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CEBU, Philippines – It happened right after a coverage in the mountains of Danao City in Cebu province.
Vice President Sara Duterte visited Melecio B. Tito Elementary School, which recently received four new classrooms courtesy of the Department of Education’s (DepEd) Last Mile Schools Program. This occurred on the first day of classes, Tuesday, August 29, in the hinterland barangay of Oguis, Danao.
Our driver, Axl Abellanosa, a tattooed man in his twenties, waited for our team to finish our coverage.
Jacqueline Hernandez, Rappler Visayas Bureau’s photojournalist, and I were already experiencing a chaotic start to the week. On Sunday, August 27, we had to cover the controversial Pasigarbo sa Sugbo in Carcar City and witnessed an enraged governor pluck a microphone from her podium and point it at the sound system booth of the event.
After the long drive home at 2 am from the event, I thought to myself that this week couldn’t get any worse. Of course, I, John Sitchon, eventually proved myself wrong.
Around noon on Tuesday, August 29, Jacq and I finished our coverage at the elementary school and went to look for our driver. It was a scorching day, and I believe I lost around 100 calories just from trekking the area in search of Axl.
I found him sleeping in the car, a Toyota Vios, likely tired from the two-hour drive to our destination. Unfortunately, I needed to wake him from his slumber as we had to head back to the city.
Future media men and aspiring journalists, take note that the telecommunications signal in the mountains is as rare as water in a desert. However, there are now more machines like “Piso Wifi” in mountainous barangays that can provide a strong connection for a reasonable price.
Anyway, getting back, Jacq and I got on the phone with Axl, hoping to reach the city as soon as possible to submit our work on stable internet.
And then, the wildest thing happened…
A wild snake appeared!
Axl’s grip on the steering wheel loosened as a three-foot snake slithered onto his lap, causing the vehicle to swerve in the middle of the road. Jacq saw the snake slither around her foot and into the back of the vehicle.
We quickly parked the car out of fear of a possible snake bite.
I attempted to contact our editors to inform them of what happened, and the message successfully went through despite the weak signal. I watched as Axl and a few helpful locals carefully checked the car’s back and front.
While seeking cover from the intense heat, two kind elderly ladies offered water at their sari-sari store. They asked if I could recall the snake’s features.
The image of the creature was vague to me. Only Jacq and Axl had actually seen it, but they described it to me as soon as we got out of the car.
“It was brownish-green and about three feet long,” I said to them in Cebuano.
The women’s faces turned pale. They said it might have been the infamous “udto-udto” red-bellied snake, whose venom could be dangerous to human adults, or the “hanlulukay” whipsnake, which is mildly venomous but has a painful bite.
Either way, I was frightened to my core because, for one, I knew we were stuck with the snake, and two, we couldn’t remove it without the help of real professionals.
Since our signal was horrible and the main road was a few miles away, all three of us decided to continue, especially since rain was coming, and the snake might have escaped when we parked.
(Just a disclaimer: This is a cautionary tale. Do not do what we did. Learn from our mistakes.)
During the drive to the main road, we reached a section of Danao with a good signal. I informed our editors that we were leaving the previous area, which I later realized was near an elementary school full of vulnerable children.
In a message to our Rappler Visayas chat group, I said that if I saw the snake again, I would bite it.
Boy, was I wrong… again!
Upon reaching the Barangay Maslog bridge, Jacq alerted me. Believe me, when I saw her face looking directly below my seat, I knew I was in for a crazy surprise.
The snake was right below, near my feet.
I jumped out of the passenger seat, and Axl promptly parked the car. I called Ryan Macasero, a dear friend and Rappler reporter, who sent me the number of the Danao City veterinarian as I called for help from the local barangay officers.
I dialed the number and spoke to city veterinarian Roque Noya, who advised me to ensure the area was vacated as the snake I described might be a variant of a venomous snake species.
“Make sure no one is near the car and wait for us to arrive. We don’t want anyone getting hurt,” Noya said in a mix of English and Cebuano.
About 10 minutes later, Noya arrived with his team. Initially, they tried to remove the backseat of the car to check if the snake was there. Then, they examined the dashboard, which, after another drive to help lure the snake out, turned out to be its hiding spot.
This time, the veterinarian’s team used pest-repellent spray to coax the snake out of the dashboard. To our surprise, it worked! They successfully captured the creature!
Snake Safety 101
Noya explained in an interview that the captured animal is a Striped Bronzeback Snake, a non-venomous variant that is around 20 to 30 weeks old.
“We can tell if it’s a venomous snake by noticing that the ventral (anal) area has only one layer of scales. But if it’s non-venomous, like this one, we can notice two layers,” Noya said.
He said you can also distinguish venomous from non-venomous snakes by looking at the shape of the head. A head with a triangular shape is more likely to indicate a venomous snake compared to a rounded one.
As a general tip when dealing with snakes, the City Veterinary Services Office advises the public to stay calm and immediately call local veterinarians or barangay officials for help.
If bitten by a venomous snake, the Department of Health (DOH) instructs first-aiders to lay the victim on the ground, apply pressure to the wound without introducing chemicals or rubbing, and immediately transport the victim to a hospital.
Dealing with a potentially venomous snake may pose significant health risks to individuals who do not have Antivenin or antivenom on hand.
“They’re just seeking food, and when threatened, they may bite, but they’re not always aggressive,” Noya said.
For me, one encounter with a snake is enough to keep me away from provincial coverages for a while.
A word to the wise: Visit your local zoo and learn something. Who knows? It might just save your life. – Rappler.com