Tuesday, December 25, 2007

‘Reming’ cuts abaca supply by half

17 January 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—A 50-percent supply gap of abaca fiber (Manila hemp) in the Bicol Region, the second largest supplier in the country, is seen to happen starting March this year as a result of the P201-million damage to at least 65 percent of abaca in Bicol by Supertyphoon “Reming,” a fiber industry official here said yesterday.

Fiber loss in Bicol is estimated at 10,059 metric tons (MT) out of the total 20,212 MT, said Dr. Editha Lomeria, acting regional director of the Fiber Industry Development Authority (Fida).

However, 90 percent of this total loss is recoverable within a month since fiber could be stripped even from toppled trees.

The recoverable fiber from damaged trees cost P20 million, reducing the P201-million damage to a P181-million loss.

A total of 9,058 MT of fiber is expected to be recovered and will suffice raw fiber demands for the first quarter of this year, Lomeria said.

Areas planted to abaca in Albay, Catanduanes, and Camarines Sur were the most heavily damaged, reaching 73-90 percent or 28,747 ha.

Camarines Norte and Sorsogon only incurred slight damages of 1,022 ha planted to abaca.

These two provinces, said Lomerio, would be able to help bridge the supply gap in the succeeding quarters of the year while Leyte, a province in the Eastern Visayas region and the country’s top abaca producer, would be the region’s main temporary supplier of its fiber needs.

The average local consumption of abaca fiber in the region for pulp, cordage and fibercraft was 9,260 MT from 2001 to 2005.

Three of the biggest industry players in the region—Isarog Pulp, Inc. in Daraga, Albay, Albay Agro-industrial Development Corp. (Alindeco) in Malinao, Albay and Pacific Cordage Co.—have all incurred damages to their facilities, leading to a temporary halt of their operations, Lomerio said. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Kids ‘draw and tell’ to heal wounds

14 January 2007

By Ephraim Aguilar

LEGAZPI CITY—CHILDREN’S drawings in refugee camps here vividly illustrate the tragedy that Supertyphoon “Reming” brought to Albay.

The simple crayon strokes on white paper convey fear, sadness and hope.

After the typhoon, dubbed by residents here “as the worst in history,” Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) sessions were conducted in various evacuation centers by the Department of Social Welfare and Development-Bicol and by nongovernment organizations.

“Draw and tell” was the method used by social workers in dealing with the traumatized children in evacuation centers after the supertyphoon destroyed their belongings and homes, and killed their loved ones.

The drawings vary depending on the children’s experiences. Some show dead bodies floating on floodwaters while others depict toppled trees and roofless houses.

Crying for help

Some drawings show human emotions such as women and children crying and desperately shouting for help.

Ma. Corazon Pitero, social welfare officer at the DSWD, said social workers would first let the children narrate their experiences during the disaster by drawing.

The social workers discuss the drawings with the children, asking about what they drew, why they drew it, and what they felt when they were in that disaster situation.

Pitero said it was important to give these children an outlet to release their emotions after the traumatic experience to prevent adverse effects from haunting them (See table on the effects of trauma).


The dominant feelings of the children affected by Reming were fear and grief because many of them almost died or lost their relatives and friends, Pitero said.

Lea Loma, 11, temporarily housed in Binitayan Elementary School in Daraga, Albay, said that after the typhoon, she saw the bodies of “Tiya Loleng and her friend Richelle” before they were picked up by retrieval teams.

“My mother and I went to the village to check on our house after the typhoon, until I saw their bodies on the ground. They were people I knew,” Loma told the Inquirer in Filipino.

“Richelle was my playmate. I feel sad that I will never see her again,” she said.

Almost all the children told the Inquirer that they heard people crying when the floodwaters rose and torrents of loosened sand and rocks from Mt. Mayon swamped their village.

Some children, who stayed on rooftops, told of having seen old and young people and animals drowning or being carried away by the strong current. They also saw galvanized iron sheets and objects being blown away by the winds.

John Christian Yohanon, 8, said he saw his mother almost die from the cold. They were wet all night and were rescued the day after the typhoon. He also pitied their dog that was left on the roof, the only part of the house that could be seen while the rest was underwater. These details were shown in his drawing.


Most of the children said they were terrified at the height of Reming and wished that no other typhoon like it would ever hit Bicol again.

After the social worker’s interaction with the child, the last stage of the stress debriefing session was “processing.”

In “processing,” the social worker gave inputs to the child to make him or her understand the disaster and, more importantly, to tell him or her what he or she would do if the disaster happens again, according to Pitero.

“We make them understand that what they felt during the tragedy was just a normal reaction of a person to an abnormal situation. We also help them create a contingency plan in preparation for other disasters,” Pitero said.

After the session, the social workers identified those who need follow-up and those who have to be referred for further psychological evaluation.


Stress management is part of the social services in First World countries and is normally offered even to people who suffer from the loss of loved ones who died of natural causes. In the Philippines, it is associated more with disasters.

The DSWD started using CISM in the country during the killer earthquake that devastated Baguio City on July 16, 1990.

CISM has been a mainstay in disaster operations of the DSWD in Bicol for more than a decade now—the region being prone to natural calamities such as typhoons and volcanic eruptions.

It was first used in Bicol by social workers during the 1993 Mayon Volcano eruption that left some 100 people dead and thousands displaced.

Pitero said CISM was meant to open the wounds of disaster victims, heal them, and help them find closure to enable them to move on.

(Ephraim Aguilar, a resident of Legazpi City, is a correspondent of Inquirer Southern Luzon.)


11 January 2007

Gov fears extreme poverty in Albay

By Bobby Q. Labalan and Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—EXTREME POVER-ty is likely to follow the devastation wrought by Supertyphoon ‘Reming,’ according to Gov. Fernando Gonzales who appealed for more help to alleviate the sufferings of his constituents.

“It’s a very grim prospect for us,” Gonzales told the Inquirer during a roundtable discussion with the Inquirer Southern Luzon on Monday.

He urged institutions and governments to help in the rehabilitation of the communities.

Gonzales said government efforts were now geared toward rehabilitation, which, he added, required more funds.

“We have at least 8,000 families who need to be relocated immediately to get them out of harm’s way,” he said.

The local governments of Ligao City, Guinobatan, Camalig, Daraga and Legazpi City have identified relocation sites but lack funds for their development, he said.

He thanked the private sector and non-government organizations (NGOs), especially those helping in the repair of damaged schools in Batan, Cagraray and Rapu-rapu islands and in other parts of the province.

Another NGO helped rehabilitate a hospital in Tabaco City, he added.

“But the biggest problem confronting us is how to rehabilitate the people’s livelihood, especially the farmers whose coconut and rice farms were almost completely destroyed,” he said.

Irrigation dams in many towns were destroyed, rendering rice farms without water.

The majority of people in Albay derive income from rice and coconut farming.


In a two-day visit to Albay, singer Gary Valenciano, who arrived on Monday as Unicef ambassador, sang and spread the message of hope to thousands of children.

Valenciano, whose father is from Camalig, Albay, visited public schools in Daraga and Guinobatan, which serve as shelters for villagers displaced by lahar from Mayon Volcano.

At the Tabon-tabon Elementary School in Daraga, where homeless typhoon victims from Barangay Malobago have sought refuge, Valenciano sang to hundreds of children inside a 72-square-meter tent.

At the jampacked hall of the Guinobatan East Central School, children gaped in awe at Valenciano as he sang “I will be here” and “Natutulog ba ang Diyos?”

Unicef communications assistant Kathleen Pobre said it was as if the children had never experienced tragedy with smiles beaming on their faces.

Valenciano told the children that despite the disaster, they should never stop going to school and studying hard.

The Unicef gave learning materials, such as books, recreational and sports equipment, and tents for temporary classrooms.


Valenciano interacted with Thea Jane Liantos, 8, who told him that she lost her mother when mudflow struck Barangay Maipon.

With braces to support her body because of a congenital spine illness, Thea survived the tragedy, but she saw her mother drown. She is now in the custody of her aunt.

Valenciano crouched so he could look at Thea straight in the eyes as he sang.

Many people shed tears, including Dr. Nicholas Alipui, Unicef Philippine representative who was with Valenciano during the visit.

After the show, the singer and Alipui visited the mudflow site at Maipon.

“A lot of work needs to be done and I’m honored to do something even in small and big ways especially for my kababayan (countrymen),” Valenciano said.

Pobre said proceeds of his concert were donated to the Unicef for its relief and rehabilitation efforts.

Helping in the long-term recovery of Bicol will be a Unicef priority this year, said Alipui.

Unicef has turned over to the provincial government almost P10 million worth of relief items to typhoon victims in Albay since December.

Alipui said the agency had committed an additional $250,000 for the next three months to support the rehabilitation of schools, water-sanitation, recreational and sports facilities for children, and provisions for women’s livelihood.

Burial of slain leftist leader turns into rally

09 January 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—YESTERDAY’S BURIAL OF THE Bayan Muna provincial coordinator in Albay who was shot dead on Dec. 31 was also a major protest rally by militant groups, which demanded that the military answer for the killing.

“Dugong inutang ng militar singilin, singilin! Pagbayarin ng dugo!” yelled at least a thousand protesters wearing white Bayan Muna T-shirts while the remains of Rodolfo “Ompong” Alvarado was being carried from the church to the Ligao City Catholic Cemetery.

Alvarado, 53, was shot dead inside his car while on his way home in Barangay San Lorenzo in Ligao City.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo said the killing of Alvarado was, in a sense, an election-related violence.

“National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales repeatedly declared that they want Bayan Muna to be disqualified in the elections but since they do not have any basis to file a petition for its disqualification, they resort to physical elimination and terrorism,” Ocampo said.

He said the spate of political killings had a very clear pattern, indicating that it was well organized, well-funded, and that they had become part of a systematic policy of exterminating the basic leadership structure of Bayan Muna and other militant organizations.

Earlier, Senior Supt. Roque Ramirez, Albay police director, said a witness in the killing of Alvarado was now in police custody and that a police task force was created to investigate.

