hit other parts of the Philippines.

“My crops were all destroyed. It will take six years for the coconut plantations to recover,” said 80-year-old farmer Epifanio Apsay Sr., who has been living at an evacuation center here since Pablo lashed into the province.

“We’re very worried about the future. The support we are getting now won’t last long. It will take us years to recover; we don’t have anything. We need support from anyone who can support us, especially to find work,” he said.

International aid agencies such as Oxfam and its four humanitarian partners in the Philippines, who work under the umbrella organization Humanitarian Response Consortium, had responded to the immediate needs of the victims: clean, safe drinking water; temporary latrines in the overcrowded evacuation centers, and spreading awareness about hygiene, as well as handing out shelter, hygiene and water kits.

Families living in evacuation centers in some areas where Oxfam and its partners are working have also received cash grants of P1,500 pesos, allowing them to buy some basic daily necessities over the next few days.

“With this money, I’ll buy some sheets for roofing, some housing materials, medicines and clothes for the children. I’m very happy to get this money,” Marites Oyo, 38, and a mother of five, said.

“We were flooded and our house was totally destroyed. There is nothing left. Farmland was devastated. We work as day laborers and don’t have land of our own. Finding work will be hard,” she added.

Surrounded by families with small bundles of possessions – anything they managed to grab while running – in an open sports stadium, Marites said celebrating Christmas was far from her mind.

“After the typhoon, it doesn’t seem proper to celebrate Christmas. This time we will pray that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” she said.

(Editor’s Note: Evacuees in this town managed to celebrate Noche Buena though through food packs earlier distributed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Another man sheltering in the same center, 45-year-old Carmelito Gapo, a father of four, snorted when asked the same question.

He used to work as a day laborer on the banana plantations.

“There is no point in celebrating. We have no work and there will be no immediate work in the future. Our Christmas ‘bonus’ was to receive the typhoon,” he said with sarcasm.

But, in a sign of just how religious many were here, he conceded: “Yes, I still go to church to pray. Despite everything, we’re still grateful that we are alive.”

“My children are very understanding. They realize it won’t be Christmas as usual. I’ve explained things to them. In the past, I provided for their needs, but this year, we have nothing.  It’s the worst Christmas we faced,” Gapo said.

Others sheltering in the stadium said the same thing.

“We have no money, so the only thing we can do is to pray. It was the hardest ever Christmas for us and New Year will also be very difficult,” 71-year old Gaubiosa Cordovez, said.

Mother of two, Corazon Pedrico, who lost her home and a small store, said she had other things to worry about.

“I don’t know how we will get by now in the future. I lost the store; and I worry how to look after the children. How can they go to school? They don’t have any school uniforms. We lost everything,” she said.

(Caroline Gluck is Oxfam’s roving humanitarian press officer based in Cambodia and a former BBC correspondent. She recently visited Compostela Valley.)

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

More Philippine Weather News

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: agriculture losses , Bopha , Calamity , Christmas holiday , cyclones , Disasters , floods , landslides , News , Pablo , property losses , Rehabilitation , relief , rescue , typhoons , Weather

Copyright © 2014, , .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  2. ‘Mom, I love you,’ says text from student on sinking ferry
  3. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  4. Massive infra spending set
  5. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  6. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  7. Passengers denied chance to escape sinking South Korea ferry
  8. South Korea president shouted down by distraught parents
  9. Two Popes who would be saints
  10. Lacson’s wife loses diamond earring to thieves but recovers jewelry quickly with police arrest
  1. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  2. Suspect in Vhong Navarro mauling tries to leave PH
  3. Fr. Suarez says last Mass on Easter before returning donated land to San Miguel
  4. MH370 co-pilot made mid-flight phone call – report
  5. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  6. I’ll follow my conscience on Estrada, says JV Ejercito
  7. ‘Wife of Jesus’ theory papyrus not fake – Harvard study
  8. Gay college instructor arrested for oral sex with student
  9. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  10. Palace: We can’t blame increase in population on Vitangcol
  1. KL confirms Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 ended in Indian Ocean
  2. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  3. Pork payoffs to newscasters Erwin Tulfo, Del Prado, others bared
  4. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  5. Model Helena Belmonte wished ‘to slash her wrist and hope to die’
  6. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  7. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  8. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  9. Police rule out foul play in Helena Belmonte’s death as boyfriend is ‘traumatized’
  10. Cudia, dismissed for lying, got 99% in conduct


  • 12 dead, 96 injured in Holy Week accidents–NDRRMC
  • Filipino devotees re-enact crucifixion of Christ
  • Rouhani talks peace, outreach at army parade
  • Rains, thunderstorms on Good Friday
  • Carbon monoxide leak suffocates 20 in Catbalogan City
  • Sports

  • Ryu pitches Dodgers past Giants
  • Alonso sets the pace in Chinese GP practice
  • Heat seek Three-peat but Spurs, Pacers top seeds
  • Can Spurs get back at Heat? Can they survive West?
  • Hopkins, 49, seeks win for the ageless
  • Lifestyle

  • Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87
  • Ford Mustang turns 50 atop Empire State Building
  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • Entertainment

  • ‘X-men’ filmmaker slams ‘fabricated’ sex attack claims
  • Singer Chris Brown’s bodyguard on trial in DC
  • Whoopi Goldberg debuts as marijuana columnist
  • ‘X-men’ director accused of sex assault on teen boy
  • Cannes film festival launches race for 2014 Palme d’Or
  • Business

  • Italy sells luxury state cars on eBay
  • Asian shares mostly up in quiet trade
  • Dollar up in Asia on US jobs data, Ukraine deal
  • Barbie doll has a problem
  • Oil prices mixed ahead of long Easter weekend
  • Technology

  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Filipinos #PrayForSouthKorea
  • Taylor Swift tries video blogging, crashes into fan’s bridal shower
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • WHO warns vs spread of MERS-Cov, urges vigilance in taking precautions
  • Last call for nominations to ’14 Presidential Awards
  • San Francisco business coalition slams proposed tax on sugary drinks
  • A ‘time-travel’ production of ‘Les Miserable’ at Stanford
  • Filipina Maryknoll sister honored for years of service
  • Marketplace