LETTERS FROM DAVAO
By Jun Ledesma, Columnist, PNA
SEVERAL days ahead of Typhoon Rolly’s landfall, announcements were made through hundreds of media outlets that the howler is extremely powerful it could cause severe destruction along its path. Bicol Region, The Southern Tagalog Region, Metro Manila, and Quezon Province had been alerted and pre-emptive evacuations were made especially in danger areas.
Typhoon Rolly, however, did not only bring strong winds but also heavy rains. As the weathermen had warned, Rolly will be the strongest typhoon this year. Trees, power pylons, houses, and vital infrastructures were either felled or inundated by cascading floodwaters that dragged huge boulders that wrecked anything along the way.
We saw these ghastly specters on TV and quickly, from my own personal experience, scenes of deaths and destructions that happened in Davao Oriental and Davao de Oro and Leyte provinces wrought by super typhoons Pablo and Yolanda unraveled like a bad dream.
Typhoon Bopha, locally known as Typhoon Pablo, was the strongest tropical cyclone on record to ever affect southern Mindanao, making landfall as a Category 5 super typhoon with the highest wind speed of 280 km/h. Wayward Pablo entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility on November 25, 2012, and was forecast to make landfall in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur. It however veered southward in Davao Oriental on December 4 and caught up with fleets of tuna fishermen from General Santos City. It leveled to the ground hundreds of hectares of coconut trees and timberlands and the fury of whirling winds twisted steel communications towers, electric posts, uprooted bananas, and lifted nipa huts and dropped these somewhere in other barangays.
Fatalities officially reported were at 1,067 but what was not taken into account were the number of fishermen who perished in the turbulent seas.
Super Yolanda, made landfall in Tacloban on November 8, 2013, and like Pablo was a Category 5 storm. What made it so devastating was the massive storm surge that practically destroyed all of Tacloban City. The death toll by unofficial estimate may have been over 10,000 but Malacanang issued a directive to stop counting when the casualty count went over 6,000. When the police regional commander continued anyway, he was promptly removed.
Indeed not only was Yolanda shocking as Tacloban streets were littered with mangled bodies of the dead but the shameless and lackadaisical attitude of national officials. The top decision-makers were adamant to extend help to the local government all because Tacloban City and Leyte province is a political bastion of the Romualdez family and that the President is an Aquino. Then Local Government Sec. Mar Roxas made the brazen quip at the height of the crisis. (It was also contemptible that canned and other relief goods donated by international agencies later had to be dumped when these were never distributed to victims and was kept to rot).
If that was not enough, several days later when Tacloban airport was cleared of debris then Pres. Benigno Aquino finally visited Tacloban. Local businessmen and political leaders made an urgent appeal for the rehabilitation of damaged infrastructures and housing units for thousands who lost their homes. Aquino was annoyed and seemingly irritated left with a searing remark: “bakit, buhay pa naman kay ah”.
But it is in times of crises when true compassion for fellowmen and leadership is defined.
The extent of destructions of Typhoon Pablo shocked and rendered immobile the national leadership. The first political leader to reached Mati City was then Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio. Since the highway was still not passable because of felled coconut trees and mudslides, she hurried to Davao Oriental anyway onboard a coastguard vessel to bring relief goods, a share of Davao City’s disaster funds, and medical teams to help the coastal towns of the province.
A year later, when Rodrigo Duterte returned as Mayor of Davao City for another term, Typhoon Yolanda ravaged Leyte, the province where he was born. In less than 24 hours after Yolanda exited, Mayor Duterte arrived in Tacloban with a retinue of five medical teams and 15 dump trucks of relief items. My brother, the medico-legal of Davao City, was with the team. He described to me the horror of destruction in Tacloban. Bodies of dead victims still lay by the roadside uncollected. He also sent me a picture of Mayor Duterte sitting under a tent where they were treating the injured, apparently exhausted but consoling and condoling with those who not only lost their homes but their family members.
When Typhoon Rolly struct, Duterte, who is now President of the Philippines was in Davao City for All Saints Day and visited the grave of his parents. Even as the typhoon has yet to exit the West Philippine Sea, he, along with Sen. Bong Go, flew directly to Albay. took a chopper and surveyed the extent of destructions left by the howler, which is the strongest this year to happen in the world. He landed somewhere in Catanduanes in a place hardest hit by the typhoon. People there were surprised to see Duterte in their barangay which has become a vast expanse of wasteland.
The President headed to Malacanang to meet with the Cabinet to ensure that rehabilitation and relief assistance is underway. He was not aware that while he was Presiding, his daughter, Davao City Mayor Inday Sara was already on her way with her team from Davao to visit places in Albay, Camarines Sur, Quezon, Catanduanes, Marinduque, and Batangas. At some point, she was joined by her friend, Sen Imee Marcos. She too was accompanied by Davao City Councilor Danilo Dayanghirang, Chairman of the Councilors League of the Philippines, who helped her assess the destruction left by Typhoon Rolly. While Mayor Inday was able to quickly generate assistance from friends and distribute these to places she visited the Davao City government will fast-track emergency assistance to be allocated to places they visited.
But funny and petty how the opposition and the President’s critics busied themselves when Typhoon Rolly hit the ground. They were oblivious of the impact of the storm and was tracking the President’s whereabouts instead. ABS CBN was nowhere in the storm zone but stationed a TV van in Manila Bay where the crushed dolomite was, hoping and wishing this will vanish when a storm surge coming. They missed the surge and Duterte.