Ocampo said Bayan Muna does not believe the Melo Commission would be impartial in its investigation of the killings of leftists.

“What’s happening is, we don’t see the commission unearth evidence pointing to the government as the one responsible for the killings,” Ocampo said.

Alvarado’s eldest son Carlo, in his speech after the Mass, described his father as a very supportive man.

He asked Alvarado’s supporters not to grieve over his father’s death.

“Let’s work for peace,” he said, crying.

He added that his father had every option to hide or run away but simply told him, “How could I serve the people if I run away and not fight? The people need a voice, I would give my life to them.” Ephraim Aguilar and Niño Jesus Orbeta, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Work gives hope to villagers displaced by calamities

06 January 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—SOME VILLAGERS displaced by Supertyphoon “Reming” in Albay found temporary work building latrines in 19 evacuation shelters in Albay.

At least 84 men and women were able to build 124 hand-washing facilities, 248 toilets, and 49 single-unit bathing cubicles in a ‘cash-for-work’ program implemented by Oxfam, an international humanitarian organization, during the holiday season.

The workers were selected from among the evacuees in the shelters, where the sanitary toilets were built, and were paid P150 to P200 each everyday, depending on their skills and kind of work, said Mel Capistrano, program manager of Oxfam’s Emergency Response in Bicol.

Joselito Millare, 32, father of two and whose family was temporarily housed at the upper Malabog evacuation center in Daraga, Albay was one of those hired by Oxfam for the construction of double-pit latrines in the evacuation site.

“We were given employment and we ourselves were able to benefit from the work we did,” said Millare.

He added he was able to buy noodles and a half-kilogram of meat last Christmas while saving P500 for his family’s house transfer.

Oxfam earlier distributed P1,000 cash grants and non-food items in Barangay Bungalon in Daraga town and Barangays Gapo, Tagaytay, Baligang, Cabangan, and Salugan in Camalig—all in Albay—covering 2,100 families.

In Malilipot, Sto. Domingo, and Bacacay—all in Albay—more than 3,000 families benefited from the cash-for-work program of World Vision, an international Christian relief organization, which was assisted by a $200,000-funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The hired workers, who rebuilt destroyed houses and cleared clogged roads, each received P100 and 5 kg of rice everyday.

Evacuees staying in public schools would have to decamp on Sunday as classes were to resume on Jan. 8 as ordered by the Department of Education here. Tent cities would be built in relocation areas in Albay to temporarily provide shelter for the displaced villagers, said Evelyn Jerusalem, public information officer of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Bicol.

Nongovernment organizations and local government agencies are now involved in the construction of houses for the displaced villagers and providing alternative livelihood for those who have lost their farms to the mudflow, Jerusalem said.

She said the local government units are now submitting their rehabilitation plans, which would be consolidated and submitted to the DSWD central office next week.

A total of 6,980 families, or 33,789 persons, from 128 villages housed in 126 shelters in Albay still rely on government and nongovernment relief assistance for more than a month now after Reming ravaged Bicol, said the provincial disaster coordinating council. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Bayan Muna leaders say attacks won’t defeat group in polls

04 January 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—THE LEFT-WING party-list group Bayan Muna said it would emerge as the top winner in the May elections for party-list representatives despite attacks on its leaders.

Robert de Castro, national deputy secretary general of Bayan Muna, said that while the group expected more attacks on its leaders and members, it was not backing down from a campaign to emerge as the top party-list group in the elections.

The latest Bayan Muna leader to have been murdered was Rodolfo Alvarado, the group’s Albay coordinator.

Alvarado, 53, the 42nd political activist to be murdered in Bicol last year, was shot dead Sunday while aboard his car on his way home to Barangay San Lorenzo in Ligao City at around 5 p.m.

“If we no longer fight in the elections, it is the time the government should start to fear because we can never stop our members, agitated by the killings, from fighting back against the government in other ways,” he said.


Senior Supt. Roque Ramirez, provincial police director, said Tuesday that a witness in the murder of Alvarado was now in police custody and that a police task force had been created to thoroughly probe the killing.

He said the witness saw the suspect who shot Alvarado in Ligao late Sunday afternoon.

However, De Castro said they had always doubted the government’s sincerity in its efforts to solve the killings and serve justice to the families of the victims.

“All of these are but pretensions,” he charged.

He added that in other cases of killings, witnesses emerged “but where would their testimonies go and would the government be able to provide security for them since they had also become targets of slays?”

“The government will again end up diverting the issue by saying the victims were slain by fellow activists or by members of the New People’s Army because of internal conflicts,” he said.

What’s going on?

“What’s going on?” Gov. Fernando Gonzalez said as he condemned the killing of Alvarado, which he said was a manifestation of the violent acts against leaders of legitimate party-list groups.

The provincial government was “very much concerned” about the killing, said Gonzalez.

He asked the PNP and the Melo Commission, which was formed by President Macapagal-Arroyo to look into leftist killings, to solve Alvarado’s case immediately.

But De Castro said the Melo Commission was powerless.

“We fear Ompong’s (Alvarado) case would a be part of the police data and end up unresolved,” he added.

Not more than 100 people attended the indignation rally held by Bayan Muna here, but De Castro said a major protest march was planned on Alvarado’s burial. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Witness in slay of Albay Bayan Muna exec held

03 January 2007

LEGAZPI CITY—A witness in the slaying of Albay Bayan Muna provincial chair Rodolfo “Ompong” Alvarado is now in police custody, Senior Supt. Roque Ramirez, Albay police director, said yesterday morning.

A police task force was created to thoroughly investigate the killing of Alvarado, said Ramirez.

He said the witness saw the suspect who shot Alvarado in Ligao City in Albay late Sunday afternoon.

Alvarado, 53, was shot dead while aboard his car on his way home to Barangay San Lorenzo in Ligao at around 5 p.m.

The police director said the witness, whose identity was withheld for security reasons, could provide a description of the suspect.

He added that the task force would coordinate with the CIDG and the NBI in the conduct of the probe. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Another Bayan Muna leader shot dead

02 January 2006

By Ephraim Aguilar Inquirer Southern Luzon and Michael Jaucian

LEGAZPI CITY—RODOLFO “OMPONG” Alvarado, the Bayan Muna provincial coordinator in Albay, knew his days were numbered, his eldest son said.

Alvarado, 53, was shot dead inside his car on Dec. 31 in Ligao City.

“My father expected his death. While we were watching the news on television on the death of another Bayan Muna member three weeks ago, he told me that was how he wanted to die,” Carlo told the Inquirer at his father’s wake.

He said his father would tell the family in jest that upon his death they could just wrap him in a mat or buy the simplest coffin for him.

Alvarado was the 122nd member of Bayan Muna and the 818th victim of political killings since President Macapagal-Arroyo assumed office in 2001, according to Robert de Castro, Bayan Muna national deputy secretary general.

Activists blame military “death squads” for the attacks, a claim repeatedly denied by the Armed Forces.

De Castro said Alvarado, the 206th casualty of political killings in 2006, was the 6th nominee of the Bayan Muna party-list group, which has three seats in the House of Representatives.

Alvarado had served as the regional coordinator of “Tabang Bicol,” a relief effort spearheaded by the party-list group in the aftermath of Supertyphoon “Reming.”

He was the fourth Bayan Muna member killed in Bicol in the last three weeks, after Cris Frivaldo, Gil Gojol and Francisco Bantog—who were shot dead in Sorsogon.

Alvarado was the 42nd activist murdered in the region last year, according to Jose Pernia, Bayan Muna-Bicol regional coordinator.

White Corolla

Alvarado was traveling in Barangay Sta. Cruz on his way home to Barangay San Lorenzo when an unidentified man armed with a .45-cal. pistol shot him in his white Toyota Corolla, police said.

Initial investigation showed that the perpetrator was backed up by two other men who picked up the gunman after the shooting.

The suspects fled toward Bonifacio Street in the same village and headed to neighboring Oas town.

SPO3 Edgar Tuason, investigator, said there were many witnesses to the shooting but they chose to keep silent except to say that the suspects were not wearing bonnets.

Police rushed Alvarado to the Josefina Belmonte Duran district hospital but he was dead on arrival at 4:58 p.m. “He sustained two gunshot wounds in the left arm,” according to Dr. Shiela Salonga.

Carlo was on his way home to Ligao from his work in Legazpi City to celebrate New Year’s Eve with the family when he received a phone call from his brother telling him to come home immediately.

Smiling in death

“Even before my brother told me the details, I already knew what had happened,” Carlo said.

“When I saw my father in the hospital bed lifeless, I saw that he was smiling. I did not see any trace of pain or suffering in him,” Carlo said.

He said his father was happy during the last three days of his life because they were complete as a family.

His father was about 5 feet, 5 inches but looked tall.

He could command the respect of the people he would meet, according to Carlo.

Strict but jolly

“He was very strict but a jolly and loving father with a big vision for the community such as free medical supplies and services for the poor people.”

Alvarado, who passed the entrance exam for the University of the Philippines, dreamed of becoming a doctor but ended up finishing journalism because his parents could not afford the cost of a medical education.

Carlo said many people usually came to their house to ask for help from Bayan Muna’s medical assistance program. Whenever his father would do something for the people they would give him tomatoes, vegetables and “camote” (sweet potato) in return.

Lived life to fullest

“My father lived his life to the fullest and died selflessly. Let it be an eye-opener. We are proud of him,” Carlo said.

Alvarado died fulfilled because he was able to help a lot of people, according to his wife Rosanna.

She knew of no death threats received by her husband because there were only holiday greetings in his cell phone, she said.

“The only New Year’s gift we could give him is to continue the good things he started,” Rosanna said.

Big help to poor

Editha Otilano, 50, a farmer from Barangay Basag in Ligao, came to Alvarado’s house yesterday to see for herself if the news that Alvarado died was true.

“We could not believe he is gone. He was a big help to the poor people in our village,” Otilano said.

