ITBAYAT, Batanes – When Eudosia Entela’s husband built a house for his family in 1991, he had it made of concrete because he disagreed with the old Ivatan way of building with pure limestone.
Limestone houses are pretty; Batanes is famous for them. They’ve withstood generations’ worth of typhoons, no question about that. But somehow he knew to follow the modern way, which was to reinforce the structure from the inside with steel, and use cement to hold everything together.
It is a strong, sturdy house, Eudosia said. It had to be, because the family’s property lies on the slope of a hill. To her, it speaks of her husband’s character – his determination to shelter and protect his family despite his personal frailties.
He died of an illness on March 2 this year, leaving Eudosia to fend for the 4 grandchildren left in their care, and their 31-year-old daughter, Nizea, who has Down syndrome.
Eudosia was praying the rosary when the first earthquake hit their town of Itbayat at dawn on Saturday, July 27. She felt the walls tremble and heard a distant rumble from up the hill.
“The tremor, the sound of the boulders, the howling of the dogs – that had made me very nervous because my daughter with Down syndrome was there in the other bed, and my 4 grandchildren were still sleeping.”
Eudosia first took the children and put them in the shed outside the house, where she thought they would be safe. The walls of the house seemed about to cave in.
Then she went back into the house for Nizea, who had resisted her call to get out of bed. Eudosia pulled her daughter up and pushed her out of the house toward the footpath between the wall and the slope of the hill, but boulders had started falling on the path, battering the wall.
They went back into the house and out through the back door to the shed to get the children, but the shed had collapsed and buried the children under the corrugated tin sheets of the roof.
"That was the worst because they were almost trapped. We were almost trapped.”
The 71-year-old widow grabbed the tin sheets and yanked her grandchildren out just in time for their neighbor from the nearby weather outpost to rescue them and take them to the town plaza, where the villagers had gathered to wait out the temblor.
A second, stronger earthquake rocked the town a few hours later, making it clear to everyone that they were from then on safest outside their houses, not inside them.
The survivors of the first quake watched the belfry of the century-old Church of Sta Maria de Mayan fall during the second, stronger tremor.
Life in the village as they knew it was over.
Days later, trying to sleep under tarpaulin sheets on the grassy plaza square, Eudosia fought the pangs of grief and trauma by looking around her. She was not the only one suffering; the entire town was.
"Thinking back of what had happened, sometimes I could not sleep, like last night. I went around and tried to eavesdrop on how they feel and they said, 'When will we go home? What will we do?’” Eudosia said. "I ask the same questions.”
Itbayat has never shown itself more of a community than after the quakes.
They share living quarters on the same moist ground, eat the same food provided them by the local government, queue up for water rations from the same trucks, and relieve themselves in the same portable latrines on the edge of the plaza.
They even reacted the same way during aftershocks, which are still frequent. They were riveted, then they laughed nervously.
Despite their shared suffering, Eudosia felt somewhat isolated from everyone else. Her misfortune began way before theirs, on March 2 when her husband died.
"Sometimes, I feel deserted. What is my life now? What will become of me? I am very old.”
Life at the evacuation center – an open space exposed to the elements but safe from crashing boulders and walls caving in – is beginning to take a toll on the lonely grandmother.
“There’s nobody to rely on. I could be strong but I could be very weak."
Eudosia sometimes thinks her husband is claiming back the house he built with his fragile strength, which wouldn't be unfair, she said.
After a long lifetime as a schoolteacher and homemaker, Eudosia is reduced to an evacuee spending interminable days and nights under a tarpaulin tent held together by ropes, depending on charity to survive.
"My life has changed, as if I’m back in the beginning. Where to go? What to do?”
She sat on the sidewalk with her back straight, her chin up, her gaze resolute. Her manner has retained the dignity of the maestra of many years, who helped rear the children of Itbayat into adults.
She could give up and leave everything to fate. Her children could come and collect her grandchildren, and then what will be left for her?
There is Nizea, who would not survive a day without her.
"The only thing that I have is, if I die, what will become of my daughter with Down syndrome? Where will she stay?”
With this in mind, she visits her ruined house every day, guarding it for a future day when she will have it torn down and replaced by another. When and how, she doesn’t know. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.