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SMALL TOWN, BIG HERO

Iloilo teacher honored for sacrificing life during ‘Yolanda’

CONCEPCION, Iloilo, Philippines — The concrete bust bearing the likeness of Rogelio P. Lardera stands out in the plaza here.

It was built to honor Lardera, a 52-year-old teacher at Concepcion Central School, who died during rescue operations on Nov. 8, 2013, when Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) made its fifth landfall in Concepcion town in northern Iloilo.

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Lardera, who was trained in search and rescue operations, was killed after a tree branch snapped and threw him off a truck while he and his fellow rescuers were heading back to the school that was turned into an evacuation center.

For risking his life to save others, he was officially declared a hero by the municipal government, through Ordinance No. 07, Series of 2014.

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“He was my friend,” said Nonny Villarias, a fellow responder and village chief of Bacjawan Sur.

Villarias, 41, bears a scar on his forehead from the same tree branch that ended Lardera’s life on that tragic day.

Renewed strength

But six years after Lardera’s heroism, Concepcion is unsure of what exactly to do with this piece of history: Should townsfolk forget the wounds of the catastrophe or remember the stories of selflessness and bravery?

Villarias is one of those who rose renewed and strengthened from the devastation wrought by Yolanda.

A group of residents, he said, held a gathering to mark the anniversary of Yolanda and remember its victims.

Last year, each house at Bacjawan Sur Relocation Site 1 lit a candle and offered prayers for the victims of the typhoon.

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Pastor Inocencio Datu Jr. of Baliguian Christian Community Church, a Baptist congregation, would cry every time he remembered that fateful day.

“We held on to prayers. The water had already filled the plaza and it was high tide during that time. People were scared, so we prayed. The children were crying so we brought them to high ground at the health center,” Datu said in Hiligaynon.

What came after, he said, was the shortage of food and water, but they were blessed enough to have an abundance of coconut water.

“The children were traumatized,” Datu said. “I know one kid who cries whenever the wind blows hard and would hide behind her parents even up to now.” He was referring to a girl, then 6 years old, who was trapped with him in the health center.

Forgetting tragedy

Grateful to have survived the storm, the pastor and his congregation held a religious service on Friday for survivors and those who died in the supertyphoon.

But not everyone in Concepcion would want to remember the tragedy.

The supertyphoon killed 13 people and affected 39,617 people or 8,612 families in Concepcion, a third-class municipality (annual income: not more than P45 million).

Considered one of the strongest typhoons to hit land, Yolanda wreaked havoc mostly in the Visayas, leaving 6,300 dead, 28,688 injured and 1,062 missing from various regions.

Damage to property and public infrastructure reached more than P89 billion, according to a report by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Center.

“People do not talk about it here. We do not have a gathering or commemoration for Yolanda as far as I know,” said Angelo Calinao, 41, a resident of Bacjawan Norte Relocation Site 2.

Calinao used to be a fisherman until he was moved to Relocation Site 2, which forced him to work as a tricycle driver.

He witnessed how his boat and fishing equipment were taken by the sea along with his life as a fisherman.

Broken promises

Marjo Lardera, 33, was not expecting anything in the morning of Nov. 8. He went on with his daily routine until he was invited to a gathering to honor his brother, Rogelio, as the local government marked Yolanda’s sixth anniversary. The event was organized by the local government under Mayor Raul Banias in cooperation with the Department of Education.

Marjo, the youngest of 10 siblings, said flowers were offered at the foot of his brother’s bust on Friday. Present were Lardera’s relatives and fellow teachers at Concepcion Central School.

“I’m happy that people did not forget,” Marjo said.

But he appealed to local officials to correct the middle name inscribed on his brother’s bust, noting that it should be Posadas, not Panes.

Marjo was born without arms but he never failed to reach out a hand to his brother when he was alive.

But Lardera’s story is punctuated by unfulfilled promises and disappointments for his family.

“They said they will make Nov. 8 as a municipal holiday and add his name in textbooks for the subject Araling Panlipunan. The holiday didn’t happen and I doubt his name is in these textbooks,” Marjo said.

Lardera’s widow, Leonora Tabares-Lardera, 54, a mother of four, held back tears and said: “We have accepted it. We will commemorate him on our own. Kitaay na lang kami sa damgo (We will see each other in our dreams).”

The people of Concepcion can choose to forget but Lardera’s bust at the plaza remains a testimony to the horrors of Nov. 8, 2013.

And the inscription on Lardera’s bust will remind people of the story of their survival and resilience in the face of Yolanda: “A hero’s heart is stronger than the strongest storm.”

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TAGS: Haiyan, Iloilo teacher, Rogelio P. Lardera, Supertyhoon Yolanda
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