She usually accompanied the poor villagers in their place to Alvarado’s house whenever they needed assistance.

Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo said the killing of Alvarado was meant to weaken the party-list group’s chances in the May elections.

But he said the killings of Bayan Muna members would not deter the group from fielding candidates.

“We will turn our grief into a stronger commitment to champion new politics and the politics of change. The death squads of President Arroyo’s Oplan Bantay Laya may kill our leaders and members, but they cannot vanquish the progressive and popular ideals Bayan Muna stands for,” Ocampo, Bayan Muna president, said in a statement.

Formed by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and allied progressive groups in 1999, Bayan Muna joined the party-list elections in 2001.

It emerged No. 1 with 1.8 million votes, the highest in the party-list system, giving its nominees Ocampo, Crispin Beltran and Liza Maza seats in the House of Representatives.

Bayan Muna repeated this feat in 2004, obtaining 1.2 million votes, still the highest among party-list groups, thus ensuring it three seats. Allied peasant group Anakpawis won two seats and women’s group Gabriela, one seat.

Bayan Muna predicted more killings of activists next year.

2-year deadline

“He’s a member of a respected family in Albay but still he was not spared by Ms Arroyo’s death squad,” De Castro said.

“The incident only shows that Malacañang is ready to do anything just to beat the two-year deadline imposed by Ms Arroyo to wipe out her enemies,” Pernia said in a statement.

Lt. Col. Roderick Parayno, spokesperson of the Southern Luzon Command, said it was unlikely that the military killed Alvarado. With reports from Michael Lim Ubac in Manila; Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon, and AFP

22 traders in Albay charged with overpricing

01 January 2007

By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—AT LEAST 22 business owners in Albay found selling overpriced products after Supertyphoon “Reming” were charged by the Department of Trade and Industry here with violations of the Price Act while 11 others faced charges for selling deceptive and substandard products.

Jocelyn Blanco, DTI-Bicol’s regional director, said the 22 business owners sold construction materials and candles at more than 10 percent of the prevailing price.

“After the typhoon, the Bicolanos needed GI (galvanized iron) sheets, umbrellas, common wire nails and candles but some businessmen took advantage of the huge demand for these commodities,” Blanco said.

Jackie Misolas, 45, owner of the Anneraiz General Merchandise, one of the candle stores in this city that did not increase its prices, said an increase was not reasonable since factory prices remained the same even after Typhoons “Milenyo,” Reming, and “Seniang.”

Prices of candles commonly used by powerless households at Anneraiz, depending on the size, would range from P5.75 to P77 per piece. Misolas said these candles were non-drip and high-quality candles from Cavite.

Demand for candles increased as 86 percent of Albay still remained powerless after Reming destroyed power lines amounting to P198 million, Alex Realoza, general manager of the Albay Electric Cooperative (Aleco), said Friday.

Homeless but not blue

26 December 2006 (adik)

LEGAZPI CITY—They’ve lost their homes but they refuse to have a blue Christmas.

The 145 families displaced by Supertyphoon “Reming” and who are temporarily housed at the Bitano Elementary School in this city have found a way to celebrate Christmas.

On Saturday, a group of housewives talked and laughed while they shredded stalks of malunggay (horseradish tree) they had planned to cook in coconut cream.

“Wala kaming pambili ng lechon, kaya ito na lang (We don’t have money to buy roast pig, so we’re serving this). What matters is that we are all together,” said Lea Agripa, an evacuee and one of the camp leaders in the shelter.

Cleofo Moyo, another camp leader said the families shared whatever they had for the simple celebration, like Bicol Express (a pork dish cooked with siling labuyo (chili peppers) and coconut milk and other homemade delicacies.

Each family from Barangay Bitano also cooked one kilo of rice and donated a portion of their rationed relief goods which would be put together in a raffle during the party.

“We also want to feel the spirit of Christmas despite the things we’ve lost,” said Moyo.

Since electricity had been restored at the shelter on Friday, Agripa decided to borrow a sound system. “We plan to have parlor games for the children, sporting events for the teenagers and a lot of singing and dancing,” she said. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Reming victims refuse to have sad Christmas

26 December 2006

By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—They’ve lost their homes but they refuse to have a blue Christmas.

The 145 families displaced by Supertyphoon “Reming” and who are temporarily housed at the Bitano Elementary School in this city have found a way to celebrate Christmas.

As early as 3 p.m. on Saturday, a group of housewives talked and laughed while they shredded stalks of malunggay or horseradish they had planned to cook in gata or coconut cream.

“Wala kaming pambili ng lechon, kaya ito na lang (We don’t have money to buy roast pig, so we’re serving this). What matters is that we are all together,” said Lea Agripa, an evacuee and one of the camp leaders in the shelter.

Cleofo Moyo, another camp leader said the families shared whatever they had for the simple celebration, like Bicol Express (a pork dish cooked with siling labuyo (chili peppers) and coconut milk) and other homemade delicacies.

Each family from Barangay Bitano also cooked one kilo of rice and donated a portion of their rationed relief goods which would be put together in a raffle during the party.

“We also want to feel the spirit of Christmas despite the things we’ve lost,” said Moyo.

Since electricity had been restored at the shelter on Friday, Agripa decided to borrow a sound system.

“We plan to have parlor games for the children, sporting events for the teenagers and a lot of singing and dancing,” she said.

In one corner, a group of teens was playing volleyball while another group was singing Christmas carols.

The adults prepared food while grandmothers told stories of Christmas past.


Agripa said she couldn’t recall of any time when their community gathered together like this.

“Some of us here didn’t know each other until we were forced to live together in the evacuation center. Most of our homes were destroyed by the typhoon,” she said.

For almost three weeks now, each room at the shelter housed 18 to 27 families. Because of the physical closeness, they started to treat one another like family, she added.

At the height of Reming, Agripa and her son scrambled out of their house minutes before it was carried off by rushing floodwaters.

“I didn’t want to leave our house and our belongings but my son kept telling me we should leave. He is my angel. If I had not listened to him we could have been trapped inside,” she said.

Agripa and her son had to wade through the floodwaters to a nearby public dome, where the rest of the villagers had sought refuge.

Her son sustained deep wounds from galvanized iron sheets floating in the floodwaters.

Agripa recounted that other residents who waited till the last minute to leave their homes also had to swim to safety.

Picking up the pieces

“After the disaster I was sad because only the flooring of our house was left. It was only when my neighbors started to chide me: ‘Bakit ikaw lang ba? Lahat tayo wala nang bahay (You’re not the only one. We are all homeless),’ that I felt I was not alone,” she said.

Relief goods abound in villages affected by lahar, according to Moyo, but the government has yet to bring housing materials.

“The government gave food items to families with totally damaged houses. But what we need most are materials to rebuild our homes,” she said.

With the resumption of classes on Jan. 3, the evacuees will have to leave the shelter. They have nowhere to go.

Dark Christmas

“We need tents. We even cleaned up an abandoned building which does not have a roof just in case there’s nowhere else we can stay,” said Moyo.

Esperanza Bantigui said her family gathered scrap materials and constructed a make-shift roof over their heads.

“Basta may masurukan sana (Just so we would have a space for shelter),” the 71-year-old woman said.

And since full power had yet to be restored, 83 percent of the villages in Albay had a dark Christmas Eve—literally.

Alex Realoza, general manager of the Albay Electric Cooperative, said they were only able to restore power in the downtown areas.

Residents, however, found comfort in this forwarded Christmas text message: “Even if this city is bathed in darkness, there is no reason not to celebrate Christmas, whose meaning lies not in material things.”

American volunteers bring cheer to evacuees

24 December 2006

By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—CHRISTMAS CAME early this year for survivors of Supertyphoon “Reming” in Barangay Padang, this city.

A group of US Peace Corps volunteers and members of the Pag-asa Youth Association of the Philippines (PYAP) threw a Christmas party on Wednesday for some 150 young survivors of the village, which was washed out by lahar on Nov. 30 at the height of Reming.

The volunteers had been here since Tuesday, sprucing up the Gogon Elementary School, where more than 400 families from Padang have sought shelter.

“We made a Christmas tree and a little snowman made of paper, filled the room with decor, prepared food and facilitated games for children, who sang Christmas carols,” said Kate Kochersberger, who hails from New York.

The nine Peace Corps volunteers asked for donations from their relatives in the United States, and tapped PYAP members and other youths from Padang to organize what would be the first sign of Christmas at the shelter.

“It was a lot of fun. The kids really enjoyed. The special numbers were prepared by the youths themselves. We gave away slippers, T-shirts and toys,” Kochersberger said.

“Our goal was to help the kids be kids and hopefully, they will be able to leave the bad things behind,” she added.

Julia Campbell, 39, who is also from New York and learned to speak Filipino in her 19 months of stay in Bicol, said: “Minsan mahirap, pero masaya kami sa pagtulong (Sometimes, it’s hard but we are happy to help).”

Campbell was teaching English in a private college here, when successive typhoons struck and classes were suspended.

Busy with relief work for typhoon victims in Padang, she said that like the children of Bicol, she, too, waded through waist-deep flood waters.

Neck-deep in mud

However, her experience was nothing compared to the stories of other children, particularly that of Almera. The 10-year-old who lost everyone save for her mother, tumbled under torrents of sand and rocks and when she was finally rescued, her whole body, except for her head, was buried in mud.

“They are too young to experience such a great disaster and it was really hard for them to understand everything,” Campbell said of the young survivors.

Campbell was a reporter for The New York Times until she decided to leave her job after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

“I lived near ground zero. After the attacks, I decided to volunteer for the Peace Corps. I wanted to show people in the world what Americans are really like because after 9/11, people had the impression that Americans are bad, selfish and greedy,” she said.

She added that most of them in the Peace Corps were not rich. Most came from the middle class and received no salaries, except for a small living allowance.

“I wanted to reach out to people. I wanted to volunteer and do it full-time,” Campbell said.

