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A statistics major, Leticia Subang spent the first 10 years of her professional career as an economic reporter covering for the Philippines' leading business paper. She later opted to become a free lance writer while working for her Masters Degree in Development Management. In the next ten years, she worked for a number of leading government agencies - the National Power Corporation, Public Estates Authority, Departments of Trade and Industry, Agriculture, Labor and Employment, and Energy.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Mindanao-based relatives lead in relocating survivors of Punta landslides

By Leticia M. Subang
Special to Mindanews
1st of 4 parts / Mindanews / 11 December 2004

(Leticia “Jane” M. Subang, a Dabawenya who lost at least a hundred relatives in the Southern Leyte tragedy last year, covered Davao City for BusinessDay in 1984 to 1986. She wrote this piece for MindaNews)

Davao-based 83-year Rosario Peregrino Maglana had always wanted to go back home to San Francisco in Southern Leyte. Just like my parents, Dominador and Peregrina Subang, Tiya Sayong and her husband Santiago left Leyte immediately after the strong typhoon devastated the island of Panaon in 1949.

The “Bagyo sa Cuarenta y Nueve” as those old enough to remember would say was so strong it damaged even the lowly camote and sent many of the able-bodied away, looking for the proverbial greener pastures. My father and several of his cousins decided to try their luck in Mindanao. They worked hard and they prospered.

From farming and trading in Nabunturan, Davao del Norte (now in Compostela Valley), Tiya Sayong’s family ventured into a small vulcanizing shop in Buhangin (Davao City) in the 1970s. Deco Machine Shop, which they relocated to Cabaguio St. is now one of Davao’s leading metal working shops. Four of her children are now medical doctors with stable professional practice.

And after almost five decades of fruitful life and professional career in Davao City, my parents decided to go home to San Francisco in 1997. And Tiya Sayong dreamed of going home, too. In fact, she had chosen a lot near the chapel in the fishing village of Punta where most of the residents are descendants of her and my father’s grandparents, Eusebio Subang and Marcela Moreno.

They were ready to pay for the lot so she can start constructing her retirement house when a series of landslides devastated the village last December 19, 2003, leaving about 120 of our relatives dead and almost all of the houses destroyed. According to the Mines and Geological Sciences Bureau, the mountains of Panaon are riddled with geological faults and it would not be safe for the survivors to go back to Punta again.

So Tiya Sayong opted to do the most logical thing - donate part of her family’s property along the national road so her relatives will have a safe relocation site. She requested that a portion be reserved for her family so she can eventually live with them as she had earlier intended. They readily obliged.

The municipal government of San Francisco acquired the adjacent property so the 98 families that survived the landslides could be accommodated. They have started constructing the houses using the materials supplied by the Red Cross with financial support from the US Government.

Adept at coping with the vagaries of the sea, the survivors are a resilient group. They are slowly rebuilding their homes, collectively working to regain normalcy in their lives.

Most of them are still living with the trauma caused by the tragedy. Thunder, lightning and heavy rains would send the children crying and cringing in fear. They would periodically resurrect lost loved ones by recalling well-loved anecdotes, and at the same time, scare themselves with stories of apparitions and ghosts.

Indelible images

They keep going back to Punta, hoping to retrieve some of their lost valuables as the soil the mountain dumped over their houses started to settle. Last Christmas, while temporarily living with relatives, Bartolome Subang wished he had not lost the vintage carpentry tools my grandfather passed on to him before Lolo died in 1980. One of my Lolo’s favorite nephews, Tiyo Ome had been looking after our family’s share of coconut land for decades. He knew he needed those tools once construction at the relocation site would start.

Florencio Subang wanted to go back to the village that night after realizing that in the confusion, he left a wad of cash in his cabinet. His children insisted they keep on moving, giving him the flashlight so he could lead them towards the town. Fellow survivors would later speculate that the wad my Tiyo Florin left behind was worth at least P40,000 or even P70,000. He would just smile without saying exactly how much. Along the road he thought he spotted his cousin, Paterno Subang, also holding a flashlight and an umbrella walking silently. Tiyo Florin even remembers greeting Tiyo Pater. Tiyo Florin together with his younger children made it to the town without any untoward incident.

