35 journalists start from scratch after ‘Sendong’
Their story started on a quiet Friday night, supposedly the end of another week at work and the start of a much-awaited weekend with loved ones, just nine days before Christmas Day. The place is northern Mindanao.
Leonardo Vicente “Cong” Corrales sat in front of a borrowed computer to write what had just happened. Tropical Storm “Sendong” ripped through Misamis Oriental and other parts of northern Mindanao.
As a provincial correspondent for various local and foreign media agencies, Cong had to report on the devastation. The storm had left hundreds dead, homeless and missing. The morgues were overflowing. The streets were flooded. Cadavers were floating along with heaps of trash. Crumbs of homes were all over.
But after three hours, the only words that came out were: “Cagayan de Oro City. By Cong Corrales, correspondent.”
Cries of pain
Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011. A few hours before, Cong and his family rushed to the roof of their wooden house to escape the flash flood unleashed by the surging storm.
They waited for the water to subside. In the darkness, they could hear the cries of pain. People were shouting the names of missing loved ones. The screams for help went on for hours, struggling to be heard amid the sound of the howling wind.
Cong’s house, the second floor of a two-story building, is along Burgos Street, Barangay La Consolacion, one of the hardest hit areas in the province.
The morning after the flood, everything in Cong’s home was covered with thick mud. The stench of garbage filled the air.
But Cong did not have enough time to clean the trash. He had a story to write. “But I did not know where to start,” Corrales said.
Cong is one of at least 35 journalists from Cagayan de Oro and Iligan affected by the storm. Two Iligan-based journalists died while others lost everything.
Television correspondent Merlyn Manos, a single mother to two children, was already asleep when the floods came.
She was in deep slumber, exhausted from the day’s work. She was out all day doing a feature about the Christmas Village in the center of town.
Her son roused her from sleep. “The house is flooded!” he said in a shaking voice. Their house is a small rented space in Green Village, Hinaplanon, Iligan City.
Merlyn had no time to pack. They rushed up to the roof. They could not open the door, as the waters were already high. The only way out was through a hole for an air conditioning unit.
“I felt that we were going to die,” she said.
From above, they could hear the cries of mercy—loud, shrieking screams for help from mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sons and daughters.
“We could not do anything. We were helpless up there,” she said. As Sendong battered their street, the shouts grew louder.
They went back to the house when the waters subsided. It was then that Merlyn realized that she had lost everything.
“When I went to my room, I saw my laptop floating,” Merlyn said.
But by 12 noon, Merlyn had to file a story. Her desk had called. She had to report something. Amidst the chaos, she managed to do a phone patch—a live report via telephone.
Merlyn ended up reporting her own story. At that time, she did not imagine how she would be able to work again without her laptop and camera.
Jigger Jerusalem, a correspondent of a broadsheet in Cagayan de Oro, also lost his laptop in the flood and everything else in the rented room where he stays.
“Now, I have to start from scratch again. I have to buy new things and tools. I need a digital camera and a laptop,” said Jigger.
But Jigger can’t bring himself to write just yet. The trauma is still very fresh. At night, he can still see in his inner mind’s eye the flood of mud that crashed in his room. He can still hear the wind and the screams from little voices, the cries for help; the sounds of panic, desperation and pain.
“I promise I will write again when the time comes when I can again function as a working journalist,” Jigger said.
On January 4, Jigger’s by-line appeared again on the front page of his paper. He wrote about the opening of classes in Cagayan de Oro.
She works as a correspondent for a local daily in Iligan. When the floods came, Bonita Ermac secured her son and her 80-year-old mother.
“From our room, we went down to the kitchen. The waters were already high. We had to hold on to wooden bars in the ceiling. My 80-year-old mother was with us. She was hospitalized after because of pneumonia.
After that, Bonita could not think of writing again just yet.
“I lost all my things,” she said.
Leni Kundiman lost her husband, Michael, and her home. Michael was a radio reporter and news anchor and the last time Leni heard his voice was at the height of Sendong’s wrath.
They held on to a rope just outside their house in Bayug Island in Iligan City but a shanty that had been washed away by the flood hit Michael. His voice trailed off and was never seen again since that night.
Bayug Island had been wiped out. What used to be a village where hundreds of families lived and survived the daily fare is now a barren lifeless land. What remains are makeshift wooden altars with candles and flowers for the dead.
Editor’s Note: The interviews in this story were conducted during a trip to distribute cash and material assistance donated by journalists and media groups for colleagues in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan devastated by Sendong. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, together with other groups, organized the donation drive and relief distribution that started on Christmas Day. Those who wish to help the affected journalists may call the NUJP office in Quezon City at (02) 3767330.
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