Children’s party

Enrico Baldo, 19, city president of the PYAP, said children smiled all throughout the early Christmas party which lasted more than two hours.

“This disaster created unity among the city’s youth. We were brought together to do whatever we can for the typhoon victims,” Baldo said.

“It was my first time to reach out in the midst of a disaster and in spite of the language barrier, I could discern resilience and courage among the children,” Kochersberger said.

She was happy to see the youth working together preparing food and organizing the program. Even young survivors from Padang helped in the party preparations.


“This is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done—giving my time for the children. They need to be kids and be given opportunities to express themselves,” Kochersberger said.

She narrated that on her first day in the evacuation center, she met a 6-year-old boy who sat quietly in a chair and would sometimes lash out at other children.

“With the little Filipino I knew, I asked what was bothering him,” Kochersberger said.

The boy answered that he was sad because his mother and sister were in the hospital, being treated for injuries.

“He was quite isolated and would hurt other children—probably because of post-traumatic stress. We got him involved in activities and he learned to play with other children,” she said.

Sad to leave

Kochersberger said she was deeply inspired by her experience in Albay and would be sad to go when her 21-month term ends soon.

The Peace Corps is an independent federal agency of the United States.

More than 187,000 people have served in 139 countries with the Peace Corps since it was established in 1961.

They have volunteers in over 70 countries around the world, providing technical assistance in government, education, health, HIV/AIDS, business, information technology, agriculture and the environment.

Massive rehabilitation for Bicol’s coconut industry

21 December 2006

By Ephraim Aguilar
Legazpi City

THE MASSIVE DAMAGE TO coconut trees after three straight typhoons battered the Bicol region in the past three months is seen to limit big coconut industry players here and will have an impact on Bicol’s traditional cuisine of vegetables cooked in “gata” or coconut cream.

Josefina Loremia, 50, a vendor at the Legazpi City Public Market has no choice but to almost double the price of the coconuts she is selling now at P15, P18, and P20 depending on the size, saying it has been the highest price tag of the coconut in her seven years as market vendor.

“[With] very little supply of coconuts after the typhoon, I have to increase my prices since the supplier also increased his price,” Loremia said.

All 59 million coconut trees were damaged in varying degrees by Typhoons “Milenyo,” “Seniang” and “Reming,” which triggered mudflows from Mayon Volcano in Albay and buried at least 250 hectares of land planted to coconut, based on initial reports, according to Alfredo Rillo, general manager of the Philippine Coconut Authority (Philcoa) in Bicol.

In Bicol, Camarines Sur had the largest areas planted to coconut followed by Masbate, Camarines Norte, Albay, Sorsogon, and Catanduanes.

The coconut industry contributes 33.4 percent of the regional Growth Domestic Product (GDP) in Bicol.

Rillo said damage from the three typhoons amounted to P1.7 billion if the value of the nut is pegged at P4 each.

He said the cost of damage is 22 percent of the potential annual industry income of P8 billion.

Damage assessment

1.8 million coconut trees or 3 percent of 59 million coconut trees in the Bicol were either toppled or buried under volcanic debris

21.7 million or 18 percent of the total were heavily damaged and would require three years or more to rehabilitate; they are at great risk of dying

19 million or 17 percent of the total were moderately damaged

16 million trees slightly damaged; their rehabilitation to take 1 to 2 years.

Industry impact

The immediate effects of this massive damage would be felt directly by the 290,000 coconut farmers in the region and indirectly by other small stakeholders in the coconut industry, Rillo said.

“The people who carry loads of copra for money, coal vendors, workers of oil mills and weavers of coir-based products would also be affected,” he said.

Rillo foresees that the shortage of raw materials will adversely affect the big industry players in the region, who are mostly in Albay.

“Just in Albay, we have three big oil mills and the Juboken Enterprises in Camalig town, which is now one of the country’s major exporters of coir-based products,” said Rillo.

Earlier, Justino Arboleda, chief executive officer of the Coco Technologies Corp. and owner of Juboken Enterprises, said they lost about P2 million in sales after “Milenyo,” which delayed their exports.

Cocotech is a world-recognized provider of coconets made from cocofiber, a bioengineering technology used for soil erosion control, which are being exported to countries like Japan, Korea, Netherlands and the United States.

Rehabilitation plan

Rillo said they have proposed to the Philcoa central office and to the CIIF (Coconut Industry Investment Fund) Oil Mills Group a P67-million rehabilitation plan which only covers the replanting of totally damaged trees.

There is a P42-million rehabilitation plan submitted to the Department of Agriculture-Bicol, which covers the Philcoa-Bicol’s medium-term plan to fertilize the moderately damaged trees and speed up their recovery, he added.

Rillo said the amount would come from the P250 million the DA-Bicol would try to acquire from government funds and the Food Agriculture Organization, an internationally funded organization under the United Nations that provides assistance to agricultural sectors in its member-countries.

The DA-Bicol would also allot P500,000 to provide materials for planting short term crops for worst-affected coconut farmers as an alternative livelihood.

Rillo said another problem was the lack of sources of seed nuts for replanting totally damaged trees since the Samar-Leyte region, which was a potential source of materials after “Milenyo,” was also battered by “Seniang” just last week.

Rillo said, the Bicolanos, also have a high consumption of coconut, primarily since delicacies are coconut-based and there are other nonfood applications.

Loremia said market-goers still bought coconut from her despite the big increase in prices simply because food cooked in “gata” or coconut cream is a mainstay on the dining table of Bicolanos.

Masbate rebs spray boat with bullets, kill 4 cops

19 December 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—COMMUNIST rebels peppered a pump boat with bullets in Masbate on Sunday, reportedly killing four policemen on board and wounding two other civilians.

Initial investigation reports reaching Camp Gen. Simeon Ola here said the four policemen were still missing.

The reports identified them as PO3 Jose Blaire Banaag, P01 Juan Compuesto, P01 Andrew Tiu, and P01 Dominador Raymundo, all of the 507th Provincial Police Mobile Group in Masbate.

Senior Supt. Eugenio Alcovindas, Masbate provincial police director, said the police team rode a pump boat to go to Barangay Manlut-od in Placer town.

At around 3.30 p.m., a group of New People’s Army rebels opened fire on the pump boat, hitting the policemen.

Two other civilians on board, one of whom was identified as Nilo de la Peña, were wounded. Another civilian, a certain Isagani Garing, was unharmed.

A joint police and Army team immediately launched pursuit operations against the rebels. Ephraim Aguilar and Bobby Labalan, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Albay gets water purifying machine

19 December 2006


This could be the freshest gift Albay could get as the Spanish government donated a P26 million water purifying machine to the province that was hardest hit by Supertyphoon Reming.

The machine could produce 3,000 liters of purified water per hour and was set up in Guinobatan town.

It was brought by a Hercules cargo plane at the Legazpi City Airport.

Ma. Eugenia Martin-Sanz Martinez, head of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation’s (Saic) relief department, led a nine-man Spanish team of relief and medical workers helping victims of Re-ming in the province cope with diseases and lack of potable water.

Martinez said her group might build a new hospital in Ligao City in place of the district hospital in the area which was destroyed by Reming.

Saic has already poured in some P68 million in aid to Albay.

Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzales, a Spanish mestizo, expressed gratitude to Saic on behalf of the province.

“The Spanish government’s sincere show of concern ... through its spontaneous response ... is a strong manifestation of a deep-rooted brotherhood between the Spaniards and the Filipinos,” said the governor. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Bicol folk cope with stress of typhoon disaster

18 December 2006

By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—TWO WEEKS AFTER Supertyphoon “Reming” ravaged the Bicol region, survivors now living in refugee camps still have to recover from the trauma and stress that the tragedy brought to their lives.

At Gogon Elementary School, where more than 450 displaced families from Barangay Padang in this city were housed, traces of weaknesses among the survivors have begun to emerge.

Jun-jun Abella, a counseling psychologist of Mararahay Ka (You will get well), a treatment facility that caters primarily to the psychosocial needs of addicts but, at this time, of lahar victims in Padang, said the dominant feelings now among the survivors were anger, fear, sadness and guilt.

A 5 to 6-year old child who lost a three-year old sister won’t talk. Another child bangs his head on the wall and floor during the night blaming himself for the death of his younger siblings.

These were just two of the many stories Abella recalled from the stress debriefing sessions they have been conducting for more than four days now.

The Mararahay Ka counseling sessions and stress debriefing activities for children and adults in Gogon are being run by Abella, 38, and two other staff members—RJ Seguenza, 35, and Francis Paner, 38. All three were former drug dependents who were able to overcome their addiction and start their lives anew.


Paner and Seguenza would begin the sessions with physical exercises and group singing. Then the children were given paper and crayons for them to draw their experiences during the disaster and express their feelings through drawings.

Abella said the children’s varying degrees of experiences and emotions were reflected in the drawings.

“Having witnessed this scene during the tragedy is tantamount to having experienced abuse. It may have caused fear on the child that has to be properly dealt with,” he added, as he pointed to a child’s artwork drawn with a red pen.

The drawing: Three clouds, drops of rain, a battered tree, a house without signs of damage, which seemed like just an ordinary scene after a typhoon. But in the lower part were 15 horizontal bodies being helplessly washed away by lahar. It was drawn by a child who lost 16 of his kin when torrents of sand and boulders swamped Barangay Padang on Nov. 30.

After the art session, the facilitators would let the children form a circle and help them “process” what they had drawn, asking them how they felt.

A small girl suddenly hid under her blouse and cried after confessing she had lost her parents.

Some children, and even adults, have developed fear of water after the floods. There was a little girl who would severely chill every time she got wet, Seguenza said.

Many children also do not want to return to their villages anymore. Some labeled their drawings “Malungkot” (Sad) or “Natatakot” (Fearful).

Blaming God

Abella said they were also conducting group and individual counseling sessions for the parents of the children.

He added that while many adult victims felt extreme sadness, anger and guilt after losing their children, they also were angry with God, blaming Him for the disaster that happened.

