Leyte evacuees: There’s nothing to return to
CEBU, Philippines – After two long days of waiting, Violeta Pagatan finally made it to a flight out of Tacloban City along with her 4-year-old boy, Mark Kevin. Now here, the 31-year-old mother has no plans of returning to her hometown in Tanauan, Leyte for now.
“Wala namang babalikan doon. Wala nang bahay. Kahit ano, wala na. Tinabunan ng buhangin. Ano pa ang babalikan ko doon? Wala na ang lahat,” she told Rappler shortly after arriving on Saturday, November 16. (There is nothing to return to there. Our house is gone. Everything is gone. It’s all covered by the sand. What we will come back to? All is lost.)
Pagatan’s family is just among hundreds of Leyte residents fleeing the province in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the world's strongest typhoon to make landfall.
The fate of the refugees heading to Cebu and Manila emerges as a new challenge for the Philippine government, which is still struggling to address logistical problems to fast-track relief efforts.
After a command conference at the Mactan Airbase here, Secretary to the Cabinet Jose Rene Almendras said Cebu will only house the evacuees temporarily.
“They are transients. They have a very good reason to go back to Tacloban. Either they have family there or roots there. That’s the Filipino in us. The mayor of Cebu already made an announcement about the [construction of the] tent city,” he said.
“The idea is temporarily they are here, and eventually they will go back and with the kind of rebuilding, we are almost sure they will go back. I saw this in Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley [after Typhoon Bopha] when we were telling people not to go back. The destruction was just as bad, and we were telling people, don’t come back. Still, they went back so it’s just transient.”
Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama and Cebu Governor Hilario Junjun Davide III have said that tent cities will be set up in the province to house the evacuees. The national government will shoulder all expenses including food and other needs.
The refugees are housed in evacuation centers like the sports complex in Tinago, Cebu City.
Pagatan, a mother of 4, has different plans.
“Dito na lang muna kami. Maghahanap ang asawa ko ng trabaho. Ang kapatid ng asawa ko nasa ibang bansa, magbibigay sa amin ng pangangailangan namin. Wala naman akong pinili. Gusto ko lang ligtas ang mga anak ko.”
(We will just stay here. My husband will find a job. His sibling abroad will help us with our needs. I am not choosy. I just want my kids to be safe.)
Still no word on families after 8 days
Like Pagatan, Jeffrey Robenta of Tacloban City is also leaving the devastation at home. He was not even able to get a flight from his own city, with people scrambling for seats at the Tacloban airport.
Instead, he had to take the trip to Ormoc, Leyte and get a flight there. While exhausted, he was still smiling when he landed in Cebu.
“Wala akong kamag-anak sa Cebu. After this one, punta kaming Maynila. Gusto ko lang makita ang dalawang kapatid kong member ng DSWD. Sasama sa amin papuntang Maynila. Nawasak na ang bahay namin, puro washed out.”
(I don’t have relatives in Cebu. After this, we will go to Manila. I just want to see my two siblings who are employees of the DSWD. We will go together to Manila. Our house was totally destroyed. Everything was wiped out.)
While many are on their way out, others are braving the destruction to get word about their relatives in Babatngon, Leyte. They have yet to contact them 8 days after the disaster.
Evangelina Pelino came with her pregnant cousin all the way from Manila to Cebu to get their grandmother and aunts and uncles out of Leyte. They were bringing relief goods as they lined up to board a C130 headed to the city.
“May nakapagsabi lang po sa amin na gutom ang mga tao sa baryo tapos po nasakop daw ng mga tulisan ang baryo namin.” (Someone just told us that the people in our village are already hungry and there were bandits who entered.)
“Nananawagan ako. Paki-follow-up lang kasi wala pa pong relief na pumapasok doon at the same time, may tulisan daw pong nakapasok,” she said with her voice cracking.
(I appeal to authorities. Please follow it up because no relief goods have reached the place and at the same time, there are bandits there.)
‘Gov’t addressing logistics, supplies problem’
Amid the appeals and complaints, Almendras defended the government’s relief efforts, decrying “misinformation” in the media.
The secretary said the government is expanding the capacity of the repacking center at the Cebu International Convention Center to fast-track the delivery of aid. Technical Education and Skills Development Authority head Joel Villanueva is leading the efforts there.
“It’s better if we can produce the goods here in Cebu because it’s closer, the planes can come back faster, the boats can do a turnaround faster,” Almendras said. “We now know there is a capability. Our problem is supplies. Suppliers cannot deliver enough as fast as we want them but that will be solved.”
Lt Gen Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Central Command, said he already issued an order to his troops for the relief effort.
“If there’s somebody who’s not receiving any relief goods yet, they should just contact any military installation or police personnel in the area, give the direction and we will immediately go there and provide relief goods. As far as the volume, we have enough. We know this will be delivered to everybody in need of these relief goods,” he said.
For now, survivors like Pagatan and Robenta know they will have to make it on their own.
Relieved to have left, they do not rule out returning to their home province years later.
“’Pag okay na ang Tacloban, babalik kaming Tacloban. Iyon ang hometown namin, Tacloban talaga,” Robenta said. (When Tacloban is okay, we will return. That’s really our hometown, Tacloban.)
“Nawasak man ngayon, babangon din iyan.” (It may have been destroyed now but it will rise again.) – Rappler.com