Sara

“When a calamity like Yolanda strikes,” Melvin Lyndon B. Garzon says, “you’re kind of numb: that you were powerless. You’re like a robot. At first, you don’t even care that you’ve survived.”

Sara MDRRMC staff Melvin Lyndon B. Garzon
Sara MDRRMC staff Melvin Lyndon B. Garzon

So begin the powerful memories – of rampant destruction, survival and ongoing recovery – shared among the residents of Sara, Iloilo.

In the forty-eight hours prior to the super typhoon’s expected landfall, a forced evacuation was undertaken, nearby residents were evacuated to the municipal hall. “We tried to prepare, but nothing could be done,” Melvin says. “Nobody could have fully prepared for that kind of typhoon.”

Evacuees could only watch as the gale-force winds tore the roof from above them. “All you could hear was the howling noise of the winds. It’s was so loud and strong. Sheets of roofing flew around above us: the galvanized sheets crumpled even before they hit the ground,” Melvin explained.

Outside the building, enormous coconut trees were found thirty meters from where they had once stood, surviving multiple typhoons, for decades.

“Even Hollywood cannot create these kinds of ‘special effects’,” he says.

Next, the aftermath

As conditions subsided, Melvin and a team made up of chainsaw operators and drivers, along with the several members of the Vice-Mayor’s own bodyguards, set out to clear the town’s main roads.

As the extent of the destruction became clear to them, “I saw the people around me crying,” Melvin remembers. “Even the bodyguards! These are the kind of guys who eat bullets for breakfast. But even they were crying,” he said.

These memories again bring tears to his eyes. “We were all wondering – could we even survive this? What had happened, and would happen, to our families? It was really bad,” he explained.

The backbone of the LGU

James Daniel C. Godinez, a municipal employee, shared that the RAY DILG fund was distributed swiftly once documents were submitted and formalized.

Sara municipal employee James Daniel C. Godinez.
Sara municipal employee James Daniel C. Godinez

As James explains, these contributions were especially useful in returning basic services to the people. “We had international NGOs present here, and they were very helpful,” he says. “However, these organizations tend to focus more on residential housing, shelter and training, rather than on government infrastructure. These kinds of buildings really are the backbone of the functioning of the LGU.”

“With these rehabilitation projects, at least there are some things that we feel thankful for,” adds Mary Joy B. Abellar, a municipal accountant.

Sara Municipal Accountant Mary Joy B. Abellar
Sara Municipal Accountant Mary Joy B. Abellar

Hopes for a post-Yolanda future

Each of these officials were then asked what their hopes are for the people of Sara, in this time since the destruction wrought by Yolanda.

“I hope that our projects would benefit the people of Sara, since – as government officials – the people are our topmost priority,” James says.

“If we survived Yolanda, we can survive hell,” Melvin added. “That was a hell of an experience for everybody. For sure, we will be more resilient. There’s no doubt about it.”

Mary Joy agrees. “I really hope that as we move forward more projects will continue to enrich the lives of the townsfolk.”

 

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Capiz Province

The Capiz provincial hall is a pre-war building and one of the strongest buildings in the province. Yet during Yolanda, much of the roof, ceilings and windows were damaged.

Capiz Province Capitol Building
Capiz Provincial Capital Building – July 2015

It was there that Victor A. Tanco Sr., public servant for more than 45 years and current governor of Capiz province, spent the days before, during and after Yolanda.

It was also within the Capitol Building that the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (PDRRMC), established two years prior to Yolanda, held command to support the widespread disaster relief effort.

The Governor emphasized how “we were prepared, we were listo (alert)!” to help limit the suffering of those affected.

Capiz Govenor Victor A. Tanco Snr
Capiz Governor Victor A. Tanco Sr.

“We decided to establish the command center in the provincial hall so that there would be no breakdown in governance and response teams,” he explained. “During Yolanda, we continued working, even while the rain poured in.”

RAY DILG funds capitol building repairs

Repairs to the provincial capitol building, funded by the RAY DILG program, proved morale boosting to local government employees, their clients and local citizens.

“If we had had to use our own finances, it would be much more difficult to rebuild our provincial hall and stadium,” the Governor shared.

Villareal Stadium

Basketball games in the rehabilitated Villereal Stadium - Roxas City, Capiz
Basketball games in the rehabilitated Villareal Stadium.
Courtesy: Capiz Provincial Press Bureau

Capiz Provincial Engineer Lennet Sodusta.
Capiz Provincial Engineer Lennet Sodusta.

Villareal Stadium is the largest stadium in the Western Visayas. Lennet L. Sodusta, the engineer in-charge of the venue, remembers how in the days leading up to Yolanda, a large-scale national convention could be comfortably accommodated within the stadium grounds.

Yet the Super Typhoon devastated many of the stadium facilities, this included its roofing, windows and doors. Much of the roofing above of the bleachers where spectators watch track-and-field were also affected as well as the swimming pool area.

