With a truckload of relief goods packed the day before, the Ateneo de Davao University through the University Community Engagement and Advocacy Council (UCEAC) and the University Research Council (URC) mounted a relief operation in Davao Oriental, penetrating places that bore the brunt of Pablo, a tropical storm (TS) that caused massive devastation in eastern and southern Mindanao on 4th December 2012. Fr. David John “DJ” delos Reyes, SJ, the executive secretary of the URC, headed the university contingent that included college faculty, a student volunteer, and other university personnel, totalling 27. The team left Davao shortly after midnight on 8th December, the dawning of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, enroute to Cateel and Baganga and passing through some towns and barangays in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental which likewise took a heavy beating from Pablo’s unrelenting fury.

Earlier on Friday, basic relief goods consisting of rice, noodles, water, canned goods, sugar, coffee, and other food stuffs were packed by groups of student volunteers and other university personnel at Ebro compound (the old Holy Child College covered court along Jacinto street).  These were donated by students (individuals, or as a class), faculty and staff in the university, as well as by various individuals and several donor agencies that dropped their aid at Ebro, designated by the university as the drop-in center for all relief goods for the survivors of TS Pablo. The URC donated PhP 20,000.00 worth of goods for this operation. Other major corporate donors were the Zuelig Family Foundation and Robinson’s Supermarket; the Simbahang Lingkod Bayan also donated relief goods for Davao Oriental. Also included in the relief goods were sacks of donated clothing; first aid medicines for fever and common colds, as well as antibiotics and anti-tetanus injections for wounds.

The university used three vehicles to ferry the goods. The relief goods were dropped off at designated churches through the parish priest: In Cateel Poblacion, care of Fr. Nestor Morata; in Baganga, care of Fr. Joel L. Vidal; in Kinablangan, care of Fr. Roberto M. Ombon; and in Lambajon, at the Maryknoll of Lambajon School, care of Fr. Uldarico A. Toroba, Jr.  At Lambajon, the team’s Nursing faculty treated Pablo survivors who had sustained wounds caused by debris.

A Clockwork Operation

The long travel towards the coastal area of Davao Oriental commenced and concluded within 22 and a half hours, passing along Tagum, Mawab, Nabunturan, Montevista, Monkayo, the Cuevas junction ontowards Salvacion, Mangagoy, Lingig and Boston, then enroute to Cateel and finally to Baganga. For safety and security purposes, the travel back to Davao City took the Bislig route in Surigao de Sur, ontowards Tagbina and Barobo before it headed towards Agusan de Sur, passing through San Francisco, Rosario and Trento, then to Monkayo, Montevista and Mawab of Compostela Valley, ending with Tagum and finally Davao City. The team left the university ground at a quarter past two in the early morning of Saturday, 8th December, and arrived back at Ebro compound at half past midnight of Sunday, 9th December.

Unspeakable Devastation

The team saw up close and personal the massive devastation rendered by TS Pablo’s ungovernable fury. Along the way towards ComVal region, enroute to Baganga in Davao Oriental, and in thick of the early morning fog, are scenes that nobody in the team was prepared to witness owing to the magnitude of the havoc that came with Pablo’s majestic entrance: Scores of wooden and concrete houses with roofs and walls destroyed; shacks laid waste along the barely passable roads; electric posts (both timber and concrete) uprooted and broken in two; trees that were uprooted, knocked down, cut in half, and indiscriminately landed on the roof of houses. The situation became more eerie upon entering the heartland of Davao Oriental, where Pablo purportedly made such a furious landfall. By rough approximation, almost 90% to 95% of coconut trees were destroyed, strewn all over the bare mountains that form the protected cover of the east coast. Like the game of pickup sticks, they littered by the roadside and mountainside, ready to roll down, making some parts of the road impassable; some knocked down electric posts and dangled freely along the highway. Barangay after barangay were reduced to a pile of debris. The towns of Boston, Cateel and Baganga, places that used to typify picturesque sunsets and wonderful beaches, suffered such horrifying destruction, where Pablo literally obliterated every standing structure, blowing everything into smithereens and sparing nothing, not even municipal halls, age-old churches, schools, market places, or even huge steel trusses that supposedly hold the roof of an unfinished marketplace. These towns were reduced to a mound of junkyard, or like a war zone after guns were silenced, where every conceivable rubble, from galvanized iron, steel trusses, plywood, cast iron, electric wires, to broken refrigerators, bed frames, televisions, wooden chairs, bed mattresses, jalousies and window frames, and even a child’s teddy bear, all form a mountain of detritus littered in every street corner and in every town plaza. The stench at Cateel’s municipal hall reeked of dead bodies that were recovered from the military’s rescue operations.

On the trip back to Davao, one can behold the sight of Cateel from the highway that ascended into the coastal hills: It was one of terrible beauty, condemned to the ground by Pablo’s unpityingly forceful wrath, and yet it continues to sit splendidly, yet isolated and forlorn, amidst the breathtakingly serene seascape of the turquoise Pacific.

Signs of Normalcy

Owing to the resiliency of the people who took the brow-beating of TS Pablo with courage and acceptance, there were signs of normalcy within Cateel itself, amidst the hubbub and the confusion of clearing the rubble that have, since Tuesday, become a regular feature along Cateel’s once pristine streets. A local bakery or two opened for business, and the town’s gasoline station continue to service a bus company that operates the Davao-Cateel route. The town’s parish priest graciously welcomed the goods delivered by the Ateneo team, even as the local officials continued to count the dead bodies claimed by TS Pablo at the municipal hall just across the church. Momentarily, five huge trucks from Davao City entered the narrow streets of the town, announcing to all and sundry that the goods were donated by “the People of Davao City.” A satellite dish was mounted facing the town’s park, to make way for a live broadcast coverage of a news report by some national TV channel.

Picture of Broken Humanity

The trip back to Davao via Mawab and Monkayo witnessed desperate families camping along the shoulder of the dark national highway where most of the electric posts were knocked down, and wires turned into makeshift clothesline. Carrying small cans or containers, Pablo’s survivors begged for food and money from every passing vehicle. The sight of little children stretching their arms to every motorist for a coin or two, unmindful of the speed and size of incoming vehicles, turned out to be an unforgettable penultimate image that describes what TS Pablo has wrought havoc in the lives of survivors. It personifies broken humanity eking out a living inorder to make it through the aftermath.

These were some disturbing sights and sounds which can be gleaned from a trip that clocked approximately 22 and half hours of actual travel time, within a timeframe of 24 hours. (By M. Isabel S. Actub, Arrupe Communications & Advocacy)