Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Danny Olivares tells us about his two trips in recent days, one to Northern Cebu and another to isolated towns and islands of Northern Capiz, to bring relief goods raised by his Ateneo HS class '58 and College class '62, Salt and Light Catholic Charismatic Community and Gawad Kalinga. Danny's long narrative about his journey to these areas devastated by Yolanda constitutes gripping first-person account of how it was in places not covered by media.

I’m down with flu---low-grade fever and aching bones---and my doctor has advised me to take it easy and drink lots of fluids. Allow me then to yield this space to my brother, Danny Olivares of Movement Against Dynasty (MAD) who made two trips, one to Northern Cebu and another to Northern Capiz in past weeks, to distribute relief goods raised by his group for some isolated areas in those regions. His first-person account is most gripping: 

“As I sit now before my computer to compose a story of how Ateneo High School (AHS) Grupo ‘58 and College '62, the Salt and Light for Christ Catholic Charismatic Community, at a few days noticed, scrambled to raise funds and organized a team to reach out to our countrymen whose lives had been devastated overnight by one of the strongest typhoon in recorded history, I become dumbfounded, struggling for words, just too emotional.

“How can a people, a government, the world rebuild the lives of millions of people who have nothing but the clothes on their back?  All their belongings are gone, loved ones who hours ago were by their side are now dead or missing, many washed and carried away by the surge of tsunami-like waves; and their homes blown away or flattened by the most powerful winds ever experienced by Filipinos.

“Fishermen have lost their bancas.  Farmers have lost their livelihood- not one banana is left standing. Coconut trees are either toppled down or still standing but their leaves and coconuts are fallen.  Fruit bearing mango trees are uprooted.  Even concrete, wood or steel/metal lamp-posts are down so that the pitch-black darkness of night made their existence more miserable.  Day and night, children and adults stand by the highway begging for food and water.

“The trauma is very evident in peoples' faces. What one sees on television is nothing compared to being on the ground, mingling with the desperate folks.

“Southern Cebu, Cebu City and a few towns towards the north escaped with very minor damage. But Northern Cebu---from the town of Sogod up to the tip where Daan Bantayan is located, including Malapascua Island and Bantayan Island---is as devastated as Leyte and Samar, but were luckier or shall I say, more blessed.  This area except the islands is reachable by land with excellent highways; Cebu City still has its airport and seaport practically intact and operational; and malls, stores, restaurants, factories are running. But most important of all, the people of Cebu City and nearby towns are awesome! 

“We can say that we did not see the presence of government anywhere from Sogod to Daan Bantayan at the time we were there.. But since over the weekend after the typhoon, non-stop stream of cars, vans, pickups and trucks, and Cebuanos---whole families, church or social groups, friends and neighbors---can be seen in the highways, stopping by the road, turning into  inner barangays, giving out bottles of water, canned goods, rice,etc. We felt so proud of our Filipino people.  Priests, church workers, and student- volunteers work with the barangay captains and kagawads.  

“My Ateneo classmate since grade school, Ed Misa, a basketball star during our days, an Ilongo married to a Cebuana, picked me up at the airport and we headed straight to S&R to pick up sardines he had ordered ahead, then to the plastic bags supplier and the water-refilling station.  By noon, we went to the Sacred Heart Parish, where my first year high school mentor at the Ateneo, Fr. Ramon Mores, was waiting for us.

“Together with Fr. Sim, brother of Arturo Sim who was one year my junior, Fr. Saniel who would be coordinating with us throughout the mission, a layman named Boie Chy, and and a French resident of Cebu,  Alex Scott (friend of our classmate Choy Arnaldo), we had a hurried lunch and then joined over 25 student volunteers from the Sacred Heart School--now called Ateneo de Cebu.  

Repacking started immediately, with Alex Scott manning the production line.  Ed and I rushed out to buy more stuff and packing was finished by 10pm.  The volunteers were able to eat only then with a burger and a tetra-pack juice each.  Ed and I were treated by another classmate, a former PAL pilot, to dinner.

“Each plastic bag contained two kilos of corn grit, the main staple of Cebuanos, one kilo of rice, two sachets of Tide, two packs of noodles, two sachets of coffee and a bottle of water.  The biscuits were packed separately to be given away to children along the highway.

