Sendong Aftermath: Fragments from Cagayan De Oro

By the Cagayan de Oro River in Tibasak, Brgy. Macasandig, Cagayan de Oro City.
By the Cagayan de Oro River in Tibasak, Brgy. Macasandig, Cagayan de Oro City.

“Mahadlok mi kung ulan kay mudako ang tubig.” There used to be some houses by the river shore where some men and women were busy washing their clothes.

Just a little further ahead is the covered court, lately swelling with crowds, pitched tents trucks and buses bearing relief goods and volunteers going to and fro.

The river widened four-fold, we were told by a little boy. as other children ran along around us, playing in the field by the road. All that’s left of their homes are ruble.

I arrived in Cagayan de Oro City with my mother last December 27 to lend a hand to the relief efforts for the victims of tropical storm Sendong.

My parents helped arranged the turning over of donations from Cebu City to the affected members of the Northern Mindanao media. We stayed in the Balay Mindanaw Peace Center headed by my ninong, Tito Kaloy Manlupig.

A boy draws his experience in an art therapy session with children affected by Sendong.

On the 28th, I tagged along with my ninang, Tita Bane Agbon, around various evacuation centers and communities devastated by Sendong. Tita Bane and the volunteers of the Kids for Peace Foundation were conducting their preliminary assessment of these areas.

We were trying to make sense of how kids make sense of the catastrophe. “Nabahaan pud mo?” “Unsa kadako inyo balay?” I was told these were common questions asked by the children.

The Kids for Peace is planning to hold for psycho-social therapy sessions with the children of these locations sometime in January.

Evacuees line up to get donations.

Those we spoke to described rampaging flood waters that hit them fast and hard with massive amounts of mud and debris.

The destruction was not immediately visible on the main road from the airport. It only became apparent when we proceeded to the areas along the river the next day.

People are busy brushing mud off furniture and appliances. Random items, from toothbrushes, bibles, to bed foams being dried, are found on the roof of various homes.

Balsa Mindanao volunteers distribute donations for the evacuees in Macasandig Elementary School.

Lines filled with clothes left to dry seem to be everywhere. Not a few are busy washing clothes of mud. Boots are in fashion.

In the Brgy Kauswagan Elementary School evacuation center, only 14 of the 34 families are left. The rest have returned to their communities.

But some return to the center after a day of cleaning up their houses. Others dreaded sleep. We were told that they were afraid of the voices asking to be saved that they imagined hearing.

It only took seconds for the water to rise. All were caught unprepared. Some did not have televisions or radios. They were not warned by local officials.

A 6 months old baby was placed inside a laundry basin to be saved.

Balsa Mindanao volunteers distribute donations for the evacuees in Macasandig Elementary School.

The next day fellow traveler Karlos Manlupig brought me along to the Balsa Mindanao relief drive by progressive groups where I also met some of my Mindanao-based colleagues in Kabataan Partylist.“Naa’y relief diha,” I heard someone ask as our van passed by. This was a common refrain in affected communities, I was told.

Some evacuees, however, share that more than charitable donations what they’re more concerned about is rebuilding their homes and means of livelihood.

Iponan Elementary School, Cagayan de Oro City.
Flood water level etched in class room black board.

We used to joke back in high school that there’s no classes whenever it rains because the blackboards are wet. Here, the blackboard literally marks how high the flood waters went:

There are children who were afraid to return to school because the textbooks assigned to them were all wet and muddied.

These kinds of disasters will further strain the already inadequate Aquino regime budget for education with more classroom, chair, desk, and textbook shortages.

In the first place, such wanton destruction could have been mitigated if not for the government’s coddling of large-scale mining and transnational plantations that replaced upland forests and lack of adequate disaster-preparedness measures and budget.

Damaged textbooks.

To state the obvious, social media accounts of the disaster, from photos to testimonies, remain largely confined to the middle and upper classes. The accounts by urban poor and working masses victimized by Sendong come from those with access to computers, Internet, and other new technologies.

So, as Spivak denies in her usual obscure manner, can the subaltern speak? These people would readily share their most harrowing experience if asked.

Fishermen cast their nets in the mouth of Cagayan de Oro River in the eve of the storm. Instead of fishes, it caught a lot of other unexpected things. It saved many lives.

“In times of difficulty we must not lose sight of our achievements, must see the bright future and must pluck up our courage.”

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