The man who lost it all in the rain
MANILA, Philippines - Fifteen years ago, Jessie Baylon came to Manila from Pampanga with a simple dream: to become a driver.
He would have liked to go to school but couldn't afford it, and after he married, planned on having two kids but ended up being a father to 7 kids due to improper family planning.
Now 50 years old, Baylon lost five of his children, his 3 grandchildren and his spouse when they were buried by a landslide in Barangay Commonwealth, Fairview, Quezon City on Tuesday, August 7.
When he arrived in Manila, Baylon decided to become an informal settler on government land.
The man built his own house, the only one available at the time, located on higher ground and made of plywood, tin and other light materials.
"The land is government property and we don't have to pay anything. You just build your house little by little," Baylon said in Filipino in an exclusive interview with Rappler's Patricia Evangelista.
He explained that he chose that particular location after "all the other spots were taken." Baylon added: "I thought it was the best from what was left."
With free housing, Baylon was able to spend all his income on putting his 7 kids through school.
"My only dream for my kids was for them to finish school because I never went to school myself. I want them to finish school because I saw how much easier it is to have a better life and succeed."
Advised to relocate
In 2003, a landslide in the area cracked the cement of the house, and the geologists from the University of the Philippines who went to survey the site told Baylon it was too dangerous to stay there.
The government offered to relocate all the families to Montalban, Rizal, but Baylon refused to move so far away from his employer and the schools of his children.
"We were supposed to move to Montalban, which was too far. My kids go to school around our area and I work in Ortigas. If we move to Montalban, all I earn would go to transportation. I didn’t agree to relocate it was too far and I was the only one working at the time."
'Something bad has happened'
Nine years later and after surviving tropical storm Ondoy in 2009, Jessie woke up on Tuesday morning like any other rainy day.
He had some coffee, bought food for his children's breakfast and left home at 6am. An hour and a half later he was still on his way to work in a jeep when his cellphone rang.
"I got a call from a friend telling me to come back as fast as I could because something bad had happened to my family," Baylon said.
Then the man got off the jeep and took a taxi back to Commonwealth. Through the narrow alleyways he ran to his house and at first just saw lots of people.
The neighbors told Baylon his home had been buried with his family inside.
He yelled "Is anyone still alive?" and struggled to hear a voice from under the rubble: his son was calling for help.
“Pa, I’m here. I’m stuck,” said JepJep Baylon, who told his father to please "go easy" digging him out because he was worried he would get crushed if the neighbor kept moving around the debris.
All the rest dead
After he pulled out JepJep by himself, Baylon recalled that everyone started digging and the rescue teams kept coming and coming to the area to help search for more survivors.
Minutes later, the man saw the feet of another son sticking out from under the rubble. The feet had already turned black and the boy was dead.
"I said to myself, 'my God, he’s gone. He’s turned dark.' We still tried to get him out even if we saw that his features were deformed and he wasn’t alive anymore," Baylon explained.
Assisted by neighbors and rescue teams from the military and the Philippine Red Cross, the father just kept digging and digging until they were able to get all eight bodies out.
His wife Cecilia came out alive but passed away later that night in the hospital, while another daughter also survived as she was on her way to school when the landslide ocurred.
No money to pay for bills, funerals
Baylon left Commonwealth after all the corpses were pulled out and vowed to never return.
The man is now focused on keeping his eldest son alive and figuring out how to survive and provide for him and his little sister, but he doesn't have enough money to pay for the hospital bills or even bury his dead.
JepJep, who will turn 25 in December, is alive but has trouble breathing due to several broken ribs.
His father is calling for help to pay for his surgery.
Baylon now regrets not having relocated his family when the authorities told him to do so, but now it is too late. He only wants to move on and take care of his remaining son and daughter. - Rappler.com, with reporting by Aiah Fernandez and photography by Carlo Gabuco
Everyone is encouraged to help out. Check this list of evacuation centers and relief operations in Metro Manila for places near you.
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