Cagayan de Oro City is widely known as “The City of Golden Friendship”. This tag has never been more identified and exhibited as in the last few days.
On the afternoon of December 16, Friday — the last day of classes and at the height of Christmas Party planning — it began to rain. Those of you who are familiar with Northern Mindanao know that this is normal. In fact, it rains here all the time. Whether it’s rainy season or dry season in Luzon, it rains almost every other day or at least twice a week down here. So nobody minded when the skies darkened and the drops began to pour in earnest.
It wasn’t until around 7:00 pm that I was able to climb into a passenger van that would take me home to Bukidnon. It was raining steadily and the circumferential road of Limketkai Mall was already flooded. An idea for a funny post came to mind. It’s title would have been “When It Rains in CDO…” and would have talked about the funny things that happen to the city when it rains (like, Limketkai Mall becomes Limketkai Castle… because then it has a moat!)
But by the time I got home, around 8:30 pm, I was too busy monitoring my husband’s whereabouts (he was on charter duty) to write anything. This particular job was tasking because the guests’ tour guide and interpreter (they were Korean) was being difficult — she omitted to tell the hotel staff their exact itinerary, she “forgot” to give Ed instructions to wait until they returned from wherever it was they were going and angrily implied to Ed he was (essentially) a worthless driver because he wouldn’t do as she said (which was to drive through deep water because it was a shortcut).
At 10:30 pm, Ed called to say he was thinking of not coming home as it was late and he was tired and that it was raining hard in the city. So I advised him to stay put and we’d just see each other the next day. Early the next morning (December 17), I was awakened by a text from a client from Xavier University: “Hi, support victims of flood! Donations for food, clothes, water, meds, etc.. KKP will coordinate for XU. Just leave the contributions at KKP Office #8583116 loc 3210. Hope you are well in your areas. Thanks.” I opened my Facebook account and saw the many many many posts about the flood that had swept through the city the night before. A lot of them were frantic calls in search of family members and friends who had gone missing. One was from my friend who was in Bohol but whose family lived near the riverbanks.
Typhoon Sendong (International Name: Washi) had made landfall over CDO and Bukidnon. I couldn’t even imagine it: the Cagayan River, twice it’s size — in depth and in width — swirling, rushing, sweeping down towards Macajalar Bay. My movements went on automatic for a few minutes — click and read, click and read, my mind blank in disbelief. A storm HIT Cagayan de Oro??? That’s impossible! This has NEVER happened before, in all my life or EVER in the history of the Philippines has there ever been a typhoon passing over Northern Mindanao. But this time, one did and it left behind tragedy, sorrow and devastation.
That morning Saturday, December 17, it was reported that 30 people had been swept out to sea and death toll was already at 200+. Pictures of the river’s destruction were being posted all over Facebook and the internet. What was painful were the pictures of dead bodies being retrieved from the murky flood waters — mostly of children. When Ed got home sometime mid-morning, he brought with him a first-hand account of the traffic jam caused by the unusually high water level at the Kagay-an Bridge (near Rodelsa Circle). The first three floors of the Paseo del Rio (under construction) were buried in silt and flood water. More chilling was that Isla de Oro, the delta formed underneath the Maharlika Bridge going towards Kauswagan, had been washed out.
By Sunday, December 18, potable water had become a scarce commodity because one of the major pipelines (that supplies 80% of the city’s water) had burst during the onslaught of the river, leaving the city thirsting and susceptible to garbage-borne diseases. CNN, BBC, ANC and other international TV Networks were picking up on the story. Calls for help were everywhere and since I was just home, I decided to help by forwarding and sharing as many pertinent posts as I could. The death toll was pushing 400.
Monday, December 19, dawned bright and sunny, as if the nightmare of the weekend was just a figment of my imagination. But then, another text woke me up: Ang CEPALCO, Ms Gin, nag-ask if naa mga rafters ma-contact to check on their men sa Bobonawan Planta kase nawala daw ang mga on duty hinahanap pa. My job as forwarder was still on. By this time, there were hundreds of relief centers accepting donations in kind and postings of bank accounts where people outside of CDO could send money. And of course, the great news: there were several centers where people could get clean drinking water!
On Tuesday, December 20, it wasn’t a text that greeted me but the shocking report that Typhoon Sendong had claimed almost 1000 lives all over Northern Mindanao. Hundreds more were still missing. The bright side: relief operations were getting stronger and it seemed that more people were offering to help. This time, aid was coming in alternative forms. Since water was still a problem, organizations were now cooking whole meals for fast and easy distribution (XU Alumni Batch ’99 was making arroz caldo; the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals was preparing pancit with rice).
There was one tiny flaw, a major disappointment. It was evident that the assistance was coming from the private sector. The appearance of any government official was strikingly absent and not just a few commented about it. Even the President of the Philippines was not spared from accusations — he was seen partying the night away on the fateful night. (For me, I understood the reason his sisters gave that the party had been scheduled long before, but in my opinion, he could have at least issued a statement of reassurance FIRST to the city that he was aware of the situation and that he would monitor the disaster BEFORE fulfilling his obligation to his PSGs.)
Nevertheless, at the height of this tragedy, the beauty and goodness of our “golden friendliness” came through. Thousands of volunteers answered the calls for help — students, river guides, employees, NGOs, even the victims themselves. They braved the waist- to second-storey-high waters and mud to rescue men, women and children, also pets and livestock, from their wet and muddy perches, on top of roofs, on trees, in the river. Donations (in kind and in cash) from all over the world — wherever there are Filipinos actually — are still arriving as I write this piece. The outpouring of kindness and aid is enormous that, if the situation was any less intense, it would have been overwhelming. It is inspiring and at the same time touching.
Holidays this year in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan look bleak and depressing, yet there is that ray of sunshine, the rainbow in the horizon. Though the general feeling of the volunteers towards the city’s local officials is not positive, we must not forget that often, in times of need, it is not government who will save us, but rather the love and understanding of our own families, relatives and friends. That is the most precious thing on earth and the best gift we can give this Christmas.
Cagayan de Oro City is still the City of Golden Friendship… definitely, absolutely and irrevocably! God Is Good.. All The Time!
Want to help? Follow this link: http://bit.ly/helpcdo. Thank you very much and God Bless us all!