Ireen and I retrace our steps back to the causeway as we have a number of clients living along this stretch of road in houses bordering the sea. People are in high spirits; the sun is shining and the after shocks have eased in the last few days. A number of people have hammers in hand and are repairing their wooden houses. These are the lucky ones as they have homes to repair. Other wooden houses are now in a collapsed state in the water and the concrete houses are damaged beyond repair.
We stop by the home of Merlinda and Bernardo Dumandan who received a loan from us in 2012 to buy a battery for lighting in night fishing. Bernardo leads us to the back of his house which lies over the water. There are no walls on the left hand side as they fell into the sea in the earthquake. Bernardo recovered the wood later to make an improvised dwelling in front of the house and this is where the family now sleep. The couple’s eldest daughter, Bernalyn (15) comes home and we talk about her passion for swimming. She proudly tells me she won seven medals in the recent congressional meet. Before we leave, I take a photo of her beaming with delight as she holds up two frames filled with medals she has won in her swimming career.
We stroll down the causeway and see the roof of the bamboo assembly hall in the water. At the far end of the causeway is the abandoned carinderia for which we gave Virgie Calle a loan in 2011. As we turn back, I am excited to see a heron on a wooden post in the water and moments later what looks like a bittern. Ireen has a great zoom on her camera and she gets a photo of both of them; we shall identify them later.
During the walk back along the causeway to the mainland, I am again struck by the level of activity; so often in the Philippines you see groups of people, usually men, idling the day away and yet here we are witness to people rebuilding their lives in a spirit of optimism and enterprise.
It is now mid afternoon and Ireen and I drop by the Municipal hall to get information on relief efforts. We talk to Oscar Valles, the chief of staff and ask him about the negative press publicity the town received when the Red Cross would not trust the local government with the distribution of food unless lists were provided. Mr Valles explained that without electricity there was no way they could print out lists. The Red Cross ended up taking back the relief goods it had supplied and distributed them themselves. This resulted in an inequitable distribution of relief goods. When further supplies of relief goods came in from NGO’s and private companies, the Municipal government was able to take control and implement its own structured approach of distribution.
We ask Mr. Valles about the casualties in the October 15 quake and he tells us that there were 16 fatalities in the municipality. He relates the very sad story of a high school student who had come in from Antequera, to complete her clearance papers. She was with some teachers in a school classroom when the ground began to shake. All of them ran for the door but the unfortunate girl fell within feet of the exit and falling masonry fell on top of her. It is painful to hear about personal tragedies like this but having seen the destruction all around, it is remarkable that there were not a lot more casualties.
After taking leave of Mr Valles, Ireen and I make a brief visit to the town’s ‘tent city’ and then return to the town centre to visit the relief distribution centre in the covered market. There are two women sitting at a table with a large number of boxes containing mineral water behind them. To their right are some sturdy looking ‘shelter’ boxes which I am told contain tents. On the table is a form which is signed by a barangay captain when he or she collects supplies for his village. I talk to the two women and discover that they are full time employees of the Dept. of Social Welfare. When I enquire as to the condition of their homes in the aftermath of the earthquake, they reply with the one word used by so many - ‘naguba’ meaning destroyed.