“Nakita na namo ang kolor sa hangin, itom!”

This piece of assertion expressed in collective certainty reverberated during several group sharings that the community of barangay Haguimitan in Monkayo conveyed to the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) student volunteers, student leaders, faculty members and staff who mounted a relief mission in this hard-hit barangay in Monkayo on Sunday, 23rd December 2012. Shortly after the people lined up to get their relief goods delivered by the Ateneo contingent, headed by the Arrupe Office of Social Formation, in partnership with several student organizations represented by some student leaders and faculty, the members of this IP community of Haguimitan shared what they remembered the most about the early hours of that fateful day on 4th December 2012 when Pablo came as a raging storm, taking a vicious swipe at their homes, their community, and their livelihood.

These pockets of small group sharings demonstrated that this Mandaya community in Compostela Valley has slowly come to terms with the impact that Pablo has brought upon their peaceful lives in this little hillside enclave eight kilometres from the town proper. Adjacent to the old covered court, now reduced into a pile of twisted steel and metal, the students and faculty paused for informal conversations with several groups of children, mothers and barangay officials.  The latter eagerly expressed their experience of having to bear with flying galvanized iron sheets and the sight of the whirling wind which they described as color BLACK! It’s not hard to imagine how Cecil B. de Mille of the famed Ten Commandments would have graphically presented a catastrophic scene such as this one, given that this classic film has set the standard for depicting natural calamities on cinema as having the power to make viewers literally “feel” what they “see.”

But as the people in this village grappled with telling their stories of sturm und drang, they practically described the wind in similar terms as the other survivors have rightly said: That it’s like a black “lilo sa hangin” or perhaps “nagtuyok-tuyok nga unos.” After hearing similar stories of this sort, as if to find ways to capture the depth of what the survivors went through, we could only shake our heads in disbelief upon seeing the massive devastation of their village, typical of any sitio and purok in Monkayo from the moment one careens through the national highway. For a lack of a better metaphor, most of us in the team termed the pile of rubble as akin to having been twisted by the proverbial hand of the wind (“gipiko-piko sa kamot sa hangin”) or, as in doing laundy, “murag gikuso-kuso,” or “murag gilubag-lubag,” as one of our drivers aptly said.

Calamity Made Worse by Human Neglect

When asked what they think about the calamity and how they linked Pablo’s devastating impact with their basic understanding of spirituality, a group of children, all girls, relayed to one of the faculty that they are not angry with God because what happened was humanly inflicted, or at least it was made worse by human neglect. “It’s because of people; it’s because of mining,” they said. These children sounded like they have taken an advance course in social theology and environmentalism! In their puerile mind, these girls see hope beyond the grocery packs which may only last for a day, or beyond the uprooted trees that littered the way toward their village, or even beyond the narrow winding path that may not even be cemented before the next election comes. Some of them expressed that they want to become a teacher when they grow up. Whereas becoming a policeman tops the list among the boys.

A Most Warm Welcome

Life is slowly picking up in this small community. Their warm reception was filled with graciousness and appreciation, the eagerness to share their stories to strangers from the “big” city, and the customary discipline that can stand more than an hour of waiting due to the uncharacteristic delay in the arrival of the Ateneo contingent. After making a courtesy call at the municipal hall, the Ateneo convoy of five vehicles arrived in Haguimitan in the company of some barangay officials. The people already lined up in four columns, representing four puroks, and even managed to clap their hands when the door of the container van carrying loads of grocery packs was opened. So appreciative were they that they again gave the team a round of applause when the latter greeted them Merry Christmas and bade them farewell.

A day before the scheduled relief operation was to take place, the community was visited by Arrupe’s advanced party that did an area scanning and assessment. With the cooperation of its barangay captain, Zaldy Heriga, the relief operation was well organized, and the distribution ran smoothly. The local police of the municipality of Monkayo provided escort to the team as it made its way through an unpaved and chewed up narrow road along the area where scores of knocked down coconut trees are left to tangle.

Precious Little Coupon

On three relief operations led by the Arrupe Office (the first one was in Boston and the second in Tarragona, both in Davao Oriental; the Monkayo operation is the third), there are discernible differences that typify these experiences, not only in the manner of conducting the relief, but also in literally traversing unchartered terrains, as it were.

While extending relief assistance in barangay San Jose in Boston in Davao Oriental on 16th December, Ateneo’s indefatigable truck (“Joe Isuzu,” as it may be called, depending on whose pleasure; a rough-riding little monster truck that can do 24/7 clockwork operation) was made to cross a river just to get to this out-of-the-way barangay rarely ever reached by donor agencies. Accompanied by a municipal kagawad, the relief team had the chance to get the pulse of the people’s feelings regarding their experience having to wait for whatever relief goods that made their way into their little hamlet. To enforce some semblance of order in the distribution of relief goods, the people in the community were issued a little card, or a coupon, so to speak, that listed down the date of the relief distribution, accompanied by a signature of whoever organized the operation.

Lifeline to Food Access

While three of the Arrupe staff signed these shabby little coupons, some of which were already torn in half due to constant wear and tear, it dawned on us that these served as their passport to securing food. They wouldn’t leave the queue line until they get their coupons back, in time for the next food rationing! They just have to have the coupons back! This realization shook and humbled us deeply. That their means of subsistence, for the time being, relies on this piece of ragtag card, is beyond all telling. It is a realization that disturbed some of us greatly as we drove back to Davao City that evening.

What Pablo Teaches Us about Christmas

While the university (through the leadership of Fr. Joel E. Tabora, SJ) remains on top of things regarding its continuing efforts to reach out to Pablo’s survivors within its own institutional capacity, in whatever form this may take, all of us involve in this operation from day one could perhaps be mindful that this unpityingly punishing storm has something to teach us about the spirit of Christmas.

Like Xavier University’s operation to assist survivors of typhoon Sendong a year ago, ADDU took one courageous move to galvanize the university community to pour its resources and that of its generous donors’, both here and abroad, to reach the farthest frontiers where its radical acts of charity, in the name of social justice and common good, are made to serve those who survived the massive devastation. We give and serve not because we feel good about giving and serving. We give and serve because it is the most elemental thing to do when people are in great need. We give and serve because God desires that we love. And in giving we express that loving service in the most human way―in the most spiritual way.

During the post-trip sharing among the volunteers that comprised the Monkayo operation, there was a shared understanding that this is really the true meaning of Christmas. This is Christmas in its barest essential, WITHOUT WHICH the thought of God becoming truly one of us (in the face of so many faceless and nameless persons who survived Pablo, and the untold number of people who didn’t make it through that dark night of 4th December) would have left us lifeless, like those hundreds of thousands of trees that were knocked down and uprooted. Or perhaps, like those unbounded dreams that were suddenly swept away by a black cold, rough, ill wind that blows no good. (By M. Isabel S. Actub, Arrupe Communications & Advocacy)