Soon after release of RAY DILG funds, repairs began. With improved seating capacity and a sturdier construction for the safety of its patrons, the gymnasium now features once again as the leading sports venue in Capiz province.

 

Cadiz City

Negros Occidental, known as the ‘sugar bowl’ of the Philippines for its vibrant sugar industry, was not spared by Super Typhoon Yolanda.

As it struck Western Visayas, the towns of Northern Negros Occidental including Manapla, Cadiz City, Escalante City, and Sagay City were badly affected.

The Provincial Government estimated that almost 113,000 Negrenses sought refuge in 193 evacuation centers across in 29 cities and municipalities. The typhoon also flattened huge swathes of the agriculture (rice and corn), fishery and sugar industry.

After Yolanda - Cadiz City Municipal Hall
Super Typhoon Yolanda saw extensive damage to homes and infrastructure in Cadiz City, Negros Occidental. November 2013.

In Cadiz City, situated in the northernmost part of Negros Occidental, gale-force winds and heavy rain felled trees and electricity poles, cutting power to much of the municipality. The local municipal hall, along with more than 70% of homes, were also damaged.

‘Then, Yolanda came’

Rolando T. Lumanas, a local carpenter and maintenance construction worker, remembers the challenges that emerged in the immediate aftermath.

“The extent of the devastation made it hard for us to determine where to start our rehabilitation,” he says.

Yet in some respects, RAY DILG funds provided key opportunities to rehabilitate buildings that were long since in need of repair.

“Before Typhoon Yolanda came, the situation in our workplace (the municipal hall) was very sad,”  he says. “Our motor pool and engineering office were old structures in need of repair and maintenance. Then, Yolanda came and devastated the building, and our office was not workable since there was no roofing to shade us.”

Soon after, repairs supported by RAY DILG funds began. “It was implemented smoothly,” Rolando says. “First, we transferred to another building while construction was underway. The contractor also installed barricades and measures in the site to ensure our safety.

“Once repaired, our staff were thankful to have such a new and pleasant working place. Now staff and clients can now transact their business efficiently.

Cadiz City Municipal Hall
The newly-rehabilitated Cadiz City’s engineering building

The new painting in the building also brightened up the whole office. Most of the colors in our building are pastel colors- pink and light green. It looks cool for an engineering office!”

With rehabilitation comes hope for better preparation. “I hope that our new building can surpass another typhoon, because it’s more resilient, compared to the previous structure.

We really pray that calamity with the same strength as Yolanda will not come and harm our community again. But, we are more prepared now – early warning and advisory are in placed in preparation for upcoming calamities.”

Sebaste

As with many affected regions, during the hours before Yolanda reached Sebaste, Antique, the weather was surprisingly calm and clear.

“People were asking each other whether the typhoon had hit us already,” Leonaris D. Dionela, a local planning officer, remembers. “No one wanted to believe that it could affect us in such a way.”

Yet when Yolanda hit, “the strength of the typhoon was unbelievable, and totally unexpected,” Leonaris says. “Almost everyone cried at the surreal situation we had found ourselves in.”

The Malacañang of Antique

Sebaste Municipal Hall - Antique
‘The Malacañang of Antique’ – Sebaste Municipal Hall, August 2015

At the local municipal hall, roof, ceilings and windows were extensively damaged. In the immediate aftermath, despite seeing client files, computers and office equipment destroyed, staff were tasked with continued efforts to provide basic post-disaster services.

“It was difficult time,” Leonaris says. “At that time, if it was raining outside, it was raining inside also.”

Yet since then, as Vice Mayor Noracil B. Azucena explains, the municipal hall has had a total make-over.

Vice-Mayor Noracil B. Azucena - Sebaste Antique
Sebaste Vice Mayor Noracil B. Azucena

“Our clients commend our new municipal building. People here were surprised and delighted to see the improvement in our municipal hall. It’s very unique and more beautiful,” the Vice Mayor adds.

With a spacious ground floor area, municipal employees can now provide a more comfortable space for visitors. Others described how having a more presentable office gives them greater confidence at work, and how employees, especially those in the Treasurer and Accessor’s office, need no longer work in overcrowded spaces.

“Now it seems like I am working in Malacañang… The Malacañang of Antique,” Leonaris says, cheerfully.

“These bright and spacious offices have had a positive impact on us here,” Vice Mayor Noracil adds. “We need this positive and uplifting vibe, especially after what our community experienced during Yolanda, the worst typhoon in Antique.”

San Remegio

Along with its destruction, Yolanda also brought with it great change to the municipality of San Remigio, Antique.

While the local civic center – partially-damaged by Super Typhoon Yolanda – remains standing, it no longer serves as the town’s main municipal facility. With the support of RAY DILG funds, and with disaster resilience in mind, local officials instead constructed a new municipal facility in a safer land area.

