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Divine sign on ground zero

Elmer Recuerdo

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Deceptive beauty Tacloban City’s Cancabato Bay bares its magnificence the day after the destructive typhoon “Yolanda” hit. The monster storm left debris that littered the water and its bank. Khrizer Malibago

TACLOBAN CITY — The sixth anniversary of typhoon “Yolanda” was marked yesterday with a solemn celebration in the whole of Eastern Visayas, which is still grappling with the loss of lives from the strongest typhoon that ever hit the planet and the indifference that happened shortly afterwards under the regime of former president Benigno Aquino III.

The heavens joined in and manifested its displeasure in the continuing ordeal of the survivors as a mild quake happened past noon that caused a little stir as many families were in the midst of the rites in honor of their relatives and friends who perished during the typhoon.

“We were in the middle of our novena prayer when we noticed the candle holder moving, then the flower vase. Somebody whispered linog (earthquake), then everybody else stood up and ran towards the door,” says Evelyn Encinas, 27, a market vendor whose brother was among those who died during “Yolanda.”

“We just waited for a few minutes outside the house, and when there was no aftershock, we continued with our novena,” she said.

The magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck at 1:31 in the afternoon with the epicenter located 25 kilometers south-southwest of Guiuan town, the same town where typhoon “Yolanda” made its first landfall on 8 November 2013.

According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, the earthquake registered intensity 4 in Borongan City, intensity 3 in Palo, Leyte and San Francisco, Southern Leyte, intensity 2 in Surigao City, and intensity 1 in Ormoc and Gingoog City.

No damage to property has been reported in Leyte as of presstime.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council sent text messages to all mobile subscribers in the region about the earthquake with a further advice to prepare for an aftershock.

In the town of Tanauan, some eight kilometers from the town of Palo, the tremor was felt, but the people hardly gave any attention as the residents were focused on the groundbreaking ceremony for a new housing project.

Stars on stage

At the time the earthquake happened, the audience were being regaled with a song number by movie actors Philip Salvador and Robin Padilla.

In the town of Palo, college student Joel Cornejo said he was having a drink of tuba with some of his relatives when he noticed the glasses and plates were moving. He said they were done with the novena for his uncle and were already having their lunch when the earthquake struck.

“I thought that my cousin was just moving his knees when somebody shouted linog,” he said. “We only went outside the house to wait for a few minutes. There was no panic. We have been through a lot that is worse than a mild earthquake, so we know the drill,” he said.

In Manila, about 100 members of the Community of Yolanda Survivors and Partners (CYSP) from various provinces affected by the storm trooped to several government offices to denounce the failure of the government to stop inefficiencies and corruption in reconstruction which led to more substandard houses in “Yolanda”-affected areas.

“We welcome President Duterte’s early pronouncements that he will not tolerate corruption and inefficiency in ‘Yolanda’ reconstruction and those who will not toe the line will be nailed to the cross. While the Duterte administration merely inherited the dismal reconstruction, it continued until this time. This is the reason substandard houses continued to be built along the ‘Yolanda’ corridor,” according to Lita Bagunas, a leader of Uswag Este, an organization of survivors in Eastern Samar.

The group noted even congressional hearings such as those conducted by the House and the Senate failed to come up with reports and recommendations related to the housing reconstruction.

“One of the major complaints of survivors involved the construction of substandard housing across ‘Yoland’a-affected areas. These anomalies were unearthed in the congressional investigations and Commission on Audit reports. These reports should have compelled changes in the housing reconstruction,” according to Aaron Pedrosa of Bulig Visayas, a survivors’ organization.

Painful memories Relatives of victims of super typhoon “Yolanda” gather at the Palo Cathedral compound yesterday to mark the 2013 disaster. ELMER RECUERDO

Persistent woes

Despite the complaints, however, survivors in some areas are being made to “self-demolish” after being told their National Housing Authority (NHA) houses were ready for occupancy, such as in the case of Pampango in Tacloban City.

Survivors do not believe that the shelter units are safe.

“Despite not having water, electricity and schools, we are forced to live there. So, we incur additional expenses for fare forcing many to just transfer residence or else they sacrifice their food budget,” Vincent Acosta of G-Watch said.

Not all are transferring to government shelter projects since, as revealed by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Yolanda (IATF), there are 50,000 ready housing units, which cost the government more or less P15 billion to build, and were unoccupied because the concerns of survivors have never been genuinely addressed.

“This is an enormous waste of fund that should not have happened if the government listens to survivors,” according to Fara Gamalo of Freedom from Debt Coalition Eastern Visayas.

Unconsolable grief

Four provinces declared a suspension of classes and work in government offices to give the people a chance to join the commemoration.

Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez has declared a holiday in all levels both in public and private schools as well as work in government offices. The announcement was quickly followed by similar measures in the provinces of Leyte, Samar, Eastern Samar and Biliran, as well as in at least 40 municipalities and cities.

Alex Aguirre, a 37-year-old government clerk based in Samar, said the suspension of work gave him the chance to come home to Tacloban and join his family in remembering the death anniversary of four family members and close relatives who perished during the super typhoon.

“This is important for us because we still grieve for the death of our loved ones. This also gives the family a chance to come together and remember our family members who are no longer with us,” he added.

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