Abella said a man who lost his wife and other children is now questioning God’s existence.

Abella would ask a common question to the survivors during the sessions, “Why do you think you were destined to survive?”

“I would want the survivors to realize there is a reason why they were not buried by the lahar and that they still have a special purpose to fulfill,” he said.

Shades of hope

While many of the children’s drawings reflected shades of utter despair and fear, Abella said, there were also those that showed hope.

A few children still managed to draw flowers and the sun while there were those who drew higher houses, which could not be reached by floods.

Some 62 were killed while 163 were still missing in Barangay Padang, said the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council in Albay.

650 still missing but Bicol rescue called off

16 December 2006

By Ephraim Aguilar and Delma Peyra
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—NELLY BERMUNDO OF BARANgay Padang had been hoping against hope that search and recovery operations would continue, and that she would find her loved ones.

But that faint hope was dashed when the 10-day operations ordered by President Macapagal-Arroyo ended yesterday, despite the hundreds of persons still missing and their next of kin desperate for their bodies to be found.

Bermundo lost six members of her family to the mudflow that buried their house in Padang when Supertyphoon “Reming” struck on Nov. 30.

Not one of her loved ones has been found.

“Even if they are dead, I still want to see them—my husband, my son, my three daughters and my granddaughter,” Bermundo said tearfully.

Chief Supt. Victor Boco, chair of the Regional Disaster Coordinating Council, said authorities did not want to further expose the search and recovery team to the danger of falling ill in the course of a protracted search.

He said the immediate focus now should be on relief, recovery and the rehabilitation of the entire Bicol region.

“I think the area is already saturated. What we need now is community participation,” said Cedric Daep, head of the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office, which is under the supervision of the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC).

He said the teams have already searched in all possible areas.

“If they are alive, they should have showed up by now,” he said of the missing persons.

As of yesterday, there were still 650 persons missing in Albay and 566 bodies recovered.

Relocation sites

The local governments of Albay, the municipalities of Daraga, Camalig, Guinobatan and Sto. Domingo, and Legazpi City have identified almost all the relocation sites for close to 10,000 families living in high-risk areas around Mayon Volcano.

Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzales has directed the National Housing Authority office in Legazpi to fast-track the development of the identified relocation sites.

On Thursday, Gonzales presided over a meeting that included Ed Laguerta, resident volcanologist of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs)-Bicol, a team from the Mines and GeoSciences Bureau (MGB), and representatives of the Department of Public Works and Highways and nongovernment organizations to discuss the shelter problem.

Legazpi will relocate 1,000 families from seven barangays to an 11-hectare site owned by the city government.

According to city executives, 460 vacant lots are available in Barangay Banquerohan at the southern portion of Legazpi, as well as a resettlement site in Barangay Taysan for families displaced by Mayon’s previous eruptions.

Total, partial relocation

Residents of Padang, which recorded the biggest number of casualties among the villages in Legazpi—163 missing and 62 dead—will all be relocated.

Padang bore the brunt of mudflows induced by Reming, according to PDCC records.

Around 450 families (2,790 persons) from the barangay are being sheltered at the Gogon Elementary School, the PDCC said.

Listed for partial relocation are residents of Barangays Matanag, Mabinit, Bonga, Buyuan and Bogtong.

Officials of Daraga town, which registered 148 dead and 207 missing, will relocate a total of 5,397 families to the 8-hectare Anislag resettlement site and a 12-hectare private property in Barangay Tabon-Tabon along the national highway.

Currently sheltered in evacuation sites are 3,948 families (16,799 persons) from Daraga.

Gonzales said residents of Barangays Kilicao, Alcala, Matnog, Banadero, Malobago and Miisi were also listed for total relocation, and residents of Barangays Busay, Cullat, Banag, Binitiyan and Tagas, for partial relocation.

Around 900 families in five Guinobatan barangays (Maipon, Maninila, Tandadora, Morera and San Francisco) will be partially relocated to a site reportedly owned by the Bicol University.

In Camalig, 1,428 families from Barangays Anoling, Tumpa, Sua and Quirangay—all within the 6-kilometer danger zone—will be partially relocated to a 24-hectare site in Barangays Batawon and Baligang.

Sto. Domingo will relocate 820 families from Barangays San Isidro, Lidong, Fidel Surtida and San Antonio to an existing 174-hectare resettlement site in Barangay San Andres.

Private donors

At the meeting, Gonzales said Albay had received pledges for housing and rehabilitation from international NGOs, with one pledge amounting to P1.5 billion.

“We have groups who will help us build houses for our people, such as Care and Habitat for Humanity,” he said.

Meg Villanueva, spokesperson for the NGO sector, said they would focus on the repair of schools and day care centers and on establishing food-for-work programs.

Gonzales advised the NGOs to work directly with the Department of Education in the repair of schools and work out an agreement with the local government as part of a tripartite agreement.

Compliance with geohazard mapping

The MGB, an agency under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, cautioned Legazpi officials to avoid building houses and other structures on steep slopes in the targeted relocation site of Banquerohan, a hilly area overlooking the city’s commercial district.

Phivolcs is currently working with the MGB on the on-the-ground validation of the safety level of the identified relocation sites.

RP-UN appeal

The Agence France Presse reported that the Philippines and the United Nations would launch a joint appeal for humanitarian aid to rehabilitate large swathes of the country devastated by four typhoons.

The UN office in Manila yesterday said the cumulative effects of the typhoons, including Reming and “Seniang”—which together left more than 1,400 people dead or missing, would “require longer-term recovery efforts over the next 12 months.”

The aid appeal, to be launched on Monday, will help Manila “address immediate needs and in parallel help restore the capacity of the authorities to respond and communities to help themselves,” the UN said.


15 December 2006

Worst-hit Albay, Camarines Sur get lion share

LEGAZPI CITY—After disaster reports affirmed Albay and Camarines Sur had been the worst-hit by supertyphoon “Reming,” social welfare officials here said the two provinces would receive 70 percent of the P200-million relief assistance that arrived here in Bicol yesterday in a 270-vehicle Mercy Mission Caravan.

Evelyn Jerusalem, public information officer of the Department of Social Welfare and Development-Bicol, said the agency was now ensuring the immediate release of the relief assistance to the intended recipients.

The DSWD has recorded 2.6 million persons or 506,869 families in 2,135 villages in Bicol that had been affected by the hazards of Reming, over a million of which came from Albay, which was badly-hit by lahar from Mayon volcano.

Jerusalem said the caravan carried truckloads of food items like canned goods; milk for children; sack of rice; medicines; distilled water and nonfood items like, clothing; mattresses; tents; water tankers; kitchenware; toiletries; heavy equipment for the clearing and rehabilitation efforts, and construction materials, primarily wood, for the rebuilding of destroyed houses.

The mounted relief assistance for the Palace-initiated Mercy Mission was from various local government units of other regions, government agencies, and private corporations.

Also brought in the caravan were 20 “Tindahan Natin” rolling stores which offered basic commodities like rice at lower prices more affordable to typhoon victims.

Jerusalem said the arrival of the relief caravan was the first of its kind she had ever seen during a disaster.

“The Mercy Mission was a timely answer to our needs here in Bicol. Our resources had started to deplete. The influx of relief assistance this time is differently overwhelming,” she said. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Bicol youths build network of donors

14 December 2006

By Ephraim Aguilar
Legazpi City

AFTER READING stories in newspapers about the tragedy brought by Supertyphoon “Reming” and Typhoon “Seniang” to her home city of Legazpi, a senior student in Metro Manila has found a way to help her kababayan.

Kristina Gadaingan, 20, a social science student of the University of the Philippines Manila who knew Albay more than anyone else in her dormitory, expressed to her “housemates” her concern and grief.

A university professor living in the same dormitory asked how they could help. Although the question was apparently meant just to appease her, it challenged Gadaingan, who transformed feelings of fear and melancholy into compassion and a desire to help.

“I had no access to television that time. I simply relied on the newspapers and accounts from friends told through mobile phone to know how badly hit Albay was. Hearing of the bad news, I was stunned and could not believe what happened,” she said.

After going through the initial shock, the young student and two friends who also came from Bicol met and talked about how they could muster help for the typhoon victims in Albay.

Gadaingan sent countless text and e-mail messages and posted bulletins on the Internet, appealing for donations.

“For five days now, I have been doing a text brigade, e-mail brigade and Friendster brigade. My other Bicolano friends did the same. Many people replied to our message and showed their concern while some pledged donations,” she said.

Donation boxes

She placed donation boxes on campus and though these were just among other solicitation boxes stationed by big organizations in school corners, her action was something she deemed special.

“I was faced with some depressing situations while gathering relief assistance for the typhoon victims, one of which was having to deal with a few apathetic and nonchalant people but for as long as I saw that many others were willing to help, I was encouraged to pursue all these,” she said.

Her friend and classmate in high school, Charm Sison, 21, of Daraga town in Albay, who was in Manila to look for a job, built networks of donors everywhere she went.

Sison solicited relief assistance in offices where she had friends working and in private companies, such as a pharmaceutical company, from whom she asked for a supply of paracetamol tablets.

Taiping Philippine Carpet and the local government of Valenzuela, with which Charm has already established a connection, sent separate vans loaded with food items and clothing. The vans left for Albay at dawn of Friday.

Gadaingan never thought that her initiative would reap warm response from donors. Among those that have helped were the Mother Ignacia Ladies’ Dormitory, Religious of the Virgin Mary sisters, World Health Organization-Manila, UP-Manila faculty members and students, student organizations, and the Damayan Network of Bicol University.

“Two of the boxes I placed in our dorm and school were already filled with clothing, food items, shoes and kitchenware. Some handed cash,” she said in a mobile phone interview.

“Now, there’s this little challenge of how we were to transport these goods to Albay, though an organization in my former school there already promised to receive and distribute the donations.”

Two other Bicolano friends joined Gadaingan and Sison in their campaign.

One, who was the president of the Youth for Christ Movement at UP-Los Baños, also began rallying for help through his organization. The other, a teacher in Batangas, has also been doing his part.

