It’s my third evening in Iligan City. My teammates and I are people-watching at the public plaza, after gorging on an unpretentious supper of Lechon Baboy and Kanin Puso by the food stalls occupying the surrounding streets. The ambiance was very reminiscent of Manila’s famous Banchetto, but with various ukay-ukay stands, live musical acts and a curious mix of city dwellers. As cliques at the tables near the stage sip their beer towers dry, kids on rollerblades whoosh around the bystanders, and hip-hoppers take turns b-boying on the plaza tiles. Such is the festive and carefree atmosphere here, just a week after typhoon Pablo, if they’re even counting the subsequent days at all.
Iliganons do have several reasons to celebrate, perhaps the most significant of which is the fact that the recent typhoon left Iligan with zero casualties. This is a remarkable feat, considering that they do not exactly have the most convenient means of communication and information dissemination. Although Iligan is technically highly urbanized and industrial, several populated barangays are situated away from the city center. There are a great number of households without mobile phones, not to mention radio or TV sets. Yet these far-set communities, which also happen to be in the high-risk zones, were alerted by officials as early as 16 hours before the typhoon’s landfall of the upcoming storm.
With the combined efforts of local government units and various non-government institutions, Pablo’s wrath couldn’t dare take a single Iliganon life. Jupiter Obach, who joined NGO Unlad Kabayan after Sendong, as well as Abner Lomongo, let us in on some of their projects for the past year, most of which have to do with prevention, mitigation and preparedness. The disaster risk reduction component of their plan involved developing an early warning system, as well as forming the City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (CDRRMC), whose task units have carefully-defined duties. This proved to help in the quick and efficient broadcast of updates in spite of power failure during typhoon Pablo.
Another understated improvement is their scheme for soil erosion control, which consists of planting vetiver grass and installing “geonets” to prevent landslides.
While zero casualties--the outcome of the year-long effort--is momentous enough on its own, it is even more discernible in the context of recovery from Sendong—a tragedy that has ailed this generation of Iliganons more than any other catastrophe they’ve witnessed in decades. However, the closer we got to the communities hardly hit by it, the more we understood that the devastation it caused is far from gone.
When we visited Project Bangon, a temporary housing project in barangay San Roque, I immediately sensed the residents’ distrust toward us, judging by their suspicious stares and questions. As soon as they let down their guard, we asked them how they felt when they got news of typhoon Pablo. One of them bitterly answered, “yung iba sa’min, noong dumating ang Pablo, ang sabi’y ‘sige lang, gusto ko nang mamatay na ngayon!’” (some of us, when Pablo came, said, “let it come, I want to die right now!”). It wasn’t difficult to fathom why they would say something that extreme, seeing how poor their living conditions are. Until now, they were still living in flimsy nipa huts, and are still living on the very little water that Red Cross provides.
Veronica Alivio, an active member of the Mindanao Commission on Women, agrees that although more than enough support was given to Sendong victims shortly after the calamity, very little attention is paid to the final stages of rehabilitation. She says that as of now, there are still 7,911 permanent settlements yet to be constructed, and that sustainability is not implicated in most groups’ assessments of long-term solutions. According to her, there are still undeclared mining and logging activities in the nearby mountains, as well as a rampant extraction of gravel near bodies of water. Such are some of the challenges that Iligan must now address.
For the first anniversary of Sendong, the Diocese of Iligan, ICWS, DOLE, DENR, Gawad Kalinga, and several other proponents have organized a roster of activities: Massive Tree Growing, Job Fair for Sendong Survivors, Turn-over of 600 Units at Bayanihan Village and many more. As the occasion nears, we salute the individuals that played an active role in the recuperation of the affected communities, more so those who are still helping. At the same time, we encourage everyone to commit the Iliganons’ stories to memory, as we adapt to the impacts of climate change and turn our backs on our destructive course.
Johanna Fernandez is social networks coordinator for Greenpeace Southeast Asia - Philippines. Follow her updates on Twitter via @gillespia.