Last October 2014, the newly completed venue played host a Provincial Senior Citizen’s Congress for the entire province.

The annual Senior Citizens Congress, held in the newly rehabilitated San Remegio Civic Center
The annual Senior Citizens Congress, held in the newly rehabilitated San Remegio Civic Center

“We were the first one to use the new civic center after it was constructed,” says Noli Valenzuela, a project development officer with DSWD. “The Congress was attended by 1,500 participants from 18 municipalities.”

Noli Valenzuela (left) Project Dev't Officer of DSWD and his team, San Remegio Civic Center
Noli Valenzuela, project development officer with DSWD, with friends at the newly-rehabilitated San Remegio Civic Center – August 2015.

One big happy family

Schools, citizens and other government agencies have also benefited from the new and expansive space.

“Our central school doesn’t have a gym, so all of our school activities – such as graduation and division wide contests, like the Children’s Congress – are usually held in the civic center, where there is space for all participants,” Noli says.

“Our municipality learned so much from Typhoon Yolanda,”he explained. “We have strengthened our DRRM practices by conducting regular trainings, from the municipal down to the barangay  level.”

“The civic center is really essential and significant to each and every one of us here in San Remegio. We use it for all our activities – sports, cultural, academic, social, name it. It is where we gather, and feel like a one big happy family,” he added.

San Remegio Civic Center
The newly-rehabilitated San Remegio Civic Center

 

Bugasong

“Unbelievable.”

In a word, Mayor Bernard N. Pescayo summed up the experience of Super Typhoon Yolanda in his municipality of Bugasong, Antique.

Mayor Bugasong - Courtesy Bugasong Online (Facebook)
Bugasong Mayor Bernard. N. Pescayo. Courtesy: Bugasong Online

Despite widespread damage, “we were still lucky,” he said. “Our municipal hall, market and civic center were not totally damaged, despite this being the strongest typhoon we have experienced.” In each of the buildings, most of the roofs, gutters, steel trusses and beams were destroyed, each victims of Yolanda’s gale-force winds.

At the municipal hall, despite the tough conditions, employees continued in their efforts to provide local citizens with access to basic government services.

“It was difficult for officials to function after Yolanda,” Mario Z. Galela, a municipal employee, explains. “It was hard for us to address the needs of our people as we ourselves were struggling inside the municipal hall.”

Rehabilitation with RAY DILG funds

As RAY DILG funds arrived, “we were able to rehabilitate the market, civic center and most especially our municipal hall, which received the biggest allocation,” Mayor Bernard says.

“The employees are now feel safe and at ease when it rains. Even when strong rains will occur at night time, they don’t need to worry about their documents and office equipment inside the building,” he says.

Bugasong Municipal Hall
The newly-rehabilitated Bugasong Municipal Hall.

For Mario, the differences are not only physical, some are intangible, but both were especially welcome. “The ambiance of the municipal hall has changed completely, it really improved,” he says. “This new look boosted our staff’s morale in facing our clients: we feel more presentable, and comfortable than ever.”

Barbaza

In Barbaza, Antique, both the local municipal hall and the public market suffered extensive damage during typhoon Yolanda. Yet few would have imagined the benefits afforded by continued RAY DILG-funded rehabilitation efforts.

There was significant damage to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) office at the second floor of the municipal building,” Sally Balgos explains.

Since then, the DSWD has transferred to a new office that is far more tailored to the ongoing needs of their clients. They can now enjoy greater privacy, and conduct closed-door counseling sessions.

Similarly, “in our previous office, we didn’t have enough space to hold meetings with our entire 29-person team,” Sally says. “We’d have to find someplace else to gather everyone together. Now, we can fit everyone in.”

Nearby, at the local public market, rehabilitation efforts have also improved conditions.

Jonita C. Bautista, a local vendor, shared that the old market was smaller and made of light materials: and as a result, was more vulnerable to weather conditions.

Jonita C. Bautista, Barbaza local vendor
Barbaza market vendor Jonita C. Bautista

“Since the market was made from nipa hut material, it didn’t provide us with enough protection when it rained,” she says. “We usually experience leaks which either wet us, or the products we sell.”

The ‘new’ market has since been reinforced with concrete, making it sturdier and safer. It is more spacious, and roll-up doors make it easy for the vendors to close their stalls at night.
Barbaza Public Market
Stall in the newly-rehabilitated Barbaza public market – August 2015

“The RAY fund from DILG was the first and largest amount of money our municipality received for the rehabilitation projects after Typhoon Yolanda,” Mayor Gerry Necor says.

Barbaza Mayor Gerry Necor with RAY DILG staff - August 2015
Barbaza Mayor Gerry Necor with RAY DILG staff – August 2015

“Through these projects, the people regained their trust and confidence on the local and national government. It was an indication for them that the government works hand in hand with them towards recovery and normalcy,” he adds.