#AfterYolanda: Revisiting the good pied pipers of Barangay 62-A

Jodesz Gavilan

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#AfterYolanda: Revisiting the good pied pipers of Barangay 62-A
In one of the biggest barangays in Tacloban, no one died when Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck in 2013. Meet the village leaders who first secured the children.

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Barangay 62-A is just a few meters away from the sea, but the village with a population of more than 5,000 registered no casualty when Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit this city in November 2013.

Their secret, revealed 24-year-old Jeffrey Pulido: residents followed their instincts.

The day before the super typhoon ravaged most of the Visayan, the neighborhood children were out on the streets – not to play but to evacuate to a safe place.

Alam namin na malakas iyon at dito sa area, talagang bahain,” Pulido told Rappler. “So iyong una naming inintindi, ang mga bata.” (We knew that it was going to be strong and our area is flood-prone. So we really thought of the welfare of the children first.)

Pulido’s group, Groovy Youth, led the most vulnerable sector of their community as they knew they wouldn’t survive if they waited for Yolanda. They did not wait for any order from the local government.

Sa sobrang taas ng tubig kinaumagahan, talagang hindi sila mabubuhay kung nagkataon,” he recalled. “Pasalamat na lang talaga, sinunod namin iyong aming damdamin.

(With the level of water that the morning after, they wouldn’t have survived. We’re really thankful that we followed our gut feel.)

“Sa sobrang taas ng tubig kinaumagahan talagang hindi sila mabubuhay kung nagkataon. Pasalamat na lang talaga sinunod namin iyong aming damdamin.”

– Village youth leader Jeffrey Pulido

Children of all ages – the youngest being an infant – boarded minicabs that barangay leaders requested from city hall. Batch by batch, they were transported to the Leyte National High School, which was a far safer place than their residence and even a lot of evacuation centers.

PIED PIPER OF BARANGAY 62-A. Barangay secretary and youth head Jeffrey Pulido lead the evacuation of the most vulnerable the day before Yolanda struck Tacloban.

Their first option was the Tacloban Astrodome, which already housed a few hundred families from all over the city, but they decided against it.

Sinigurado namin na sa ligtas na lugar sila mapupunta,” he said. “Unang option iyong astrodome, pero naisip namin na malapit siya sa dagat.”

(We made sure that they were brought to a safe area. Our first option was the astrodome, but we realized that it was still near the sea.)

No one left behind

With their offsprings safe, the adults of Barangay 62-A retreated to stronger and higher houses owned by more well-off neighbors as they awaited the wrath of the typhoon. They knew they were no match to what was coming.

Ang mga tao dito, sanay sa bagyo,” barangay councilor Agnes Gartell told Rappler. “Pero iyong ganoon katindi, ibang usapan na.” (The people here are used to typhoons. But with something as strong as Yolanda, it was a totally different story.)

And they were more than right – Yolanda was recorded as the strongest typhoon in recent times. The bulk of the total casualties in the Visayas came from Tacloban City alone.

The residents of Barangay 62-A consider themselves fortunate as no more than their houses were destroyed by the storm surge that ravaged most of the Leyte capital.

ABANDONED LIVELIHOOD? A broken tricycle stays unattended beside a house in Barangay 62-A.

Days following the storm, the people of Tacloban became desperate. Reports of looting rose as the safety of the residents were compromised.

The Filipino concept of bayanihan – helping one’s neighbors – prevailed, Pulido recalled happily. It was what they needed to survive the aftermath.

Barangay captain Feleta Espejo implemented measures in order to secure the safety of her constituents: curfews were ordered, the entry and exit points of the area were cordoned, and men of the households were asked to roam the area.

When it came to relief goods, everyone had to have a share. No family was left hungry, even if some officials had to sacrifice a part of their own meals.

Sa ibang lugar, minsan kailangang may contribution pa para makuha iyong goods mula sa center,” Pulido said. “Dito sa amin, kusang loob ang mga tao talaga kasi bakit ka pa manghihingi kung parepareho lang naman tayo na may kailangan?”

(In other places, some required a contribution for those who would pick up the goods from designated centers. Here, we didn’t have to since, why would you ask for something in exchange when you know everyone was suffering?)

The youth of the barangay took over the distribution of relief goods with nothing in return. They also visited every family to ensure their situation following the typhoon.

Before, during, and after Yolanda, Barangay 62-A reflected what a community should be about.

Getting there

With the 1st anniversary of the fateful day in November draws near, the residents are determined to be back on their feet and build back better with the help of donations from organizations.

PLAN International, for instance, helped rebuild homes in the village. Residents who were willing were trained in carpentry and were employed by the organization.

REHAB. Houses are being built through the help of PLAN International.

The road to full recovery and rehabilitation is a long and bumpy one, youth leader Pulido said. However, the residents of Barangay 62-A proved that nothing cannot be done when the community works as one.

Hindi maiwasan na marami pang problema,” Pulido said. “Pero unti-unti na rin bumabangon kasama ang mga kapitbahay kasi kailangan.” (There are still a lot of problems, but we’re slowly going back on our feet with our neighbors; we just have to.) – Rappler.com

For Rappler’s full coverage of the 1st anniversary of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), go to this page.

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.