Leyte town turns disaster into blessing
It is hard to believe that the clean streets of Javier town, Leyte province, were once strewn with debris left by super typhoon “Yolanda” in November last year.
The only reminders of destruction are the tarpaulins and crumpled iron sheets over the rooftops of houses and gymnasiums, concrete stumps of structures, and toppled trees.
“There are two sides of the coin—one side is disaster and the other is a blessing,” Mayor Leonardo Javier of the fourth-class municipality (annual income: P25 million-P35 million) said.
“In this situation, there is no place for the negative. It should always be the positive in order to move on.”
The municipal government is putting up livelihood projects to help the residents rise from the ruins. Javier has a population of 26,000 and a land area of 16,000 hectares.
Javier said he and the other local officials had been prepared for the onslaught of Yolanda on Nov. 8, 2013. They knew it would be “horrific,” he said.
They even “prepared thousands of hard-boiled eggs and noodles to tide residents over until outside aid would come in,” he added.
Those living in the danger zones were evacuated. Those who refused to leave were brought to the police station.
“We told them they were being brought in for attempted suicide, figuring that by the time they discovered that there was no such a crime, the typhoon would be over,” Javier said.
The typhoon lashed through the town for four hours. Strong winds peeled off roofs and felled walls of nearly all of the houses, and struck down coconut trees that were the people’s sources of livelihood.
Yet, the town lost only three lives from falling debris.
“We experienced devastation never before experienced anywhere in the world. But it is also an opportunity to start again and build a new town,” Javier said.
After Yolanda, the official led a team to clear the highway leading to Tacloban City—a distance of 70 kilometers—so that aid would come in. The nonstop operation lasted for 36 hours.
“We worked without food, driven by pure adrenalin and courage,” the mayor said.
The team found some 1,000 bodies along the way, wrapped them with sheets or plastic materials, and lined them up by the roadside or in front of churches so that their relatives could identify and pick them up.
The massive cleanup ended after 10 days.
“I told them (residents) that since they were getting relief goods, I would appreciate it if they cleaned up even just their backyards,” said Javier, who is also president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines and its local chapter.
The mayor, who is on his second term, also applied his entrepreneurial skills in setting up livelihood opportunities for his constituents. Javier owns Andok’s Corp., which has a chain of restaurants nationwide.
One of the livelihood projects is a factory to produce hollow blocks for the reconstruction. Residents who work in the factory earn P200 a day.
The municipal government plans to use the fallen coconuts, as well as those still hanging from trees, to make twine for ropes, coconut sugar and vinegar, necklaces, buttons, lampshades and hats.
Javier has already been producing ginger tea.
With the help of Negrense Volunteers for Change (NVC), a nongovernment organization based in Negros Occidental, some residents will be trained to make fiberglass boats for Leyte fishermen. NVC is also providing instant porridge meal called Mingo (mongo, rice and malunggay) to feed children aged 6 months to 3 years over a period of six months.
Javier has also started a campaign to encourage residents to raise vegetables in backyard gardens. They can earn P400 to P800 a week from selling vegetables, aside from feeding their families, he said.
The town has a water purifier donated by the province of Pampanga. It received commitments from Habitat for Humanity, Assisi Foundation and Phinma Foundation for the construction of 500 houses for the displaced residents.
A Dutch group is donating a primary health care facility, while the Department of Health is putting up a rural health center to replace the one destroyed by the typhoon.
“We have seen the best of the Filipino and the world. There has been an unimaginable outpouring of support and good deeds. It has been amazing,” Javier said.
The mayor was only 35 when he started from zero his Andok chain as a small stall on West Avenue in Quezon City. Now, he is doing the same in creating a new town by turning disaster into a blessing.
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