Gadaingan said what she loved most in what she was doing was to see other people’s concern and generosity.

“There were people who would really ask for the details on how they could extend help. Now I know … this is how it feels when it’s all about your own hometown … there’s a different kind of energy,” she said.

At least 286,600 families or 1.5 million persons were “affected” by Reming in 1,338 villages in all six provinces in Bicol.

Latest figures from the Office of Civil Defense-Bicol showed 557 people dead and 604 missing due to mudslides that buried their villages, mainly in Albay.

More than 249,850 houses were destroyed or damaged by strong surges, flash floods and mudslides.

For interested donors, contact Gadaingan at mobile phone No. 09167674174.

Mercy mission started with GMAvow to old lady

14 December 2006

By Juan Escandor Jr.and Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

PILI, CAMARINES SUR—A RELIEF CARavan of 270 vehicles, moved by President Macapagal-Arroyo’s promise of help to an old woman and other victims of Supertyphoon “Reming,” arrived here amid cheers from residents yesterday morning.

But the bulk of the convoy of Malacañang’s “Mayon Mercy Mission” proceeded to Legazpi City in Albay, which suffered the brunt of Reming among the Bicol provinces, after a brief ceremony to turn over a P15-million calamity assistance from the President to Camarines Sur and P6 million from the House of Representatives.

Ms Arroyo visited Albay last week after the supertyphoon struck on Nov. 30, claiming hundreds of lives and damaging billions of pesos worth of property. Another typhoon, “Seniang,” hit the Visayas a week later and sideswiped Bicol. (See related story on Page A16.)

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said that when she arrived in Manila from Bicol, the President immediately called him up and ordered him to organize the mercy mission to respond immediately to the disaster.

Andaya said the old woman had embraced Ms Arroyo in Legazpi and told her “not to forget them.” The incident might have left a lasting image in the President’s mind which prompted her to launch the mercy mission, he said.

The caravan of trucks, loaded with assorted food and nonfood items worth P200 million, and earth-moving heavy equipment left Manila on Tuesday. According to local officials, Albay will receive 40 percent of the relief goods, followed by Camarines Sur, 30 percent; Catanduanes, 20 percent, and Sorsogon, 10 percent.

Bayani Fernando, chair of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and head of the mercy mission, said the local governments of Metro Manila pooled together most of the resources and assistance.

Among the items for immediate distribution to the typhoon victims are iron sheets for roofing, nails, plywood, lumber, clothes, foodstuffs and drinking water.

Fernando said the heavy equipment and trucks would be used to clear and clean the areas ravaged by the supertyphoon to prevent the spread of diseases and improve sanitation.

Camarines Sur Gov. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte said the provincial government was thankful that funds to rehabilitate and rebuild schools had been coming in.

Damaged schools

Although his province has suffered only a number of casualties, Villafuerte said damage to school facilities and other government infrastructure facilities could run to as much as P1 billion, including those previously damaged by Typhoon “Milenyo.”

During a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Ms Arroyo ordered the transmission to Congress of a P10-billion additional budget request for the provinces ravaged by five strong typhoons that hit the country this year, Andaya said. The amount would be included in the 2007 national budget for the rehabilitation all over the country of areas damaged by typhoons in 2006.

At least three mayors from Metro Manila have joined the caravan to bring their contributions and to show their sympathy to victims of the calamity.

Metro mayors’ aid

Mayor Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte of Quezon City announced that his government had allocated P10 million for the seven provinces severely damaged by Reming. Of the amount, P3 million would be given to Camarines Sur.

Mayor Pedro Cuerpo of Rodriguez, Rizal, said municipal employees had responded to the call for help of Bicolanos by foregoing their traditional Christmas party and giving instead P250,000 for the victims.

Pateros Mayor Rosendo Capco said that even though his town is the smallest among the Metro Manila local governments, he joined the mission as a gesture of sympathy and concern.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development would be the one to divide the truckloads of relief assistance among the six typhoon-hit provinces in Bicol, said Chief Supt. Victor Boco, chair of the Regional Disaster Coordinating Council.

The provincial disaster coordinating councils, headed by the governors, will divide the goods among the 31 affected municipalities, while the municipal disaster coordinating councils will divide it among the more than 2,364 affected villages.

Boco added that the P200 million spent for the relief goods was not part of the P1 billion that Malacañang ordered released through the National Disaster Coordinating Council for relief and rehabilitation efforts in areas affected by Typhoons “Paeng,” “Queenie” and “Milenyo.”


Goods intended for Camarines Sur were also brought to Albay yesterday, but bringing them back to the province would be a problem after the concrete Travesia Bridge in Guinobatan town collapsed yesterday from the weight of trucks and equipment.

Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzales, who has supervised the relief operations since “Reming” struck, thanked Ms Arroyo for the relief caravan, as well as the foreign governments, government and private agencies, nongovernment organizations and individuals who gave donations in cash and kind.

“Their help has certainly gone a long way to ease the sufferings of Albayanos,” Gonzales said.

Reaching out to ‘Reming’ victims

14 December 2006

AT LEAST 579 people died, 608 went missing, and 1,986 were injured in three cities and 31 municipalities affected by Supertyphoon “Reming” in Bicol, according to reports released at 3 p.m. yesterday by the Office of Civil Defense in Bicol and the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC) in Albay.

A total of 165,484 houses were destroyed while 208,573 houses were damaged.

At least 6,263 families or 30,769 persons from 368 villages have remained in 71 evacuation centers in Albay, the worst-hit province in the region.

Those who lost their dwellings were housed in schools, chapels, village halls, private buildings and residences, covered courts, and churches, said Jukes Nuñez of the PDCC.

Throughout the region, 653,743 families or 2.4 million people in 2,364 villages were “affected” by the “main hazards” brought by Reming. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, Astronomical Services Administration defined these “hazards” as flash floods in low-lying areas, storm surges in coastal areas, landslides near mountainous slopes, and tornadoes.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology also identified areas prone to lahar in case of heavy rainfall.

The hazards have caused massive losses in terms of livelihood, business, property, houses and even lives.

The Department of Public Works and Highways earlier estimated damage to infrastructure at P1.2 billion.

Relief agencies

Before Malacañang sent off to Bicol its mercy mission caravan of 250 vehicles loaded with P200 million worth of goods, several foreign governments, local government units, nongovernment institutions, and private corporations were extending relief assistance (food and non-food items) to the typhoon victims.

They are as follows, based on reports of Albay local offices:

• Unicef, Tan Yan Kee Foundation Inc., Puregold Price Club, DHL-Japan, Aldea Espinosa and Associates, San Miguel Corp., Plan International Philippines, Care Philippines, Cope Christian Aid, Coastal Care, World Food Programme, Mercy Malaysia, Japanese Red Cross Society, International Committee of the Red Cross, Fact-IFRC, Oxfam Great Britain, MSF (Doctors Without Borders), Adventist Community Services, World Vision, Save the Children-US.

• The governments of Spain, Indonesia, China, India, and Korea.

• Zamboanga local government, Commission on Higher Education, National Housing Authority, Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, and National Food Authority.

Yolanda Guanzon, head of the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office in Albay, also said she had received a total donation of of P31.7 million worth of rice from the NFA and that the provincial government had purchased P5 million worth of canned goods, noodles, milk, and coffee for the victims. Ephraim Aguilar

Next heavy rains could flood Albay

13 December 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—NEXT TIME THERE’S heavy rainfall in Albay, villages could be submerged in flood waters, according to a public works official here.

Several dams and dikes around Mayon Volcano were destroyed by lahar caused by super typhoon “Reming.” Without these structures, floodwaters could create pathways to just about anywhere, said Orlando Roces, regional director of the Department of Public Works and Highways-Bicol.

Some of the dams and dikes were destroyed by gullies and river channels located near the volcano’s slopes. The bodies of water overflowed because they could no longer accommodate the 466-millimeter rainfall brought by Reming.

Damage to infrastructure in the Bicol region already reached P1.2 billion, Roces said, adding that it could take years to rebuild everything, depending on available funds.

He said the rehabilitation of flood control facilities would begin with a thorough study on how to effectively redirect flooding to Albay Gulf.

“The course of the water has changed because of the lahar. We will have to wait for the results of the study now being conducted by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), which will serve as our guide. Then we will conduct our own two-week study,” Roces said.

An eight-man team of engineers and geologists sent by the Japanese government is now in Albay assessing the damage to flood control facilities and will also give recommendations.

The priority of the DPWH in Bicol was to clear the roads, Roces said, adding that this would be soon completed. A major bridge in Ligao City and five minor bridges were also badly in need of repair.

Roces said he had conferred with top officials of DPWH in Manila and they pledged to send an initial P58 million to Bicol. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

2.5 million truckloads of volcanic debrisloosened by ‘Reming,’ says volcanologist

11 December 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—AN ESTIMATED 10 million cubic meters or around 2.5 million truckloads of volcanic debris were loosened by Supertyphoon “Reming,” a volcanologist yesterday said.

The loosened debris caused lahar flows on high risk areas around Mayon volcano and buried homes that left more than 1,200 villagers, listed as dead or missing.

Ed Laguerta, senior science research specialist of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology-Bicol (Phivolcs-Bicol), said two teams of geologists started measuring the amount of volcanic debris along the three main river channels that merge along the Yawa River and lead into the Albay gulf.

The geologists conducted an aerial survey and took photos of the areas covered by the lahar and were about to measure the thickness of the debris deposits through ground routing.

“It will take a week or two to complete all these procedures and the 10 million cubic meters could still increase,” Laguerta said.

He added that the results of the measurement will serve as significant inputs to disaster officials studying the permanent relocation of residents living in lahar-prone areas.

It will also benefit the Department of Public Works and Highways if it would plan to create dikes or do other engineering intervention.

Laguerta said the people residing near river channels should be prioritized in the relocation although, ideally, all those in lahar-prone areas should be relocated as far as “total safety” is concerned.

