Sendong, a start anew

 

Darn! It has really been a long time and so many things have happened since I last wrote down something – which was Feb 8, 2010. A lot of content just in store, a lot of happy memories, some sad, some glad but nevertheless all equally important to remember.

As I write this, I am no longer a staff photojournalist for Philippine Star but a projects coordinator for PECOJON – The Peace and Conflict Journalism Network. I had a good run at the good newspaper, but it seemed that there is more in store for me out in the world.

Anyway, as I work for PECOJON, I still do freelance contributing photos to Reuters, Philippine Daily Inquirer and did commissioned work for some international news agencies.

SENDONG

A loud ring from my mobile phone jumped me out of the bed at around 2 a.m. that sleepy December 17, 2011. A shrieking voice announced, “wala na ang bahay ko, i-check mo ang iba (i lost my house, check the others).” It was the voice of Peterson Bergado, a cameraman for TV5.

Tropical Storm Sendong, at that time, had just crept across Northern Mindanao that brought flashfloods in Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan, wiping out villages that met it. It wasn’t a fierce typhoon, in fact it was rated a tropical storm category which in my knowledge, the lowest in its class. Although bringing not that much of rain, it was enough to throw floods aggravated by manmade contributions of greed.

A number of journalist trained by PECOJON come from Cagayan de Oro City – a good reason to panic not because a good coverage is looming but panic plus worry that lives and homes of friends are at stake. Peterson’s home, as he tells me is considered a little upriver. If that was so – I thought, what more those who lived in lower areas. That night, hearing friends talk about cars bumping the second floor of their houses, hearing friends talk how inefficient the disaster coordination was, were enough recipe for a sleepless night.

More friends that night were still unreachable.

When morning broke plus some 2 hours of sleep, I had again did a roll call where everybody was, what happened and what things they need. Some friends were still unreachable.

The day of Sendong was attributed to phone calls, monitoring the news – who were killed, who lost homes, who lost loves ones. We had organized a grocery shopping from what money we have, based on the needs of friends who were affected by the storm. It wasn’t that of a foundation-like effort but just enough for simple needs. We sent it airport to airport right after. Our great many thanks to Carol, Gigi and JB for picking up the goods and organizing distribution.

SENDONG + 1

It was already in the afternoon of December 18, 2011 that we were able to fly to Cagayan de Oro City. As we land, the turbo-prop plane we were on almost tilted to the left side to the awe of people who stood up seeing the devastation, causing the imbalance.

We had arrived on ground zero as quick as we can, not to report the news but to support the messenger of the news. Close to 40 barangays or villages were affected by the flashfloods. Reports said that the flood reach up to three-storey high. Mud was seen on roofs of the houses. Journalists were not spared.

A TV reporter was assigned to cover the onslaught of Tropical Storm Sendong right from the start. He wore the same set of clothes for 3 days because his house was flooded to the roof and he was not able to save anything. A freelance photojournalist had to sleep over friend’s houses and rent a room in lodging house because he could not already open his flat filled with mud inside. Lucky, he sent his family to Butuan City earlier. More stories of houses beyond use or houses swept away were told by journalists that day. They all join thousands of residents who were affected. The only difference is that they still did their mandate of giving people the information so they may be guided brought about by the calamity. The sad part is that as they report they remain in their offices or places where they file their reports, hence, they were not included in the relief operations. Worse the local government did not seem to mind the wrath and was poor to respond.

It was really admirable of our local journalists there that they were strong in the midst of crisis.

In a crisis situation, there is a need for timely and adequate information so that government agencies may send help. Disseminating the information is not only important but crucial. More often, rescuers react to radio reports, relief operations come after the media has covered, and the people are guided on what to do – either to keep safe or just react properly, at a given situation.

We arrived only with the prime decision of helping our journalists who still reported Sendong. We asked them what they needed and went around the city to procure them. We became the support team.

But as I have beena photojournalist for over 12 years now, I can never take away the urge of shooting pictures and reporting. I may not be for any paper this time but sending information to journalists who then followed up the story, already gave me a happy heart.

By this time, PECOJON have already distributed close to two hundred thousand pesos in cash and about forty thousand pesos in goods to affected journalists in Cagayan de Oro City and Iligan City. We are very grateful also to Pecojon members who helped raise funds and organizations such as the Foreign Correspondents of the Philippines and Center for Community Journalism and Development as well as the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines – Media Safety Office which became the base of media relief operations in Cagayan de Oro City.

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