Tiyo Florin’s son Ricky, the barangay captain, found himself in a more uncertain path that night. The third landslide in the area had blocked the road his father had passed a few minutes earlier. His group was forced to go towards the seashore only to move again inwards after they found they could not cross Kagpanga, the river that separates Punta and the town. Clutching his two-month old son, Ricky led his group through the clan’s ricefields, waded through waist-deep mud and thorny nipa fronds, constantly calling out his children’s and others companions’ names, refusing to move further until he heard their replies.

Ricky and Tiyo Florin were eventually reunited in the house of our aunt Jenny Subang who lives across my parents’ house in the town. Max, Ricky’s baby and the youngest survivor, went through the ordeal that night unscathed. (Tomorrow: Working together for a new life)


Mindanao-based relatives lead in relocating survivors of Punta landslides: A new village taking shape
By Leticia M. Subang
3rd of 4 parts: Mindanews / 13 December 2004

The pace in the relocation site is understandably slow. They have to rely on volunteer labor from the survivors themselves who could not totally depend on the “food-for-work” assistance being extended to them. They, too, have to earn money so they will be able to send their children back to school and meet other basic needs such as medicines.

The skilled carpenters who are leading the construction activities have to be rotated so they will have time to attend to other projects and earn a living. The women and the youth are in charge of bringing the filling materials as well as water, sand and gravel needed in mixing the cement.

During rainy days, the site would become muddy making work a lot more difficult. At night, most of the houses remain dark as the relocation site has yet to be connected to the distribution lines of the local electric cooperative. The few lights they have are just tapped from the houses near the relocation site.

But by simply listening to their banter, one could envision what the new village would eventually look like a few years from now. For they are confident in their unity - as may be gleaned from recollections of how they would win most of the contests - the cleanest, the greenest - among barangays in San Francisco.

Barangay Punta was strip of land at the foot of a mountain along a coast line of volcanic rocks. There was not much space for gardening and yet every Tuesday, the villagers would bring to the town their weekly harvest of vegetables - most of which were planted in recycled cans and plastic bags. Even during those critical months after the landslides, the women revived their potted vegetable gardens around their makeshift shelters.

Need for basic health care

Natividad J. Rich, who recently sold all properties in the United States to retire in her hometown Maasin City recalled how she first gained recognition as a newly sworn rural health nurse in the early 1960s by turning Punta into a model pilot rural health unit. “They helped me a lot, they were very cooperative,” she recalled when she visited San Francisco for my father’s 80th birthday, more than three decades after she left the island.

She was our rural health nurse at a time when there was no doctor who could provide primary health care to the people of San Francisco. As a 5-year old child, I remember having to take an hour ride on a frail motor boat with her just so I could be seen by a doctor in Maasin in mainland Leyte.

She would wake up at night to answer calls from ailing villagers, willingly walked mountain trails for hours, braved the strong waves brought by Habagat or the southwest monsoon. Confronted with more complicated cases, she would consult with her brother Gil, who was then working with the Province of Southern Leyte as a rural health doctor.

She stayed with us for many years. As my surrogate mother, she and my aunt Corazon, cried for hours when they brought me back to Davao City where my parents lived, to start my schooling. When she left for the United States in the mid 1970s, the residents of San Francisco really missed her. They never forgot her, for there was no other nurse who was as dedicated and gutsy as she was.

The strong need for reliable health service remains. It is no wonder that the people welcomed Diego Yuboc, an orthopedic surgeon when he decided to go home to San Francisco in the late 1980s after years of practice in Mindanao. With the competent medical service he gave, the people embraced him. He was the town mayor for nine consecutive years until last May. Yuboc’s mayor-by-day, doctor-by-night stint required him to convert a small room beside his office into a clinic where he would sometimes perform minor operations illuminated by small reading lamp.

Help from many concerned groups

The survivors are grateful for the various help they received from many groups. Barangay captain Ricky Subang said that among the most appreciated aid came from unexpected sources, such as the Philippine Star which donated close to 20 bancas, fishing nets and the first water pumps in the relocation site. The carpentry tools given by various donors became equally valuable as they started constructing the houses.