“After loading all the stuff in Ed's pickup and Izusu Elf, the parish's L300, the barangay's L300 and a rented multi-cab, we departed for Northern Cebu.  The traffic of so many relief vehicles along the road slowed us down, then the multi-cab overheated and broke down, slowing us further.  

Along the way.aside from the private-citizen brigades, we saw Americans on several 10-wheeler trucks loaded with generators and other goods, an Israeli contingent taking over a demolished elementary school grounds for their medical mission and distribution of relief goods, and a Swiss Panel distributing goods.  

I really wanted to go to Bantayan Island, but because of unforeseen delays, we scrapped the plan. The ferries could not take our 5-vehicle convoy, and we would be caught by dusk and pitch darkness.  We met with Fr. Richard in the parish at Daan Bantayan, 128 kilometers from Cebu City, who was already contacted by Fr. Saniel. Distribution started only by 2PM and nobody had eaten lunch yet. We were able to buy spaghetti and burgers at a Jollibee outlet so many kms. from Daan Bantay which was running on a generator. But we could not eat in front of all the starving people milling around us, and were able to do so only at 5:30pm! As we prepared to leave afterwards the volunteers opted to stay and bring the remaining bags to Barangay Maya, a few kilometers away.

“They had dinner somewhere at 10pm. while Ed, Alex, the driver and I had ours in Cebu City by 10:30. Dead tired, all of us, but we did not hear a single complaint from the student volunteers. That night, volunteer leader Sheila texted me "Sir Danny, what time do we report tomorrow morning?" Wow, awesome!  I told her tomorrow we old men need to rest after two days of hard work, morning till almost midnight, so they should rest too.

“That Friday Nov. 15 Ed rested at home. I visited the priests at the Sacred Heart Parish, paid the bills for gas, driver and rentals and had pictures with them. I then took a taxi to Mandaue to have lunch with an American friend from Hawaii who was importing coconut milk from a supplier in Cebu. After lunch, I rushed to the PAL office downtown to rebook my 11am. Saturday return flight to 9:30pm. ---necessitating the forfeiture of my earlier ticket and my having to buy another one for the evening flight which was more expensive by P600. I later had dinner with a doctor friend to work out how we can avail of the offer of a colleague in the Salt and Light Community to get a container load of medical supplies that a contact in the US is offering to the Philippines through a hospital or an NGO.

“The priests asked me why I was doing this relief work---do I have friends or relatives affected by the typhoon?  Their question made me realize that I volunteered to do this because of my training at the Ateneo.  In high school, we had our annual competition called “Christmas Package Drive,” where we were given authorization letters to knock on doors, stores and offices to solicit and beg for money, clothes and canned goods for the poor.  We went house to house and even to provinces like Pampanga, Tarlac and Pangasinan to beg.  After the competition, win or lose, we helped in the distribution.

“I told the Sacred Heart Parish priests that their young student volunteers will never forget their experience in the past two days and this will make them better persons and better citizens who will not hesitate to help their fellow men even if they’re not paid to do so. Fr. Sim reacted and told me he will repeat what I said in his homily on Sunday. Since we were told not to pay them for their volunteering, I left P2,500  so that the volunteers could have a cook-out lunch after the Mass at the parish center.

“The following day's distribution was as eventful as that on Thursday, this time in Medellin municipality, where Ed has his Mercedes Golf and Country Club.  From Medellin, we almost did not make it to the airport in Mactan for my 9:30pm.  flight.  Too tired, I just stayed at the Mabuhay Lounge where I had pica-pica for dinner.  The flight was delayed and I arrived home only by 2am. Sunday.

“All in all, we distributed 3,100 bags broken down as follows:  Daan Bantayan—bgys. Tonijao 300 bags, Pajo 300 bags, St. Martin 400 bags,Tupilak 250 bags, Maya 250 bags;  the highway between Daan Bantayan and Medellin 300 bags, and the highway between Medellin and  Tabogon 300 bags.  In Medellin, bgys. Dayhagon 350 bags, Lamintak Norte 350 bags, and Mercedes plantation’s 300 caddies and their families who are all without work because their Korean clientele left as a result of the typhoon.

