Ondoy couple also survives Yolanda; has new baby
CEBU, Philippines – When they survived Tropical Storm Ondoy (Ketsana) in 2009, Rommel Maitim and Angelina Marron were still boyfriend and girlfriend. Now a married couple, the two emerged from another near-death experience in Tacloban at the height of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
Yet their story is not entirely bleak. Right after landing in Cebu, they became the proud parents of their second child: 3-day-old Queen Angel Maitim.
The twenty-something Maitim couple shifts from laughter to grim expressions as they shared their story at the evacuation center in a sports complex in Barangay Tinago, Cebu City. Mirroring their moods, the story is one of survival, loss, and literally having a new life.
“'Yong anak ko, iniisip ko ang anak ko,” Angelina said when asked how she made it through such an ordeal. “Kaya sige. Go lang nang go!” (My baby. I was thinking of my baby. That’s why I said okay. I’ll just keep on going.)
Hailing from Rizal, Rommel was in his home province with Angelina during Ondoy, one of the deadliest typhoons to hit the Philippines 4 years ago. They made it by climbing to the roofs of neighbors’ houses, using a plank as bridge.
Yet Rommel told Rappler the experience was nowhere near Haiyan.
Haiyan, one of the world's strongest typhoons on record, struck the Philippines on November 8, flattening homes, buildings and other structures. Damage from the typhoon has reached over P10 billion as of Sunday, according to the disaster council, while the death toll climbed to 3,681.
“Napagitna ako ng ipo-ipo. Muntik na akong mamatay. Lumubog ako 6 to 7 times. Compared to Ondoy, ito ang pinakamatindi. ‘Di ko malilimutan ang experience ko sa Tacloban hanggang nabubuhay ako.”
(I was at the center of a tornado. I almost died. I went underwater 6 to 7 times. I cannot forget that experience. Compared to Ondoy, this is the worst. I cannot forget my experience in Tacloban for the rest of my life.)
The Maitim couple went to Tacloban just 6 months ago for Angelina to give birth in her hometown. The night before Haiyan, Rommel brought his pregnant wife and 3-year-old daughter to the home of Angelina’s aunt, farther from the shore. He decided to guard their sari-sari store. He almost never made it back to his family.
When Haiyan unleashed its storm surge, Rommel was afloat for two hours. He hanged onto everything he could – from an empty water container, to the cover of a refrigerator. Several times he lost consciousness as he got hit by coconuts and debris. He does not know how to swim.
“Sabi ko, ‘Lord ikaw na ang bahala sa akin. Ayoko na, pagod na ako.’ Binitawan ko na lahat eh. Akala ko katapusan ko na. ‘Di ko rin ma-explain ano ang himalang nangyari, pero may parang humila sa kamay ko, hinatak ako pataas then napahawak ako sa may basura at punong sanga-sanga. Ang tatag noon. ‘Di na siya nagalaw ng ipo-ipo.”
(I said, ‘Lord, I give up. I am so tired.’ I let go of everything. I thought it was my end. I cannot explain what miracle happened but it was as if someone pulled my arm up and I was able to cling to garbage and tree branches. It was so strong. The whirlwind did not move it.)
“Doon na ako nagdasal nang malakas. Lord, maraming, maraming salamat.” (That’s when I began praying hard. Lord, thank you so much.)
Even the home of Angelina’s aunt was not spared by the typhoon.
“Siyempre, nahirapan ako lumangoy kasi buntis ako. Pinasa ko sa nanay ko ang panganay ko. Ang nanay ko, di rin marunong lumangoy. Nalulunod na silang dalawa. Buti nandoon ang tita namin, magaling lumangoy. Naligtas sila.”
(I had a hard time swimming because I was pregnant. I passed on my daughter to my mother but she also can’t swim. The two of them were already drowning. Good thing my aunt was there and she could swim well. They were saved.)
Cebu’s warm welcome
When the family was reunited, Rommel immediately decided to leave Tacloban and go back to Manila. The problem was the military flights to the capital were always full so they took a chance in Cebu.
En route to the city, Angelina started going into labor. Upon arrival, she was brought straight to the Vicente Sotto Medical Center.
She said, “Ang problema namin, wala kaming perang dala. Wala kaming damit. Buti may mga tumulong sa amin. Nung nanganak ako, may nagbigay ng damit sa baby ko. Tapos ang taga-DSWD, sila lahat sumagot ng gamot ko, bayad sa ospital tapos ang pagkain namin doon kaya sa awa ng Diyos, nakaligtas.”
(Our problem was we did not have any money. We only had the clothes on our backs. Good thing people helped us. When I gave birth, they gave me baby clothes. DSWD shouldered my medicine and hospital bills, and even our food. So with God’s mercy, we survived.)
The couple and their two daughters are now recovering at the relief center. They said they have everything they need here – from food to clothes to toiletries.
Although unfamiliar with Cebu, Rommel could not stop thanking those who gave him and his family a temporary home.
“Mga Cebuano yung tipo ng tao na kahit busog ka na, ayan ang pagkain, ito ang meryenda, ito ang inumin. May groceries. Kahit tubig. ‘Sige pa.’ Wala akong masabi sa mga Cebuano, talagang sobra,” he said.
(The Cebuanos are the type of people who will give you food when you are already full. They will give you snacks, drinks, groceries, even water. They will say have more. I cannot describe how generous they are.)
‘I want to text Yolanda’
The couple plans to start a new life back in Manila. As soon as Rommel’s wounds are healed, he will look for a job. Yet the family is not wholly intact. They left Tacloban with Angelina’s father still missing. Even if they find his body, they doubt they can identify the man.
“Kahit masakit, tanggapin na lang,” she said. “At least, kami ang nabubuhay. Mahirap isipin na ganito, ganyan, di ka nagmo-move on. Walang mangyayari. Kailangan tatagan ang loob mo. Swerte pa rin kami.”
(Even if it’s painful, we have to accept it. At least we are still alive. It is hard to think "what if" and not move on. Nothing will happen. You have to put up a brave front. We are still lucky.)
Despite everything, Rommel still cracks jokes. He said his friends in Manila will tease him when they see him on TV.
“Ang lupit mo ‘pre!’ Magmumura pa ‘yon. ‘Hayop ka, ilan ba ang buhay mo?!’” (‘You’re so tough.’ They will even curse me and say, ‘How many lives do you have?!)
Rommel, who made it to his 28th birthday on the day of this interview, has a message for the typhoon that almost killed him.
“Ewan ko nasaan si Yolanda. ‘Di ko matext wala akong cellphone. Baka magkasama na sila ni Ondoy sa kabilang buhay. Tetext ko, ‘Wag ka nang babalik. Mas matindi pinagdaanan ko sa iyo kaysa kay Ondoy.’”
(I do not know where Yolanda is now. I cannot text her, I have no cellphone. Maybe she and Ondoy are together in the afterlife. I want to text her, ‘Don’t ever come back. You put me through a worse experience than Ondoy.) – Rappler.com