In later part of 2004 two tropical typhoons ravaged the village of Bonot-Sta. Rosa and nearby barangays bordering the San Miguel bay shoreline. Bonot is about five miles from the town center of Calabanga. Its beaches may not be as prestine but good enough for us when we went there.
It was one of those summer and Holy week scheduled vacations when we packed our bags for a short respite from the pressures of office work and daily commute from Antipolo to Makati. Similar occasion we looked up to as the only opportune time we connect with relatives in the province.
Always on long week ends like this that people from the city trace roots in their hometowns. Also, it was a time to introduce new members of the family. Us having two daughters, the first-born at four and the youngest at two. Weeks earlier before the travel, we had our airline ticket booked roundtrip.
Homecomings are melodramatic, with the senior members of the host family showing endearment to youngsters whom they may only see once in a year. Or, perhaps, only once in their lifetime.
We stayed at mother’s house at the town proper or poblacion (villages or barangays located near the town center are considered urban community in the province).
The following day, cousins accompanied us to the beach. It can be reached by taking a short tricycle ride. Tricycles are efficient and popular means of transportation wherein a passenger sidecar is attached to a motorcycle.
Up to this writing, the tricycle is a source of livelihood of many families in Bicol. The girls enjoyed playing in the sand and walking on the beach gently slapped by the waves. Earlier, mother reiterated the beneficial effect of fresh sea air in the morning just as the sun rises.
There was one unguarded moment when my eldest may have enjoyed the waves too much she was gently pushed outward to the sea. Suddenly, she lost her footing on the sand and she was swept a few feet away from us. She stumbled with her face on the water.
We panicked and rushed to her for fear she might drink a lot of sea water. To our relief, the kid was okay. We kept a tighter watch on the children after the incident. But it did not dampen the mood of anyone for everybody continued to enjoy the warm sea. We returned to the same beach the following morning and had pictures for keepsake.
That beach was adjacent to the shoreline of Bonot-Sta. Rosa. Majority of the people in the village live in thatched nipa huts. Their main source of income come from the bounty of the sea.
During the stormy season, their lives, properties, and livelihood are threatened, washed by the waves, soaked by strong rain, and blown apart by the wind. And the residents suffer untold economic hardship, rock bottom.
The Side News in Detail
November 26, 2004.: A FEW HOURS after returning from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Chile, President Gloria Arroyo yesterday flew to areas devastated by two successive typhoons.
At least 87 people were killed when Typhoons “Unding” and “Violeta” struck four days apart from Thursday, triggering flooding and landslides in Bicol, Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon. Tens of thousands of people lost their homes.
The president boarded a helicopter for Camarines Sur and Oriental Mindoro, which Unding (international name “Muifa”) hit hardest last week, to survey the damage.
In the coastal town of Calabanga in Camarines Sur, she distributed assorted relief items to typhoon victims and the local government units. Calabanga, which is north of the capital Naga city, was the hardest hit in the province and most accessible to the president, according to Office of Civil Defense regional director Arnel Capili.
“I am here to bring in immediate response from the government when [a] calamity like this happens,” the president said upon her arrival in the village of Bonot-Sta. Rosa.
She went around the village and stopped by a house in ruins to extend comforting words to its occupants. Later, she sat with the family on a wooden stool for picture-taking.
Joel Libiar, owner of the house, said he was very thankful for the unexpected visitor.
“I just held back my tears. But I am very lucky that all of us survived the typhoon and the President’s visit in my wrecked house was something that had not crossed my mind even in my dreams. She is very kind,” Libiar said.
Ms Arroyo gave P5,000 each in assistance from the National Disaster Coordinating Council to families rendered homeless by the typhoon.
Calabanga Mayor Evelyn Yu said the president’s decision to stop by Libiar’s house was not planned. She said the president might have decided to do so at the spur of the moment when she saw the family members sitting on a bench in front of their house.
Claudia Almendral, 76, said she was happy that the President visited their village. She nearly cried when the president hugged her after giving her relief goods.
Aside from the food packs and P5,000 assistance, Ms Arroyo distributed fishing gear and vegetable and rice seeds.
She gave P2 million in assistance to the municipal government and P5 million to Camarines Sur. The province suffered some P800 million in losses in agriculture and infrastructure facilities.
What magic or miracle can five thousand pesos ( equivalent to USD89.77 at the Nov. 2004 exchange rate of PHP55.70 ) bring to change the lives of each and every poor fisherman’s family?
Not much. Nada.
Perhaps use the money to rebuild their one-room affair house with new bamboo walls and nipa shingles the same as before. And buy one wooden stool so that when the next typhoon comes, one can wait for the president and offer her a seat for the picture taking. But only if the ravaged village was considered most accessible and safe for the visit in the presidential checklist.
( Note: Bonot-Sta. Rosa is one of the eleven coastal villages of the town participating in the fishiries resource management income diversification capacity building program of the Bureau of Fishiries and Aquatic Resources. It has a population of 2,613.)