“The whole experience was awesome.   I was blessed to have been given the opportunity to help our fellow men.  But the Lord is telling us something when He allowed this tragedy to happen.  And I will never stop quoting 2:7 Chronicles until we Filipinos change: "If only my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and ask for forgiveness, I will hear their prayers from heaven and forgive them and I will heal their land."


Danny (behind banner at right, in blue shirt)
with Capizenos who waited for hours for arrival of the relief goods..

Following is Danny Olivares’ second account on his group’s mission a few days later to Capiz:                                 

“As I was about to start on my story about the Thursday, Nov, 21 to Saturday, Nov. 23 humanitarian mission Part 2 to Capiz, I mistakenly switched TV channel in my hotel room in Cagayan de Oro.  It was TV Maria and Fr. Catalino Arevalo SJ of the Ateneo was giving a talk on "Personal Devotion and the New Evangelization."  He said that the poor, in their own way, are so personally and specially devoted to the crucified Christ, the Santo Entierro and Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  The crucified Christ because they are suffering like Him, the Santo Entierro because death comes so often to the poor in the blink of an eye, and the Mother of Perpetual Help because they know they can always run to and depend on Mother Mary for help in their poverty.

“I immediately realized that, although Fr. Arevalo gave the talk after the Bohol earthquake, he could be referring to the poor in Capiz who bore the brunt of the 270 km/hour winds, rain, floods and 20-foot storm surges of Yolanda. Despite the sufferings, loss of loved ones, homes and the little possessions and livelihood they had, and desperation over their future, we saw in their faces hope as they cling to their faith that God will help them, and appreciation and gratitude for answered prayers when they saw us with truck-loads of relief goods.

“In the few houses that we entered, including those of the barangay captains (barangay halls were destroyed), we saw this personal devotion to the crucified Christ and Our Mother of Perpetual Help. 

In the Capiz mission, on Friday, Nov. 22, two weeks after the super-typhoon, I chose to be with the teams that went to the hardest hit and least accessible areas of Capiz:

“a. In the municipality of Mambusao, according to the office of the mayor, there were 2 deaths and 12 injured, 4,266 homes totally destroyed and 3,444 partially destroyed and P1.1Billion estimated damage to infrastructure.  Among these is their beautiful church which they said is even older than Bohol's Baclayon Church. After the typhoon, they immediately did a cleaning operation of the debris and wrote UNESCO and the NCCA for help in restoring their beautiful church. 340 relief bags and water were given to two barangays.

“b. Municipality of Sigma, in the upland barangay of Magsacol (220 families). As soon as our five-vehicle convoy started the ascent over the worst road condition I have ever seen, I thought to myself: what group would dare go up these God-forsaken places when there were more accessible places which also needed help. True enough; the people said we were the first ever to bring aid to them. Tony Ortiz's 2x4 pick-up where I was riding and his Izusu Elf truck loaded with bags were no match for the muddy rugged mountain road and had to be pushed twice by the people.

“We arrived past 2pm. The people had waited, lining up for more than two hours. 

“After distributing 220 bags and 220 liters of water, we went further up over  more rugged, muddy and rocky barrio roads which punished Ortiz’s pick-up further.  We arrived early evening at bgy. Matinabus (260 families)
and we had to use cellphone flashlights as soldiers, policemen and volunteers unloaded the bags and water from the army truck and the Elf.  Our Gawad Kalinga people immediately organized the bgy. folks into five lines and we distributed the goods again, using flashlights to check the list of recipients against the people actually receiving the goods. I was the flashlight boy because I brought a tiny flashlight with me. The return trip was slower because it was pitch-dark already. 

“Around 10 in the evening, the two GK leaders, my host Jessica Ortiz Uy and I had a late dinner of Roxas City's famous talaba, scallops, barbecue and tulya soup just as the restaurant was about to close.

“c. Day 2 Nov. 23 of the distribution, we arrived at the Pan-ay pier on board two army 6x6 trucks by 1pm. which meant we would have to skip lunch. Our five teams split up immediately, three teams inland and two teams to the islands.  Pan-ay had the highest number of deaths in Capiz-- 10 casualties.  Farming and fishing were the main livelihood, but 15 carabaos died in the floods and the people's harvested rice was washed away by rushing waters and the still-to-be-harvested palay was destroyed. As per provincial statistics, in the poor town of Pan-ay, 6,264 houses were totally destroyed and estimated damage to infrastructure was P 431.6 million, to agriculture P 141 million, and fisheries P 190 million.

