Weathering Sendong, Pablo, and Vinta

PEOPLE who live in the lowlands near the Cagayan De Oro River have gotten a lot of flak for not relocating to higher grounds after experiencing heavy flooding. Some say that the residents need to take it as a sign that Mother Nature no longer wants them there. Others also say that the government offers relocation provisions, which some refuse because they don’t want to leave their homes.

I was able to speak with Leticia Gomez, 61 years old, and a resident of Emily Homes to give us a clearer picture of the plight flood victims have to literally weather (pun intended). She has experienced flooding during typhoons Sendong (2011), Pablo (2012), and Vinta (2017). She shared: “Aware kami sa sinasabi ng mga tao na matitigas ang ulo namin kasi di kami umaalis. But they don’t know everything. When Sendong happened, my friend and I went to DSWD to ask for government assistance. Sad to say, we were not offered anything. Ni pako, ni plywood—wala. I was told by the girl that assistance is only offered if your house has been completely washed out. Bakit, di rin ba kami biktima?”

Ms. Leticia added that she also tried to seek help from City Hall for relocation or rebuilding. But what happened to her there was demoralizing—“Ah katong tao didto, gisingka-singkahan lang ko. Parang natatawa sila that we dared to go there. It was very disheartening. Nasira ang bahay ko, nawala mga gamit ko, pero hindi nawala ang dignidad ko. Wag nila akong bastusin ng ganoon! If you were in our place, ganahan pa kaya mo mag-apply for whatever assistance? Daghan me sakong mga silingan na nawalan ng gana.”

After those discouraging episodes, she stopped seeking government aid and just pushed forth alone to get her life back on track. She explained that she has lived in the same house for the past 18 years. In the early years, there was no flooding whatsoever. The very first time water came in was during Typhoon Ondoy in 2009; it was until the ankles only. During Sendong, the flash flood reached the 2nd floor (waist deep) in a matter of a few minutes. In typhoon Pablo, it was until the chest area of the first floor. The most recent was Vinta, with water almost reaching the 2nd floor and leaving only the last two steps of the staircase exposed.

She recalled: “During Sendong, gabi yun eh. Di kami makatulog kasi ang lakas ng ulan. Tapos, bigla na lang namin narinig yung kapitbahay na nagsisigawan. They were all rushing to my house. In our street, it’s only me with a 2nd floor. Around 20 of us, including children, stayed in my roof that night.”

Mommy Letty narrated that she and her family took shelter in Hotel Koresko after they were rescued in the morning from Sendong. When they came back to clean her home, her expensive and very heavy ironwood table (6 people need to carry it) was stolen. It was still there when they left her house after the floodwaters receded. She lamented sadly, “The robbers don’t care if your house is damaged. Marami talagang tao na walang Diyos sa puso. Dapat kasi, pag hindi sayo, wag mo kunin. Either malimas ng baha ang gamit mo, or kung ano man ang mabilin, kawatan ang kukuha.”

She noted since Sendong, the thieves have become more daring. In fact, they seem even more thrilled during times of calamities. She said—“That’s another reason why we cannot leave immediately. In Sendong, wala naman warning to evacuate. But after they that, they go around with megaphones to tell people to leave. However, if we follow plans to evacuate, for sure the robbers will come in to take everything. During Vinta, nag-stay ako sa bahay. I really saw with my eyes that there were robbers braving the floodwaters. Sinigawan ko sila na wag magkamaling pumasok ng bahay ko!”

Each bout with flooding takes its toll on her physical and mental health. It is also very painful financially. She is a landscape artist by profession, and each time heavy flooding comes, all her collections of flora and fauna get washed out. She expressed: “Usually, at the peak of a storm, mataas ang adrenaline ko. Para akong Kapitan ng Barko. My mind is clear and I issue instructions. But 4 days after, doon na ko manghihina. There’s so much to clean and disinfect. Masakit siya sa bulsa. Imagine, two weeks before Vinta, I bought a ref. Sira agad at kailangan ma-repair. Yung fairly new automatic washer ko bought for P30,000; after Vinta, the junkshop wanted it for P500. Nakakatawa, na nakakaiyak.”

She noted, however, that she has gotten used to it—“Kung may pera, sino bang hindi gustong umalis at lumipat sa bagong bahay? But this is it! We have no choice but to make do with what is given to us. Looking at the bright side of things, marami rin akong memories sa bahay na ito. Anyway, I realize na gamit lang yan, mapapalitan. We are still so very lucky compared to the others on our street. Some of them passed away or had loved ones who were taken away. I am still thankful that we are complete. Aanuhin ko naman ang gamit, kung di naman kami buo.”

Each time it rains, some members of her family get nervous. But she told me: “Ako, honestly, hindi nako natatakot. Nasanay na ako. Imagine, noong Sendong, nakapag-selfie pa kami (see picture). What else can we do? We just pray. Personally, I tell Him, Lord Thy will be done. With each flood, God really sees me through it. Life is already His gift to me. At kahit nawalan kami ng gamit, I can still feel His blessings pouring into my life in some other form. Ganoon na lang yun, it is a matter of perspective.”

All of us cannot control Mother Nature and the people who surround us, but as Leticia Gomez has shown, we can control how we react to whatever trial is sent our way. There is a gentle calm after the storm; and a rainbow after every rain. And even after the worst storm, one thing is certain—the sun will always shine again. In fact, the sun is at its brightest after a storm.

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