A decade later, ‘moving on’ still hard for Yolanda survivors
(First of two parts)
TACLOBAN CITY, Leyte, Philippines — Tropiano Esperas, an overseas Filipino worker, had just returned from Saudi Arabia to spend time with his family at Barangay 88 in San Jose District, Tacloban City, a day before a supertyphoon was forecast to hit Leyte province on Nov. 8, 2013.
The next day, the wrath of “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) turned his village into a wasteland as half of the more than 2,200 lives claimed by the supertyphoon in the city were from Barangay 88. It was later considered ground zero of the calamity, among the dead were members of Esperas’ family.
Barangay 88 faces the bays of Cancabato and San Pedro that unleashed at least a 6-meter (20-foot) wall of water into the village, destroying everything on its path.
“It was so devastating. I was not only able to return to Saudi Arabia but I also lost my brother, an aunt and her two children due to Yolanda,” Esperas told the Inquirer in a recent interview.While the bodies of his aunt Ecay and her children, Erlan and Elon, were found four days after the monster typhoon struck, his brother Salvador remained missing and was presumed dead.
Esperas helped in recovering the bodies in his village but none of the more than 150 remains he found belonged to Salvador.
He just presumed that Salvador was one of the 2,200 unidentified fatalities buried in a mass grave in Barangay Basper.
Grateful to be alive
“It has been 10 years. The pain is still there, especially every time the anniversary comes. But I have to move on; we have to move on,” said Esperas, now age 50 and working as a volunteer at a mangrove park in San Jose District.
Moving on appears to be the sentiment of residents in Barangay 88, said Emelita Montalban, village chair during Yolanda’s onslaught.
“We cannot forget Yolanda but I think we have to move on and just be grateful that we have survived,” she said.
Although lives were lost, Montalban said they also considered Yolanda, the world’s strongest typhoon on record to hit inland, a “blessing in disguise” because it gave them the opportunity to own decent homes.
“Now we not only own a house but a shelter against typhoon. For us, this is something that we must be grateful for,” Montalban said.
Yolanda, packing winds of at least 235 kilometers per hour, hit on Nov. 8, 2013, leaving unimaginable destruction as it swept through the Visayas. At least 6,340 people were killed and 1,800 remained missing—from Eastern Samar to Leyte in Eastern Visayas, to northern Cebu in Central Visayas, and all the way to Panay Island (Iloilo, Aklan, Capiz and Antique) in Western Visayas.
According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the typhoon left P95.4 billion in infrastructure, property and agriculture losses in the three Visayan regions.
At least 16,081 housing units in 17 resettlement sites, developed in 11 adjoining barangays in the northern part of Tacloban, have been put up by the National Housing Authority (NHA) and different nongovernmental and private organizations.
In Cebu, the NHA spent P6.4 billion to build 11,637 housing units for victims of Yolanda in the northern part of the province.
But not all of these resettlement sites are fully occupied to date.
The 3,366 houses that were built by private groups in Tacloban had an occupancy rate of only 88.13 percent, or with almost 400 houses unoccupied, records from the City Housing and Development Office showed.
The 12,715 houses built by the NHA had an occupancy rate of 62.51 percent (4,766 units unoccupied), with several of these units without door knobs, have broken jalousies or damaged ceilings, among others.
In Cebu, at least 10,504 of 11,637 houses have been occupied, said Rizalino Cabahug, manager of NHA Central Visayas.
These units were not fully occupied because the relocation sites were far from schools and workplaces, he said.
In Tacloban, for instance, the resettlement enclaves are located 14 km from the city center because these are the only available sites that are safe and away from any body of water.
The family of Annacel Garido, 30, was one of the 900 families in Barangay 88 who chose not to live at their designated resettlement area, the North Hill Arbours in Barangay 106 (Sto. Niño).
She said they decided not to live in the unit awarded to her family in North Hill because it would be too costly for them to travel daily to the city center, where her father worked as a fisherman and her two younger siblings were studying.
The bus fare from North Hill costs at least P100 for each commuter daily, an amount that a small fisherman could barely afford.
But Garido said they stay in their housing unit every weekend to prevent the city government from repossessing it.
Still shelter from storm
Under the deed of conveyance, beneficiaries should physically occupy their units or risk losing these houses. Over 100 beneficiaries have forfeited their units for not actually occupying them.
Garido said they also sought shelter in their housing unit during impending typhoon or heavy rains.
Tedence Jopson, assistant chief of the City Housing and Development Office, said basic amenities like water and electricity have been put in place in the resettlement sites.
Jopson said the local government had planned to put up an economic zone in the northern section of the city to generate employment for people now living there. He said the skills and livelihood training earlier given to the housing beneficiaries had failed since many were not inclined to start and sustain small businesses.
“There are now several business outlets like gasoline stations, convenience stores operating 24/7, among others,” he added.
But Cebu’s case is different.
The NHA’s Cabahug admitted that some beneficiaries raised concerns over the absence of permanent water supply in the resettlement sites in the mainland towns of San Remigio and Daanbantayan, and the municipalities on Bantayan Island—Bantayan, Madridejos and Sta. Fe.
At present, the housing units in these resettlement enclaves have temporary water supply provided by local governments but in limited volume. The Local Water Utilities Administration is still working on providing permanent water supply to these areas.Unlike in Tacloban where there are at least 40 buses and passenger jeepneys plying the route from the city center to the resettlement sites, such is not the case in northern Cebu.
Cabahug said the relocated beneficiaries had to use “habal-habal” (motorcycle for hire), spending more than the set minimum fare, in the absence of regular public utility vehicles.
He appealed to local governments in these areas to find ways to help the beneficiaries by providing public transportation to and from the housing sites.
Cabahug also asked the beneficiaries to take care of the houses awarded to them.
“These houses are not only structures. These are homes you can call your own. By taking care of these houses, you not only honor the efforts of the NHA and other stakeholders to rebuild your houses and restore your life but also ensure a stable future for your loved ones,” he added.
Tacloban City tourism officer Ma. Lourdes Tabao said it was time to get past the “grieving phase” and move on into “celebratory tone.”
“It has been 10 years now. What we will be observing is a thanksgiving, especially to those who extended assistance to us like various organizations which help us recover fast from devastation,” said Tabao, who is involved in this year’s commemoration rites.
“This is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to them. Ten years later, this year is a celebration of a new lease on life for all of us, especially coming from the [COVID-19] pandemic that we all have experienced,” Tabao said.