“Soldiers and volunteers loaded the 600 bags and 600 one-liter bottles of water to a big pump boat and by 2pm., our two teams sailed to the island one and half hours away by banca. We were like sunbathing in open waters, sitting on 3-inch narrow bamboo slats. Upon our arrival several smaller boats met us and split the goods for two barangays---Bantigue and Butacal, both with 300 families each.

“Tony's daughter, GK's team leader Jessica, five GK volunteers and I formed the Butacal team.  We walked over destroyed rice paddies to the barangay captain's home, as the boat people unloaded the sacks and boxes. People have been waiting for us since late morning!  We started distributing right away with the help of the captain’s wife and a few volunteer residents. The streamer ATENEO GRUPO ‘58 AND GAWAD KALINGA was strung over the relief goods for people to see (sorry Salt and Light, hindi ako ang nagpagawa nito).

“Residents by the shore reported how wave surges 20 feet high demolished their homes and their bancas and carried the debris 2 kms. inland, where neck-deep waters flooded the fields. Although the floods receded shortly, their homes, crops and trees were destroyed by the waters and the strong winds. Aside from the Channel 7 crew which visited the barangay and brought around a token ten sacks of goods and a Japanese medical team who promised to return the following day, we were the only ones who had come since the typhoon; they were specially thankful that we brought clean bottled water.  

“The people did not leave until we left.  They wanted to say goodbye to us and thank us as a group. They even picked a few surviving buko from the trees and gave us fresh buko juice.  The women were embracing us and we decided to have a group picture with the villagers, and they gladly obliged.  Feeling movie stars kami! 

“In the makeshift shelters that we passed going back to our pump boat, we saw two houses where an altar was placed in the center--- the Crucifix and the picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help that they were able to save. Tagpi tagpi na nga na tarpaulin and roofing ang kubo nila, may altar pa!  Such faith, such devotion! With the help of the people who care and the promise of God na "Walang Iwanan" (Gawad Kalinga's battle cry), hope springs eternal for these impoverished people. 

“We set sail by 5:30pm. to a beautiful red sunset in the west sprinkled with a slight drizzle, the end of another God-blessed, Spirit-filled day---anticipating the dawn of a new day when the remaining stocks of undelivered relief goods would be distributed to other parts of Capiz.  All told, Ateneo/Salt and Light Community and Gawad Kalinga bags totaled around 4,000 bags.

“It was already evening when we reached the Pan-ay pier.  Jessica and I decided to treat the volunteers and soldiers who untiringly worked with us through the night for three days to a farewell combination lunch-dinner. Our generous and gracious hosts, Jessica's parents and my classmate since grade school, Tony Ortiz and his wife Cora, a very religious couple, joined us.

“I take this opportunity to thank them.  I was picked up at the airport by Tony at 6am., Thursday, I ate lunch and dinner with them on my first day and Cora fed me talaga, crabs, and scallops! Although their San Antonio Resort Hotel was probably 50% damaged by the typhoon, they allowed us to use one of the least damaged pavilions for repacking and storage for four days.  The pickup and truck were at our disposal. And my three nights stay was free!  Thank you Tony and Cora, God bless you even more. 

“To end this narrative, one thing still haunts me and I ask for your prayers.  As we were passing through the uninhabited mangroves on our way to the island last Saturday, we saw a laminated, worn-out graduation picture of a boy, maybe ten years old, hanging by a branch protruding over the waters. It was purposely hanged there, why I do not know.  I can only speculate that the boy is missing or may have died and his body was found there.  Please pray for this boy, whoever he is. On our return trip, I wanted to take a picture but it was already too dark I could not remember exactly where it was hanged

“The need for food and water, rehabilitation of their homes and reviving their means of livelihood will take months/ years.  The government and foreign aid in cash and in kind will come.  But we must do our part.  I hope Northern Cebu and Capiz will not be our last humanitarian activity.  I am willing to go anywhere where our help is needed.  Let us keep giving until it hurts.

“God bless Ateneo Grupo ‘58, Salt and Light for Christ Community and Gawad Kalinga.”


For comments/reactions, please email:

No comments:

Post a Comment