Oplan Hatid’s captain proves ‘Filipinos worth driving for’
Most people have a synonym for someone who fulfills their wishes for the holidays: Santa.
But for some of the survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” who evacuated to Metro Manila, that person might as well be “Kapitan.”
Jaworski Garcia earned that moniker for making sure the airlifted families who had just arrived from Tacloban City would safely reach their final destinations in the metropolis. He was one of the volunteers of “Oplan Hatid,” the free transport service offered by Good Samaritans at Villamor Airbase in Pasay City.
At the height of the evacuations, Garcia brought 13 families to various areas in Metro Manila and nearby provinces in a single day.
“I volunteered for Oplan Hatid because I felt that it is my responsibility and obligation to help other Filipinos who were affected by the disaster,” Garcia told the Inquirer in a recent interview.
Driving his sport utility vehicle, the 35-year-old motoring enthusiast joined thousands of volunteers on the second day of Oplan Hatid. “I learned about it through the Instagram account of James Deakin who I really look up to because of his motoring articles so I sent him a message and asked about the details of Oplan Hatid,” he said.
On his first day as a volunteer, Garcia found himself on the road for 25 hours straight, stopping only to get four hours of sleep before going back on duty.
“I was physically exhausted that day, I would not deny that. But a simple ‘thank you’ from the survivors motivated me to go back to Villamor and pick up more survivors,” he added.
Raised in Manila’s Tondo district, Garcia managed to finish his accounting course at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila despite financial constraints. The family’s sole breadwinner back then was his older brother, a maintenance worker.
“This is my way of giving back to the community and paying it forward because life has been really good to me,” said Garcia, now a finance officer in a mining and geothermal company.
He said he needed only three things to be of service to Yolanda survivors: his time, his Montero and his own gasoline money. “One survivor even called me her real-life superhero.”
His tireless spirit later made him a “Kapitan” in the eyes of Deakin and other Oplan Hatid volunteers.
As of December, Garcia had served as a driver for 43 families, according to the team. There was a time, he said, when he packed 10 family members into his vehicle for a journey that took them to faraway Tiaong in Quezon province.
“Their survival stories are really moving. There was this family I drove to Tondo who cried nonstop from Villamor until we reached the destination,” he said. Garcia had to hold back his own tears during these trips to make the evacuees feel that they could draw strength from him.
Also among his passengers was a mother and her 9-day-old baby. The woman gave birth in an ambulance in devastated Tacloban City, walked with her newborn for three days to reach the airport and finally got on a C-130 military plane bound for Villamor.
Their story remained seared into Garcia’s memory to this day. “We had to bring the two to a hospital first to have them checked before bringing them to their relatives in Cavite province.”
The baby was later named Marc Yolan to mark the extraordinary circumstances of his birth. The baby is scheduled to be baptized next week and some Oplan Hatid volunteers will be standing as godparents.
The people behind Oplan Hatid later turned the project into Oplan Trabaho, a job placement initiative that has so far benefited more than 700 survivors in Metro Manila and other provinces. A third phase, “Oplan Kabataan,” is already being planned for next year, this time to provide school chairs and other supplies to campuses destroyed in Tacloban and other areas in the Visayas.
“All of us volunteers barely knew each other before the typhoon but because we shared a common goal, we now feel like we’ve known each other for a very long time,” according to Kapitan.
Days before Christmas, Garcia and his group made one final “hatid,” albeit on a more somber note. Since commercial flights were fully booked and there were no more C-130s flying to Tacloban, the group traveled 1,800 kilometers by land to Sta. Rita, Samar province, to transport the remains of Alro Aguipo, a 6-year-old who survived the storm but died later in Manila due to a brain tumor.
It was the wish of Aquipo’s family to have the boy back in his hometown and bury him before Christmas. Before the road trip to Samar, Oplan Hatid still managed to get donations to cover the cost of fuel and set aside an amount for Aguipo’s family.
Garcia said Oplan Hatid made him realize there were so many “faceless and selfless” Filipino heroes out there. It taught him that Filipino solidarity in such trying times could be achieved overnight—and that “miracles do happen.”
Giving his own twist to a Ninoy Aquino quote, Kapitan summed up his experience with a smile: “The Filipinos are worth driving for.”