Ateneo’s Aid Serves IP Communities in ComVal’s New Bataan

In response to request of the indigenous communities that hardly ever received any relief goods since the start of the relief distribution, the Ateneo de Davao University led by its High School unit, and accompanied by a college faculty, went back to New Bataan in Compostela Valley on Thursday, 13th December, to deliver packs of relief goods to the Mansaka and Mandaya communities. These communities, particularly those living along the mountains surrounding the town, took a heavy pounding when the water swelled and washed away villages along the hills, river banks, and streams. Datu Gerry Lindaan, the leader of his community of Mansakas and Mandayas, said that he heard about the Ateneo’s relief assistance from other communities which the university has already served in the ComVal region and in Davao Oriental. “We had difficulty accessing relief goods since the beginning, and we hardly ever received any form of assistance. We heard about the Ateneo’s efforts to extend assistance to survivors of Pablo from other communities, and so we decided to ask direct help from the university itself through Atty. Cabarde.”

He and the other indigenous peoples (IP) complained that the system of relief distribution only favors those who are closed to the officials of the local government unit (LGU), often leaving behind IPs particularly those who lived in far flung barangays. Upon hearing about the university’s operation, he decided to travel to Davao City to personally make an appeal for help. On Tuesday, 11th December, during the assessment meeting of the status of the university’s relief efforts, Atty. Romeo Cabarde, Jr., the chair of the University Community Engagement and Advocacy Council (UCEAC), mentioned that support will especially be given to IP communities since these sectors are often left out and are hardly reached by other donor agencies.

No Instruction from the LGU     

Datu Lindaan, whose own elder brother who lived in the mountain of New Bataan died during the flash flooding when Pablo came rampaging down village after village, narrated how the LGU did not bother to put a system in place to prepare the people from the coming onslaught of the storm. When Pablo’s monstrous pounding came in the form of heavy rains and strong winds, the people were left to their own devices on how to cope with the swelling of water coming down from the mountains, quickly washing away their houses, obliterating buildings, and knocking down scores of trees and electric posts. “Diha gyud ko nasakit, kay wala man lang mi gi-ingnan kung unsay among buhaton. Nagsing-iya mi ug panagan ug pangita ug asa mi makasilong” (That’s what really pained me: We were not even informed on what to do in the event of the storm. We found ourselves running everywhere, looking for shelter).

IPs from the Neighbouring Mountains

The Mansaka-Mandaya communities served in this second operation to New Bataan numbered approximately 200 families. Added to the number are other IP communities in the neighboring barangay of Manurigao; the IPs here expressed that they be given aid, too, since they haven’t had anything to eat since the aftermath of Pablo. While unloading goods at the house of Datu Lindaan, which became the base where his IP community from the mountain could stop by to get relief goods, this other group of IPs from the neighbouring mountain curiously came by to inquire if they can also be given a share.  Some of them, looking desperate and hapless, have been walking aimlessly about the streets of the town, eyeing for trucks or other vehicles that deliver goods, hoping that they may also get a share of the food. “Mga pito o walo ka oras pa among lakwon padulong sa amo; lisod adtuon kay daghan kaayo mga truso nga nangatumba” (It takes about 7 to 8 hours to walk back to our community. It’s difficult to get there now because so many trees were knocked down along the way). Some of them expressed that they need galvanized iron (GI) sheets so that they can start rebuilding their houses which roofs were blown away by Pablo’s strong winds.

