Typhoon-hit Albay residents beg telcos: Help us reconnect with our families

Residents of the first district of Albay are appealing to telecommunications companies to immediately restore their services so that they can reconnect with their families who have been worried about them since Super Typhoon Rolly slammed the Bicol region on Sunday, November 1.

"Full restoration of telecommunication services will allow us to communicate with our families and relatives," said Armando Cortez, the secretary of Barangay Baybay in Tiwi town.

Cortez added that relief goods may arrive in the coming days, but financial help from relatives would allow the affected residents to start rebuilding their homes, as well as their livelihood. 

Cash aid from the government may also take time to be released, so their best option is to seek financial help from their families and relatives which they may pay back later. This way, they would be able to borrow money without being burdened by interest rates from lenders. 

Services from Globe and Smart telecommunications have been down since early morning of Sunday, when Super Typhoon Rolly made a second landfall in Tiwi, badly damaging homes and infrastructure, including telecommunication towers. 

As of posting, these telcos’ subscribers were still waiting for the full restoration of the services.

Twice displaced: From Usman to Rolly

Among the residents who are eagerly awaiting the restoration of telco services are those who are now twice displaced – Tropical Depression Usman triggered landslides that buried their homes in 2018, and now Rolly had destroyed their temporary shelters in a relocation site.

“Our family members and relatives from outside Bicol must be worried about us now," said 53-year-old Francia Galan whose temporary shelter was totally destroyed. 

Galan is among those displaced by Tropical Depression Usman, which brought torrential rains to Albay in 2018, and triggered landslides that buried her home and many others. They had since been moved to another site.

"If we can reach our family members and relatives, we can ask for help as soon as possible," Galan added. 

Daisy Bragais shared the same sentiment. "Until now I haven't sent an update to my siblings," said Bragais, who lost both her husband and her home in the Usman-triggered landslide in December 2018.

Their similarly twice displaced neighbor, 63-year-old Margarita Bobis, said she needs to reach her daughter who is based abroad. Bobis and her husband were also displaced by Usman, and lost their son and two grandchildren to a landslide then.

She’s hoping that their town councilor, Jun Bron,  would stop by their evacuation center which is beside the Barangay Hall of Barangay Sogod, where they had been relocated. Bron has been taking photos of affected residents and has volunteered to find their relatives on Facebook.

Unlike Galan and Bragais though, Bobis has started rebuilding their home with the help of her brother and another laborer. She can borrow money because she has a pension, although her passbook was lost during the typhoon.

"But I don't have cash now, and it's hard to find a lender. It would be a big help if I can reach my daughter, especially that the town's law firm that can provide her an affidavit of loss hasn't resumed its business operations," she said. 

Cesar Clapis from Purok 1 said they were able to send photos of their partially destroyed house and of their neighborhood to their sister in Laguna by going to the municipality of Sto Domingo, which is 4 towns away.

 "There's a signal in that town from different telecommunication providers," Clapis said. 

LOOKING FOR A CELL PHONE SIGNAL. People from all over Tiwi and Malinao gather in a spot with cell phone signal in Barangay Balading in Malinao, Albay, on November 4, 2020

Mavic Conde/Rappler

A few towns in the first district of Albay also have signal from different telcos. In Tiwi, touch mobile subscribers can communicate using a basic cellphone or one that has a keypad. But subscribers have to go to an area with signal that is also intermittent. 

Some people have been posting on the Municipality of Tiwi Facebook page, to check for updates on their family members and relatives whom they have not heard from since November 1. – Rappler.com