He said Phivolcs would also be comparing river channels before and after the lahar to determine significant changes in its future paths.

After studying the present lahar flow, Phivolcs will also measure how many “collapsible materials” are left on the slopes, which could possibly turn into lahar when loosened by a heavy volume of rainfall.

Laguerta explained that the recent “quiet eruption” of Mt. Mayon served to prevent rather than trigger the lahar that encroached on low-lying areas at the height of “Reming” on Nov. 30.

During the latest eruption, an estimated 80 million cubic meters of lava or hardened magma was ejected from the crater, Phivolcs records showed.

“The lava flow is hardened magma, which could not be loosened by water. It actually blocked quite a good quantity of lahar that could have added to those which buried houses at the low-lying areas during “Reming,” he said.

Lahar consists of a sufficient volume of rainfall mixed with sand, boulders and ash that were shed off from the main chunks of lava during the eruption.

He said the speed of lahar varies depending on the topography and the composition of debris and amount of rainfall.

“Lahar also does not have barriers. It will keep flowing for as long as there are low-lying areas to encroach on. The end point of lahar would turn out to be the foot of mountainous slopes,” he said.

“Lahar flow from the foot of Mt. Mayon at the height of ‘Reming’ was the first such experience in the history of Albay, preceded perhaps in terms of destruction only by the 1814 eruption that buried Cagsawa Church in Daraga, Albay,” observed Laguerta. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Guards save 100 from floodwater in ‘Reming’ wrath

09 December 2006

By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—WITH ONLY A piece of cable wire to cling to and his strength stretched to the limit, security guard Rey Jan Borillo, 18, of Barangay Libod, Camalig, Albay, was able to save about 100 residents at the height of Supertyphoon “Reming.”

Borillo was on duty at the Aspe Pawnshop, which was beside a narrow passageway leading to hundreds of shanties in the slums of Barangay Kapantawan in Camalig, when strong winds and torrents wreaked devastation here.

He saw how the flood rose and surpass the height of an average man, which sent residents in the village fleeing from their homes.

However, the strong current and increasing volume of floodwaters, and the hysteria it brought to the people, made it almost impossible to survive.

Hearing the cries of the residents for help, Borrillo, who was six feet and an inch tall, waded through the narrow passageway, carried old and young people on his back and brought them to a three-story building where the pawnshop was renting space.

“I really hoped to see everyone alive, even if I did not know them personally. Lost dwellings and property could be replaced but never a man’s life,” Borillo told the Inquirer.

The building owner, Evelyn Brizuela, accommodated over 100 people and gave them food to eat.

Helping Borillo was his co-security guard Ricky Legisniana, 21, of Palanog Camalig.

“I was worried for my friend but I saw his courage and determination to offer help to those who needed it. Since he was taller than I was, I just stayed here in the building to get those people he had saved,” Legisniana said.

Gasping for breath

Borillo, who got his foot wounded by stepping on a broken fluorescent bulb while saving lives, had to swim just to get to members of a family trapped in their house.

He recounted carrying an old woman who was gasping for breath as if she was nearing death and a woman who was engulfed by floodwaters jumping to keep her head above water and to catch her breath.

“I could no longer count how many times I had to go back to the village from the pawnshop. For as long as I heard cries for help or saw those who silently pleaded for it, I just kept going until I saw it was all over,” said Borillo.

He and Legisniana, who did not have lunch while on duty that day, were still wondering where their strength came from.

They had also been on straight duty for 24 hours—the whole day when the typhoon made its landfall and the night the city was submerged, when only the roofs of vehicles and food stalls could be seen.

Both did not have quarters and simply sat on plastic chairs outside the pawnshop during the height of the typhoon without sufficient cover to shelter them from the raging storm.

After the typhoon, the two guards were on another straight duty for 24 hours as the guards who were supposed to relieve them were not able to report for duty.

“What happened was an ultimate test of strength. I am glad for what I have achieved and still could not believe I was destined to do such feat at the risk of even losing my own life,” said Borillo.

Both said they were also worried for their families who were left in Camalig.

“While I was here saving strangers, I could not even help my own family during the disaster. But I felt better when I got home seeing them all safe,” said Borillo.

No one was recorded dead or missing in the village the day after the storm.

“If it were not for the two security guards, this building and its generous owner, many could have died in our village,” said Rey Abordo.

Diseases stalking ‘Reming’ survivors

09 December 2006

LEGAZPI CITY — Health officials urged local government officials to fast-track the provision of potable water and provide sanitary means of garbage disposal in this city and other areas in Albay as these were seen to cause an increasing number of diarrhea cases here.

A total of 20 diarrhea cases in the three barangays of Victory Village, San Roque, and Mauyod—all in Legazpi—were recorded by the Bicol Regional Training and Teaching Hospital on Thursday.

Dr. Ingrid Magnata, assistant regional director of the Department of Health in Bicol, said most of the victims were children aged two and a half to five years old.

Undocumented cases of diarrhea were reported in other villages while cases being monitored by health workers in evacuation centers were being referred to hospitals for confirmation.

Magnata said although there has been no outbreak yet, “what we are seeing is an increasing number of diarrhea cases and we have deployed surveillance teams to look into other diseases with epidemic potentials.”

The DOH set up two water purifiers in Albay for clean and safe water to be distributed by fire trucks to the evacuation centers.

It also asked the public to use chlorine solutions or to boil the water for five to 10 minutes before drinking, and encouraged the public to observe proper waste disposal, hygiene and hand washing.

Water samples from areas with diarrhea cases have been sent to the public health laboratory for analysis.

As of Thursday afternoon, surveillance teams, which were deployed to the 42 evacuation centers in Albay, found that the most common forms of diseases afflicting the evacuees were acute respiratory infection, 235 cases; wounds, 129; fever, 33, and diarrhea, 24.

In Albay province, there were over 4,329 families and 22,307 persons housed in temporary shelters like barangay halls, chapels, relocation sites, day care centers, public schools and private residences.

The DOH has intensified its watch on diseases that could arise like cholera, gastroenteritis, amoebiasis, typhoid, dengue and other food and waterborne diseases, Magnata said.

“We have started immunization and targeted all evacuation centers in the drive. We have isolated cases of contagious diseases and dispatched medicines in the different municipalities,” she added.

A team from the National Center for Mental Health also arrived in the province to cater to the psychosocial needs of traumatized villagers through stress-debriefing sessions.

Tales of survival abound in the province.

At the height of “Reming” on Thursday, a police official said that a 10-month-old boy and his mother survived after their house was buried in a landslide in Barangay Buhatan, 8 km from Sto. Domingo town.

While the baby boy and his mother survived, seven other persons in their household were not as lucky. Ephraim Aguilar and Joanna Los Baños, Inquirer Southern Luzon

NDF declares Albay ceasefire

08 December 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—THE NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC Front declared a unilateral ceasefire in Albay Wednesday to give way to “safe and orderly” rescue and relief operations for victims of Supertyphoon Reming.

Greg Banares, NDF-Bicol spokesperson, said the ceasefire is effective until the retrieval of missing bodies and distribution of relief goods and services have been completed.

He said the NDF grieves with Reming’s victims and that guerrillas are helping in relief and rehabilitation efforts for the masses.

To avoid clashes, he asked the Arroyo administration and the military not to use the relief and rehabilitation operations for the counter-insurgency plan. (More stories on Reming’s effects on page A19)

Maj. Ramon Rosario, head of the Civil Relations Group of the Southern Luzon Command, said the military was awaiting orders from higher authorities to decide on the ceasefire.

He said soldiers are busy with relief and retrieval operations in Albay. Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Friday, December 21, 2007

GMA: Stop bickering

06 December 2006

LEGAZPI CITY—PRESIDENT MA- capagal-Arroyo, in her five-hour visit to Camarines Sur and Albay yesterday, ordered government agencies to stop all finger-pointing but rather to ensure that no communities affected by supertyphoon “Reming” would be left “isolated and hungry.”

She ordered the extension of the search and retrieval operations for 10 days more in mud-sputtered areas in Legazpi City and Daraga and Guinobatan towns—all in Albay.

Wearing a black-colored blouse, which probably symbolized grief for the massive loss of lives and properties caused by Reming primarily in Albay, Arroyo visited calamity victims in Pasacao, Camarines Sur, and Guinobatan, Albay, carrying children evacuees in her arms.

She distributed relief goods and financial assistance to some bereaved families at P5,000 for every dead person.

Aida Tolero of Barangay Binitayan in Daraga, Albay, one of the villages affected by the mudflow thanked Arroyo for the “gift,” saying it would go a long way in helping her rebuild her life.

The latest death toll as of yesterday was 484 with 678 still missing and 1,475 injured, said the Office of Civil Defense-Bicol.

Describing the tragedy as something similar to that of Guinsaugon, Southern Leyte, Arroyo looked into the ongoing rescue and relief operations and ensured that the basic needs of the people would be met.

She directed disaster agencies to start finding ways to address and replace the losses.

Arroyo also ordered the speedy clearing of roads of volcanic debris, specifically that going to Tabaco City, which became an isolated town, delaying the distribution of relief goods in affected villages in that area.

The Department of Public Works and Highways vowed to finish road-clearing operations by Friday.

Following the declaration of the state of national calamity, a total of P1 billion will be disbursed to cover relief and rehabilitation efforts and would be divided among 12 regions affected by “Milenyo” and supertyphoons “Paeng” and “Reming.” Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

Dark, silent Christmas for Bicol typhoon victims

06 December 2006

By Ephraim Aguilar, Bobby Labalan and Juan Escandor Jr.
Inquirer Southern Luzon

“WE DO NOT KNOW HOW TO start again,” was the common lamentation among typhoon victims in Albay province’s capital city of Legazpi, as they cried for basic necessities like food, water, clothing and shelter.

Indeed, a dark, bleak christmas awaits residents of Albay, Catanduanes and other parts of the Bicol region who survived Supertyphoon “Reming” on Nov. 30.

