Dabawenyo writes on Southern Leyte tragedy
By Jane Subang / MindaNews / 23 December 2003
(Editor’s note: Leticia “Jane” M. Subang is a Dabawenyo whose parents migrated from Southern Leyte in 1949 and returned there in the late 1990s after pursuing productive professional careers in Davao City. Her father, Dominador, worked for C. Alcantara and Sons and taught accounting and management courses at the University of Mindanao. Her mother, Peregrina, was a guidance counselor at Quezon Elementary School. Jane used to write for BusinessDay and was based here in Davao City from late 1984 to shortly after People Power I forced the Marcoses to flee to Hawaii in February 1986. Jane is married to Joy de los Reyes, editor in chief of Malaya. They have three children, Antonio Isabelo, Aida Corazon and Jose Socrates. They are now based in Manila. She initially told this story via text and phone calls to MindaNews’ Carolyn O. Arguillas, her buddy during the Davao City coverages from late 1984 to early 1986, and godmother to her firstborn, Tonton. Jane, finally mustering enough strength to write, added more paragraphs today. This is her story).
As usual, it would be a Christmas of reunions.
This was the first time that my whole family was going to spend Christmas with our relatives in San Francisco, Southern Leyte. Normally my parents would visit us in Manila during Christmas, after which they would have their medical check ups and we, in turn, would be in Leyte during the Holy Week.
Our three children went ahead, arriving there last Friday. Joy and I are scheduled to fly on the 24th.
Little did we know that an hour after our children, Tonton, Inday and Bobot arrived in San Francisco at 5 p.m. last Friday, December 19, a tragedy would befall our clan.
Relatives had been trying to contact me Friday night to inform me about the tragedy but I was beyond reach as I was working overtime on a book project then. Besides, I had just changed my cell phone number a few days ago, and the cousin who received the first stream of news did not have my new number. They were hesitant to call my other cousin, Eddie, who drives for us, because they did not want to tell him the worst of their fears then – his parents, nephew and niece were missing.
Power was out and consequently, phone lines were down in San Francisco. It was a call from my aunt in Davao that jolted me early Saturday morning. Then another cousin in San Francisco thought of turning on his generator so relatives could call out, and that was how I got the eyewitness account from my cousin Ricky, who is also the barangay chairman there.
The extent of the devastation started to become clearer to me. Soon, relatives now working in Metro Manila started calling me and I spent the whole day repeating the grim story Ricky told me – that at least 80 members of our clan may have died in the series of landslides that struck Punta, a village 1.5 kilometers away from the town center of San Francisco where my parents and where my children stayed.
At the end of the day, I felt so numb I couldn’t even cry.
It was only on Saturday night when I could muster the strength to send text messages to friends. “Naglandslike kagabi sa Leyte. Sa barrio mismo ng mga kamag-anak ko. Death toll could be abt. 100. Lahat ko kamag-anak. 30 bodies have been retrieved. Nakabalot lang. Nasa auditorium. D children r now in a big house owned by an aunt based in the US. The adults are in the auditorium and parish center. Dumating sina Tonton dun kahapon to visit my parents. Papunta kami ni Joy Dec. 24. safe naman sila as they are living in the town proper. The affected barrio (Punta) is 1.5 km away.”
Friends I sent the text message to called, asking how they could help.
“How do you bury a hundred relatives?” was all I could say.
Having worked as a journalist, I know the immediate need is for rescue boats, coffins for the dead, food, clothing and shelter for the living. As of Sunday, I was told by another cousin, Elmer, that they did not even have cadaver bags. The dead, starting to show signs of decomposition, were wrapped in blankets and mosquito nets that my cousins could lay their hands on just so these could be transported from the site of the landslide to the town center.
How easy it is for journalists to write about other people’s tragedies but how difficult to write about our own.
I thought of writing but just thinking about it makes me cry.
As of Sunday night, 40 bodies had been retrieved. Today (Tuesday), the clan’s death toll is over 100. From what I have learned, the survivors were distributed among relatives who are living in the town center. Food is being prepared in the town’s parish center.
A friend in media texted me if the barangay captain Ricky Subang, who was just interviewed is related to me. He was the first to give me an eyewitness account Saturday morning. He is among the best carpenters of the family and he helped build my house in Fairview, Quezon City.
Starting last Sunday, he was busy mass producing coffins for his own relatives, mostly those who were retrieved earlier. The bodies that were retrieved Monday and Tuesday were placed in a mass grave which the municipality prepared. Perhaps, we will eventually decide to have a common marker for all of those who perished on that fateful night.
Tomorrow, December 24, I am going home to Leyte, as originally scheduled. And I know it is going to be even more painful.
That barangay is one that bound us as a clan. We hold our reunions there. In 1976, we celebrated my Lolo’s 80th birthday, and in 1999 we were all there for my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. We are now preparing for my dad’s 80th birthday next November.
To inculcate the value of family in my kids, I regularly bring them there.
“Ngayon wala na na. I don’t think the survivors will return there. It would be very painful,” I told friends that night. But I could not also think of how family reunions would be without Punta.
The mayor is toying with the idea of relocating my relatives in a patch of land behind the cockpit in the town. My initial reaction was how can they survive living far from the seashore? They were farmers and fishermen. But then again, the idea might work.
For we have to start thinking how to rebuild shattered lives. “Dami naming orphans,” I answered my friends who asked about the situation Sunday night.
Until now, my Dad does not know the extent of the tragedy (my mom and other relatives there fear he might have a heart attack). All he knows is that there was a landslide. He knows about the evacuation.
What he doesn’t know is that almost all his cousins are gone. That would surely devastate him – for they were his social and emotional support system. Everyday, somebody from the village would visit him, bringing him news and his share of the fresh fish they have just caught. They also go to him frequently seeking for his advice.
Now they are gone. My sister said we will tell my dad the whole story when I get there.
Then again, maybe we should do so only after we will have arrived in Manila on December 28, again, as originally planned.