SENDONG'S WRATH. A cluster of houses used to stand in this riverside village in Iligan City. The residents in this village are among those who received relief goods from various agencies and NGOs, including the UNHCR.
FORT BONIFACIO, Taguig City--Yet to heal, the wounds brought by Tropical Storm “Sendong” in Northern Mindanao are bringing communities shattered by a worse natural disaster closer.
In the city of Iligan, for instance, calamity-stricken folks have started rebuilding their lives from whatever rubble “Sendong” had left through cooperation. Neighbors helping each other reconstruct homes or sharing meals are not uncommon.
The desire to start again is replacing grief.
Among the many reasons why residents are moving on—albeit slowly—are the help and assistance of thousands. Aids have poured in since the last drop of rain from the disastrous storm.
Government and private sectors have joined hands in bringing relief goods to hard-hit areas. Erstwhile competing companies and businesses have forgotten their race to the top for a moment and have given their shares.
Even the Philippine Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front discard their high-powered firearms and worked together so the victims can get back on their feet again.
Setting aside their differences, soldiers and Moro fighters worked together to provide help, alleviate the sufferings of the victims and bring a sense of normalcy in the communities.
Regardless of affiliations, residents of the remote villages of Dulag, Panoroganan, Kalilangan, and Ragongon, mostly MILF-dominated communities, welcomed the help offered by soldiers and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the country (UNHCR-Philippines).
“This concept of bayanihan (voluntary cooperation) is embodied in the new campaign plan of the AFP, which focuses on the well-being of the people,” said Lieutenant General Emmanuel T. Bautista, chief of the Philippine Army.
Army soldiers have been deployed to the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan to help in search and retrieval operations, and rehabilitation. Personnel from the 1st and 4th Infantry Divisions trooped to communities in worst-hit areas of the two cities to distribute relief goods and provisions
Army engineers, in coordination with United States Marine Forces in the Pacific Region, installed water-purifying machines to supply potable water to families who were left homeless.
Heavy equipment from the Army also cleared and prepared areas designated as temporary resettlement areas.
Taking advantage of its logistical capability, the Armed Forces of the Philippines was able to transport much-needed provisions affected areas in Northern Mindanao.
“Every soldier of the 80, 000-strong Army has helped in the collection of used clothing and food items. The Philippine Air Force was also able to airlift more than 300 boxes of relief items such as blankets, cooking sets and hygiene kits to at least 1,000 families living in remote villages,” says Brigadier General Roland Amarille, head of the Army deployed to assist in the rehabilitation of this city.
The Philippine Navy also provided landing crafts, which usually serve troops, in bringing tons of donated items from across the country to Northern Mindanao.
Major Harold M. Cabunoc, Army spokesperson, said soldiers were able to coordinate closely with the Department of Social Welfare and Development and local government officials in providing relief good to those in evacuation centers.
“Soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division also decided not to go on vacation during the Holidays to help in the recovery efforts,” said Cabunoc.
He said Lieutenant General Bautista also urged all members of the Philippine Army to donate parts of their subsistence allowances to generate funds for the rehabilitation of Northern Mindanao.
Bernard Kerblat, head of UNHCR-Philippines, said the soldiers’ role in the rehabilitation of devastated areas had been “crucial.” He said that it was DND Secretary Voltaire Gazmin who personally requested the UN to help in the relief operations.
The UNHCR has donated a total of $600, 000 worth of relief goods the victims of Sendong in Northern Mindanao. He said that some of the relief materials were sourced out from the local markets.
All items that his agency donated were transported to affected areas in Iligan City by the Philippine Airfoce. In collaboration with the other government agencies, the relief goods were distributed to victims by the soldiers and some civilian volunteers.
“Restoring normalcy in Northern Mindanao may take years. But up to the last trickle of help and even after rehabilitation has brought life again to calamity-ridden communities, the soldiers are there to help,” said Cabunoc.