The region of 4.6 million people is still without power, with downed transmission pylons lying unattended next to the highways.

In her five-hour visit to Camarines Sur and Albay yesterday, President Macapagal-Arroyo ordered government agencies to stop all their finger-pointing and ensure that no communities affected by Reming would be left “isolated and hungry.”

Reming (international code name: Durian), now downgraded to a tropical storm, continued with its deadly course overnight, lashing the coast of southern Vietnam, where officials said at least 23 people had died and more were missing.

Power facilities in Albay, valued at about P200 million, were destroyed and restoring power may take more than six months, according to Alex Realoza, general manager of Albay Electric Cooperative (Aleco).

But Glen Rabonza, executive director of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), said power was set to be restored in Naga City today and in Legazpi City by Dec. 16 and in the entire region by Dec. 21.

Aleco had not finished restoring power in Albay (8 percent of the province was still without power a month after the last typhoon “Milenyo” struck) when Reming toppled electric poles, transformers and power stations.

History’s worst typhoon

Reming also severely damaged Aleco’s office, equipment, trucks and service vehicles, according to Realoza.

“Now, we do not even know where to start assessing the damage. This was the worst typhoon in history,” Realoza said.

Civil defense officials confirmed 526 dead, mostly around Mayon volcano, and another 740 missing.

The civil defense office said the typhoon and the mudslides destroyed or damaged 250,000 houses and affected 1.54 million people, nearly 83,000 of whom had sought refuge at evacuation centers.

It put the cost of the damage to buildings, infrastructure and agriculture at P1.2 billion.

Villagers are drawing water from wells and are using pumps. The Department of Health-Bicol has deployed teams to educate people on water chlorination. Water-purifying plants have been put up in some areas, according to the OCD.

Since the typhoon struck, people had been going around Legazpi looking for potable water in the few water refilling stations open. After finding one, they still had to join the long queue of thirsty buyers.

People were also queueing when buying food supplies, milk for infants, gasoline, medicine and liquefied petroleum gas.

Gasoline shortage

Only one gasoline station was open in Legazpi and not all of its pumps were working.

Motorists still had to drive to neighboring Daraga town, where three stations were open.

The gasoline shortage paralyzed more than 50 percent of the public utility vehicles.

Communication was still a problem. In the entire Bicol, only one mobile network was working three days after Reming struck.

Transmission towers in Naga City and Legazpi were toppled, paralyzing the operations of most radio stations.

Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzales complained about the slow clearing of highways and roads by the Department of Public Works and Highways, saying that he saw only one bulldozer doing the job. The DPWH vowed to finish road-clearing operations by Friday.

Hospital damaged

Sorsogon remained without electricity and all communications facilities were still down. No casualty was reported but houses, buildings and crops were damaged.

On the island province of Catanduanes, where Reming made its landfall, 14,933 houses were destroyed and 17,258 were damaged, according to Gov. Leandro Verceles.

Damage to agriculture and infrastructure was placed at P370.8 million.

Verceles estimated the damage to the operating room of the Eastern Bicol Medical Center in Virac at P30 million.

Financial assistance

Wearing a black-colored blouse, Ms Arroyo commiserated with victims in Pasacao, Camarines Sur and Guinobatan, Albay. She carried young evacuees in her arms.

The President gave some bereaved families P5,000 for each fatality and distributed relief goods.

Aida Tolero of Barangay Binitayan in Daraga thanked the President for the “gift,” saying it would go a long way in helping her rebuild her life.

Tolero lost a niece after torrents of mud from the slopes of Mayon washed out their house.

In Pasacao, Merlita Lanuza, 47, said her house was destroyed and that she hoped she could be provided some financial assistance to start rebuilding her house. But she said she was also very happy that the President came to visit them.

Lanuza said she also wished the President could help them rebuild their lives by providing them assistance to start a small store. She said their small store and their house were gone.


When Ms Arroyo came to her, Lanuza could only smile and could not say anything but accept the plastic bag with relief goods handed to her.

Ms Arroyo’s three-helicopter entourage arrived at the Philippine Ports Authority office in Pasacao at 10:20 a.m. and left for Albay at 10:50 a.m.

She was accompanied by Vice President Noli de Castro, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr., her son Dato Arroyo and Gina de Venecia.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. said the P1 billion ordered released by the President for the hardest-hit areas was already available in cash.

Andaya said the P1 billion was an initial release, just to “normalize” the situation and to respond to the basic needs of the victims like food and electricity.

“The good thing right now is that we have sufficient cash to cover all the necessary funding requirement, so there would be no problem,” he said.

Food, medicine from Indonesia

The country continues to receive aid from other countries.

At first light yesterday, two C-130 transport aircraft from Indonesia touched down in Legazpi, carrying more than 12 tons of food and medicine.

A small team of Spanish firemen set up a field hospital nearby for the injured survivors.

Other pledges of support include:

$200,000 from the Chinese government.

$100,000 from South Korea.

A total of 150 tents, 900 rolls of plastic sheets, 60 pieces of sleeping mattresses, and 20 sets of 22V generators from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Relief supplies worth $50,000, including medicine, food, blankets and tents, from Singapore.

A total of P3.4 million from Muntinlupa City for Calabanga and Siruma towns in Camarines Sur, and Sta. Cruz, Marinduque.

An unspecified amount from the League of Cities of the Philippines. (See Page A17)

P100,000 from the Regional Development Council in Eastern Visayas.

World Vision, an international Christian relief and developmental organization, has started its assessment of the tragedy and has rallied support among its international allies worldwide.

For its part, the International Red Cross has launched a $7.3-million emergency appeal to help the Philippines.

Search operations extended

Ms Arroyo ordered the extension of the search and retrieval operations for 10 days in mud-sputtered areas in Legazpi City, Daraga and Guinobatan.

“The search for victims must continue as we tend to the sick and hungry in the evacuation centers, but we must now also push on the search for permanent solutions bearing upon the root cause of these grave calamities,” she added.

But Daniel Fernandez, a member of the Spanish search and rescue team BUSF, said “the search for life is over.”

Teams from the health department were making their way to villages to help deal with the dead. Many unclaimed bodies have been buried in shallow graves but many more are still lying unrecovered. With reports from Jocelyn R. Uy in Manila; Ven S. Labro and David Israel Sinay, Inquirer Visayas

OCD lists 407 dead in Bicol

05 December 2006

ON THE FOURTH DAY OF SEARCH AND recovery operations, the death toll continued to rise in Bicol.

The regional Office of Civil Defense said the number of fatalities in Albay, Catanduanes and Camarines Sur had reached 407 as of 9 a.m. yesterday.

In Albay alone, the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council placed the total body count at 438—104 in Legazpi City; 79 in Daraga; 17 in Sto. Domingo; 180 in Guinobatan; 8 in Ligao City; 3 in Pio Duran; 26 in Camalig; 9 in Malilipot; 11 in Rapu-Rapu, and one in Tabaco City.

The PDCC said the causes of deaths were drowning, mudflows, landslides, heart attacks, or due to flying objects.

A total of 591 were reported still missing.

Daraga had the most number of missing at 210, followed by Guinobatan, 200; Legazpi, 168; Sto. Domingo, 14, and Camalig, 4.

A total of 1,140 persons were reported injured.

As of yesterday, the PDCC said 3,738 families or 17,593 people were still in different evacuation centers in Albay.

In Catanduanes, the OCD reported that 4,834 houses were destroyed; Camarines Sur, 823, and Albay, 303.

Damaged houses numbered 4,636 in Catanduanes; 1,677 in Camarines Sur, and 329 in Albay.

The OCD partial report said damage to agriculture in Albay, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Catanduanes, Masbate and Sorsogon reached more than P400 million. Reports from Gina Rodriguez and Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon

‘I couldn’t believe it was my son’

04 December 2006

By Joanna Los Baños and Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

LEGAZPI CITY—AS FLOODWAters unleashed by Supertyphoon “Reming” swept her village, Sally Buensalida, 26, embraced her 2-year-old son before sending him off to her mother’s house, thinking he would be safe there. It was to be their last embrace.

Interviewed at a funeral parlor here, Sally said the place where she was staying was collapsing and she thought that her son would be safer with her mother.

After Reming passed, Sally went to check on the boy.

“I was shocked to see my mother’s house gone,” she said between sobs. She was told her son’s body had been seen floating in Albay Gulf.

“I couldn’t believe it was my son because his eyes were wide open … Later, I realized it was really him,” said Sally, whose husband was in Manila at the time.

Two of her sisters and a niece were also killed, crushed under a fallen coconut tree. Her mother was still missing.

All of Sally’s relatives were among the dozens of people killed in the avalanche of mud and rocks that swamped Barangay Padang, 8 kilometers from the city proper and one of the areas hardest hit by Reming.

Sally’s son lay on the floor of Bejer Basco Funeral Parlor because there were no available coffins for children.

Parlor owner Merly Bejer said this was the first time in her 10 years in the business that the parlor had embalmed so many bodies in a day.

“Although we would profit from it, we are not happy because of what happened,” she said.

Another woman survivor said she was carried 8 km away from her house by the flood, but suffered only bruises.

Because of the mud and the fallen electric posts, a portion of the road between Barangay Bigaa Padang had become a dead-end for motorists and people had to walk.

Along the way, rescue teams plodded on, carrying stretchers with bodies covered with blankets.

McDave Nuez, 18, of Barangay Busay in Daraga, showed no emotion as he wrote the name “Janine” on a piece of paper.

The paper would serve as a label on her sister’s body that lay amid hundreds of other bodies bloated and coated with dried mud at the garage of Nuestra Señora de Salvacion Funeral Home.

McDave, the eldest in the family, had just arrived from Manila, where he had been working. He rushed home after getting a text message that his whole family—seven siblings and his two parents—were trapped inside their house when it was struck by mud flows from Mayon volcano.

He was able to identify one of his five sisters but he had not found the bodies of his parents, four sisters and two brothers.

“I still cannot believe that they are gone,” he said.