For our relatives, mostly fishermen and skilled carpenters, these expressions of solidarity are deeply appreciated as these enabled them to resume their livelihood activities.

The Salvation Army donated 10 motorized bancas, each of which is now being operated by a group of five fishermen. Plan International is also donating a small truck which they can use for trading activities while Cocotech is helping them put up a coco coir decorticating center so they can produce twines, geotextiles and other coconut by products.

Environmentalists are studying various options including the propagation of vetiver grass along slopes to help stabilize the soil, said another cousin, Jilson Maitim, who had accompanied many of these groups to the numerous landslide areas on the island.

Some relatives now based in the cities and abroad sent cash which helped tide them over during the crisis. Some of the cash donations were distributed among the families so they can buy some food and other essential items.

In another case, we were able to pool P120,000 from various donations from relatives based in Manila and abroad. The money was used to hire extra labor to help in the construction of the houses and the excavation of the septic tanks. Many of the houses - all core units with no dividers and ceilings - have yet to be finished. (Conclusion tomorrow: improving infrastructure)

Mindanao-based relatives lead in relocating survivors of Punta landslides: Improving infrastructure
By Leticia M. Subang
Special to Mindanews
Last of 4 parts / Mindanews / 11 December 2004

When the landslides hit Punta on December 19, 2003, our town was isolated because the numerous streams were swollen and the road was impassable. My children had to be fetched by my cousins in a motor boat from Liloan to reach our place earlier that day. That was the first time my family decided to spend our Christmas in Leyte.

As my husband and I followed our children a few days later, many concerned friends were asking if we were pulling them out from the place of the tragedy. That possibility never crossed my mind - doing so would only teach them abandonment during times of crisis. We were all there as originally planned.

On good days, it would take us about an hour to negotiate the bumpy, 10-kilometer road linking Liloan and San Francisco. The tragedy must have awakened the consciousness of our national leadership. During our recent trip, the roads had been widened and graded and we reached our place in about 30 minutes.

The long-delayed concreting of the national road across the island was started by the contractor, Italian-Thai, right after the elections. The project, which would take about three years to finish, will link Panaon's four municipalities of Liloan, San Francisco, Pintuyan and San Ricardo.

The prospect of having better roads has raised the hopes of the people of Panaon for better economic opportunities. The island is the take-off point of roll on-roll off (Ro-Ro) ferry service between Leyte and Mindanao. They are now talking of putting up a ferry terminal in San Ricardo on the other end of the island as an alternative to the one now operating in Liloan, which in turn, is linked by a span as long as Davao City's Bangkerohan bridge, to mainland Leyte. If this materializes, then Surigao City in Mindanao will be about an hour-and-a-half away by Ro-Ro. At least, the much-hyped Strong Republic National Highway is getting to be a reality in our place.

Last November 4, we gathered once again for the 80th birthday celebration of my father, Dominador. Just like the time when we all went home for my grandfather's 80th birthday in 1976, the whole village participated in preparing for the occasion.

Tiyo Ome and a cousin, Mundo Subang, took charge of preparing the three lechons along the shore just a few meters away from Punta. My children went snorkeling while Tiyo Ome's group was roasting the pigs. And since Patron Benero, the village's chief cook for such occasions is now gone, Jilson and the women took charge of preparing our dinner. Under the present circumstances, we could not hold games and contests. But just like past clan gatherings, we all had a great time together.

Ricky requested that they keep the few bundles of uncooked pancit for the "hugkas" or "babang luksa" on December 19. Two days later, they raffled off the houses. The men have pledged they would help finish the houses assigned to the widows.

They still have a lot of work to do and we still have to mobilize a lot of resources and support but they are looking forward to the completion of the construction activities in the relocation site. Then they can start cleaning the deserted village and slowly revive this into an economically productive enclave that it had once been. They may not be able to live there anymore, but for most of us, Punta is not meant to be abandoned and forgotten.

My cousin Marilou Maglana, Tiya Sayong's youngest daughter and a Davao City-based cardiologist, rushed home, after more than 30 years of absence, last December immediately after learning about the landslides. "We shared so many happy memories there," she explained.

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