Neglected Balangiga cries for help after Haiyan

Paterno Esmaquel II
The mayor of Balangiga appeals for aid and support. At least 3,630 affected families await relief.

BALANGIGA RUINS. The remains of Balangiga Central Elementary School. Photo courtesy of Balangiga Mayor Viscuso de Lira

SAMAR, Philippines – On our way to typhoon-hit Tacloban City, a man in a T-shirt approached our van Saturday, November 16, to tell his people’s story.

He is Viscuso de Lira, mayor of Balangiga, one of the poorest towns in Eastern Samar and the site of a historic massacre in 1901.

In an interview along a highway in Samar, De Lira told Rappler his town is desperate for help. A week after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck the country, he said Balangiga remains neglected.

Yolanda killed at least 14 people and injured 300 in Balangiga. Up to 12,822 affected residents cry for help, De Lira said. 

Balangiga was the site of a historic massacre to defend Philippine independence. On Sept 28, 1901, locals attacked Americans with bolos (daggers) in what the United States considers “the bloodiest chapter” of its army in the Philippines, according to a primer.

The icon of the massacre was a set of bells that signaled the siege. The Americans took the bells as spoils of war.

In this historic town, the following Balangiga residents died due to Yolanda, according to a handwritten list that De Lira gave Rappler:

(An asterisk beside a surname means some letters may be inaccurate because of the handwriting)

Poblacion I

  • Nestor Legaspi
  • Inocencia Lebrilla*
  • Rosario (Sayong) Navilla

Poblacion II

  • Ryan Cabusas

Poblacion IV

  • Cipriano Recote
  • Luisa Advincula

Poblacion VI

  • Soledad Baleos
  • Alberto Bajo

Sta Rosa

  • Angel Fiel

Bacjao

  • Eduardo Cabales

San Miguel

  • Edna Alvarina
  • Conehita Abejo*
  • Illuminada Grabello*
  • Fredo Elacion*

De Lira said the problem was Balangiga received its first batch of relief goods through a C130 plane only last Tuesday, November 12.

The town got relief goods only for 560 families. It’s not enough for even a fifth of the 3,630 affected families.

WAITING FOR HELP. People mill about around ruined homes. Photo courtesy of Balangiga Mayor Viscuso de Lira

‘Government’s fault’

De Lira blamed the national government for the delay in aid.

“Masakit ‘yung loob ko eh. Kasi saan naman ako pupunta? Kailangan namin ng tulong. Napakahina. Ang bagal eh,” the mayor said. (It hurts me. Where will I go? We need help? It’s so incompetent. It’s so slow.)

De Lira noted that on Wednesday, November 13, a team from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Region V vowed to conduct a rapid assessment of Yolanda’s effects in Balangiga. He said this effort remained fruitless.

He said, “Ilang araw na. Rapid pa ba ‘yun?” (It’s been so many days. Is that still rapid?)

Massive and sustained aid has yet to reach Eastern Samar, one of the provinces hardest hit by Yolanda. (READ: What about Eastern Samar?)

Yolanda devastated 11 out of the 23 Eastern Samar municipalities:

  • Lawaan
  • Hernani
  • Balangkayan
  • Maydolong
  • Macarthur
  • Salcedo
  • Mercedes
  • Guiuan
  • Quinapondan
  • Giporlos
  • Balangiga

Yolanda killed over 220 in Eastern Samar alone. – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.