Dinagat Islands

Dinagat eases travel rules for faster relief aid but cautions against COVID-19

Herbie Gomez

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Dinagat eases travel rules for faster relief aid but cautions against COVID-19

CAPITOL MESS. The capitol office of Dinagat Governor Arlene "Kaka" Bag-ao after Typhoon Odette's second landfall on Thursday, December 16.

Kaka Bag-ao's Facebook page

Governor Arlene 'Kaka' Bag-ao says the province's rules are suspended, but health and safety standards must stay in place to protect its people from the virus

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Dinagat Islands Governor Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao eased travel restrictions in the province to allow for faster relief aid but appealed to those planning to come to ensure they don’t start a COVID-19 outbreak there.

“Kung tutulong tayo, siguraduhin nating hindi natin ilalagay sa peligro ang mga mahal natin sa buhay. Nag-survive man sa bagyo, dapat mag-survive din laban sa pandemya,” Bag-ao wrote on her Facebook page while in Butuan City in the early hours of Sunday, December 19.

(If we want to help, let’s make sure that we don’t endanger the lives of our loved ones. While we survived the typhoon, we should also survive the pandemic.)

President Rodrigo Duterte sent a group to the typhoon-stricken Dinagat to fly out Bag-ao to Surigao City where she, Surigao del Norte Governor Francisco Matugas, and other officials met with the chief executive.

SURIGAO MEETING. President Rodrigo Duterte (extreme left) meets with governors Francisco Matugas of Surigao del Norte and Arlene Bag-ao of Dinagat Islands in Surigao Cty on Saturday, December 18. Photo by Dinagat Islands Provincial Information Office

After the meeting, Bag-ao said she grabbed the chance to travel as far as Butuan City in search of a mobile phone signal so she could make calls and post her messages on social media.

Like Dinagat, telecommunications were also cut off in Surigao City and Surigao del Norte province during the onslaught of Typhoon Odette (Rai) on Thursday, December 16.

Bag-ao said Dinagat has opened its doors to those wanting to bring relief aid to the province “pero gusto kong bigyang diin ang pag-iingat (but I would like to emphasize the need to be careful).”

She said even the unvaccinated Dinagatnons who plan to travel to the province so they could help their relatives would be allowed in the islands.

Bag-ao said, “… sige lang, basta mag-ingat dahil alam natin ang risks na dala ng local transmission, lalo na para sa senior citizens at mga may sakit.”

(It’s okay, as long as we take precautions because we already know the risks of local transmission especially on senior citizens and those with comorbidities.)

She added: “Our rules are suspended, but our health and safety standards must stay in place so we can protect our loved ones who already lost so much.”

Bag-ao said the government was working to make sea travel to and from Dinagat resume as soon as possible.

Globe Telecommunications also assured Bag-ao it would send workers to Dinagat to restore signals there after work is completed in Siargao Island.

According to the governor, Dinagat was “leveled to the ground” as Typhoon Odette made its second landfall on the group of islands less than two hours after it battered neighboring Siargao Island on Thursday afternoon, December 16.

Many were left homeless, including Bag-ao whose Dinagat house Odette wrecked. Even the governor’s capitol office was destroyed.

Roads were impassable, making it very difficult even for islanders to travel from one town to another.

Bag-ao said she was trying to reach the towns of Libjo, Tubajon, and Loreto to check on her father, siblings, and other residents when the group sent by Duterte came to fly her out to Surigao City for a meeting.

“Bigla akong dinampot ng helicopter at hinahanap daw ako ni Pangulong Duterte. Nagkita naman po kami sa Surigao at nagpakwento siya sa akin. Wala akong dala kahit ano,” Bag-ao narrated.

(The helicopter came to fetch me because President Duterte was looking for me. We met in Surigao and he asked me to tell him what happened. I did not bring anything with me.)

She said she would return to Dinagat on Sunday aboard a Coast Guard vessel with 300 sacks of rice donated by her friends and 5,000 food packs as initial aid from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) regional office in Caraga. 

Bag-ao has appealed for more help, saying Dinagatnons need tents for the homeless, food, potable water, fuel, hygiene kits, and medical supplies.

She said donations for Dinagat Islands could be sent to the Cagayan de Oro-based non-governmental organization Balaod Mindanaw through its executive director, Nolasco Ritz Lee Santos III. – Rappler.com

Donations can be coursed through Gcash-linked numbers 09209380692 and 09561274786 [Loi Cabaluna, also of Balaod Mindanaw]; Banco de Oro savings account number 1760044162, XU-CDO Branch; or Balaod Mindanaw, 105 Faustino Neri Street, Block 13, RER Subdivision Phase I, Barangay Kauswagan, Cagayan de Oro City.

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Herbie Gomez

Herbie Salvosa Gomez is coordinator of Rappler’s bureau in Mindanao, where he has practiced journalism for over three decades. He writes a column called “Pastilan,” after a familiar expression in Cagayan de Oro, tackling issues in the Southern Philippines.