Sight and Smell of Death

In the midst of the sweltering heat and the powdery dust that continued to swirl about New Bataan’s abandoned streets was the occasional smell of dead bodies. The smell wafted in the air like some spoiled meat in a horrible state of decomposition. A military truck passed by, carrying newly pulled out bodies which littered across the town. Earlier in the week, when the Ateneo made its first operation in New Bataan, rows of mangled bodies were retrieved, especially along the areas where severe flash flooding occurred. They were then lined up along the roads after they were pulled out from every conceivable nook and cranny. In this second operation, its convoy of two vehicles passed by an abandoned street where the newly discovered dead bodies, like disjointed rag dolls, were unceremoniously wrapped in huge black plastic bags and deposited along the yard of a funeral home.  There, a pile of freshly made coffins was prepared, waiting to tuck them in before they could be laid in their final resting place. One woman can be seen in the vicinity, perhaps looking for a dead body to claim. Along the way, the team also passed by what looked like a chasm where the river used to run through, but this time it was jammed and stuffed with scores of coconut timber which were carried by the swift current during the flash flooding. Giant backhoes chugged their way to fork these timbers out, even as these monster machines maneuvered through a pile of thick mud. Overlooking this muddy and choked up pit as well as the functional bridge that lies above it, is the front wall of the Catholic Church, the only part of the structure that remained defiant against Pablo’s imperious wrath. According to one of Datu Lindaan’s people, “Nagsagol-sagol ang mga truso ug mga patay mga lawas diha dapit sa may Katoliko nga simbahan. Daghan kaayo mga patay nga lawas ang nakuha dihang dapita” (It’s a mishmash of timbers and dead bodies there, where the Catholic Church is at. A lot of dead bodies were recovered there).

Tarpaulin Politics

Since we’re living in the age of ads, gigantic or minute, on massive stilts that tower our bridges and skyline or on simple strings tied to anything that can hold a sign or two, what is discernible in these massive relief assistance is that it created a whole new meaning to the power of advertising, courtesy of the modern-day invention that is the tarpaulin, or simply, the tarp. Almost every vehicle, be it dump trucks of all sizes, pickups, or just plain passenger vans that trooped towards places which bore the brunt of Pablo’s onslaught, all carried some special tags that advertised their operation and its donor. Even military trucks joined in the bandwagon by putting up a tarpaulin which announced their task force or operation. (The only tell-tale sign that the Ateneo contingent left behind for those who care enough to be curious are the two mudguards that protect the four back wheels of its truck. With nary a flair to them, the uneven paintings simply say “Ateneo”).

From the two huge dump trucks of the Aboitiz which majestically entered the town, to the smaller vans ferrying members of charitable organizations (church-based or otherwise), and even ComVal’s electric and power cooperative DANECO-NEA bannering its “Balik Suga” operation, the power of the tarpaulin made sure that the message being conveyed is crystal clear. But nothing could be more flagrant than a neatly designed tarpaulin sign that tightly hugged the nose of a truck, announcing to all and sundry that a certain Jun is celebrating his 16th birthday. The truck happened to be carrying a load of goods, and it stopped by the shoulder of the road on the way to New Bataan, perhaps spotting for strategic areas where to unload its mound of goodies. It is tempting to suppose that this celebrant kid, at the tender age of 16, is probably too socially conscienticized to celebrate his birthday in this fashion, unless his parents are already mapping out his early introduction to the world of politics! Or, unless he is some famous bloke disguised as Justin Bieber look-alike, ready to take on the world showbiz!

Of New Beggars, Bare-faced Hunger, and Grit

But the signs that eerily bade the team farewell, after a short stop at the celebrated Andap  village a portion of which was buried to the ground (by the way, almost every donor agency that made their into New Bataan stopped by here for photo-ops), are the decrepit signs of “Gagmay Nga Hinabang, Malooy Mo Sa Amo” (A little help, have pity on us!) “Food Donations,” or the in-your-face declaration “Tabang, Gutom!” (Help, Hungry!) These words, or their derivatives, were paraded before one’s consciousness, for about a five- to seven-kilometer stretch along the highway where one can see scores of trees knocked down or uprooted, or banana trees all bowed down and rendered useless. Like some post-apocalyptic scene, groups of people, children including, who wait before these ramshackle stands in the sweltering heat, would stretch out their hands for some crumbs coming from every vehicle that would pass through this highway. Like animals waiting for a bait, they would then come running after passing vehicles wherever a window is opened, with a pack of food stuff being thrown out. These are practically the new beggars created by Pablo. Some of them have set up camps along the shoulder of the highway, with barely a cover over their heads.

Dystopia

It was no pleasant sight indeed, and any motorist with a good heart can honestly say that one can only take so much of this scene in a day without being shaken to the base of one’s foundation. And yet one can only think, in nostalgia, what this piece of agricultural land in one corner of ComVal region must have really looked like, long before merciless Pablo came marching in, blowing and washing away not only their homes, but also their dreams, their souls, and their humanity. (By M. Isabel S. Actub, Arrupe Communications & Advocacy)

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