Earlier this month, my wish to return to Mindanao came true. I was given the chance to visit three towns that bore the brunt of typhoon Pablo’s wrath in 2012.
As someone who has spent her whole life living in a city, I marveled at the beauty of Davao Oriental’s enchanting mountains and photogenic shores. How remarkable it is that I am looking at the Pacific Ocean while in one of the most fascinating places in the country!
But the ocean’s strong waves reminded me also of the threats faced by the province. What was once a region known for its predictable weather has now been battered by strong typhoons, killing hundreds of hapless residents. “Pablo jolted us to the reality of climate change!” said one of the local environmental planners we interviewed.
A fellow reporter and I went to Davao to get interviews and data for INQUIRER.net’s special report on climate change. During our visit, we learned about how local governments implemented disaster risk reduction plans and how residents were trying to recover.
It has been almost three years since the towns of Banganga, Cateel and Boston were devastated by typhoon Pablo but the effects of the typhoon will probably be felt for a long time. Imagine majority of coconut trees being wiped out in less than 24 hours, instantly stripping rural communities of livelihood and source of food.
We still have a lot of work to do and the results of our investigation will hopefully be published in the coming months but the visit has also given me insights on issues not covered by our report.
I decided to become a journalist because I realized that I enjoyed talking to people. Although I consider myself an introvert, I get a kick out of making people talk and share their story and insights with me.
In five days, Marc (my reporting partner) and I traveled roughly 900 kilometers by land, commuting from Davao City to Mati and from Cateel to Banganga and Boston. Within that period we interviewed 25 people and met a dozen more. I was in journalism heaven.
We would wake up early in the morning, buy breakfast-to-go and just rest for lunch before going at it again. I would run out of batteries and gigabytes as we conducted our video interviews. We talked about their experiences during the storm and how they are slowly regaining their lives.
Everyone was accommodating. No one tried to take advantage of us.
There was the disaster chief of Boston, Sir Judith, who accompanied us around the town of 14,000. His sister Susitte made time for us and served us delicious biko despite the fact that it was the opening night of her small seaside restaurant.
Sir Roy, the disaster chief of Cateel, allowed us to ride his motorcycle (uh oh three people on a single motorcycle!) so we could reach the relocation sites while Sir Bobbi and other members of Banganga’s DRR office went out of their way to bring us to all of the newly constructed evacuation centers.
I liked that many of them were candid with us. And everyone treated us with respect, from the governor down to the ordinary people we interacted with every day. Shout out to Ate Ninette at Edar’s Place who greeted us with a smile every day.
During our long commute, I was reminded of the importance of transportation and how the lack of it affects the economy of a community. Boston, which is farthest of the three towns from the province’s capital, Mati City, cannot be reached by the traditional jeepney (some of the tricycle drivers we met said they have been prohibited because of the frequent occurrence of accidents). Buses and vans pass by only a couple of days a week.
Would you believe that they only had three tricycles servicing the town? The rest are pedicabs and motorcycles (mostly known as habal-habal). Being the scaredy-cat that I am, I was horrified to learn that I might need to ride a habal-habal for around 30 minutes so we can return to Cateel. Thankfully, we were able to track down one of the three tricycle drivers of Boston.
Side story: Vans or shuttles in Metro Manila squish as many people as possible inside their suffocating vehicles. In fact, I have learned the art of declining that particular section in between seats or the end of the row–when seating meant pretending that half of your butt can defy gravity. But when I arrived in Davao, I was unlucky enough to ride a van where having four people in front (meaning three passengers beside the driver) was a norm! And we were running at around 80 kilometers per hour! Good thing they really are strict when it comes to speed limits and we were pulled over. Of course, once we were out of Davao City, the driver went speed crazy again.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to visit the tourist spots. We were especially disappointed at missing the opportunity to visit Aliwagwag Falls in Cateel. Aliwagwag Falls, which looks breathtaking in photos, is said to be the highest waterfall(s) in the country. But we had so much to do, so many people to interview; and the unpredictability of commuting made it difficult for us to push through with the side trip.
We did get to visit Dahican beach in Mati, after we had interviewed all the people we needed to interview. The detour was worth it.
The long stretch of sand was a sight to behold. I just wanted sit there and watch the strong waves of the Pacific Ocean kiss the shore. But our 45 minutes was up. We needed to get back on the road.
With sand in our shoes and a week’s worth of interviews, we rode another overloaded van back to Davao City.
If you’ll be staying in Cateel, make sure to check out Edar’s Place. I think it’s the best lodging house in town. A room costs P1,000 per night. The house itself, owned by the Edar family is made from different types of hardwood. They said they hired a furniture maker to construct it. They also have a restaurant.
All photos by Kristine Sabillo.