Stories from Sendong Victims

DIRECTLINE
By Boy Abunda
February 23, 2012

Here is the continuation of the story on my trip to Cagayan de Oro, one of the most affected areas hit by the wrath of

Typhoon Sendong.

Following are first-hand stories of people who lived to tell their tale.

I met young boys and girls in the evacuation centers with stories that will forever be with me for as long as I live.

Mario lost both his parents. He wanted to tell us his story but after a few words, the rest was drowned by the pain he was going through. He broke into a wail that had no sound, head bowed, I saw his whole body tremble. After the engagement, he came to me and hugged me so tight I thought he was a boa constrictor. “Kuya Boy, sorry hindi ko po kaya pero kakayanin ko.” I saw tears run down his 14-year-old cheeks. Present in these sessions were counselors, psychologists who handle victims like Mario. All I could do was cry with him. Many times during these engagements, I lost my power of words.

Shiela, also 14, lost her father. She saw him being dragged away by the merciless currents of the CDO river. Shiela was very quiet during the engagement. She kept to herself. “Malayo ang tingin. Halatang malalim ang iniisip,” observed a volunteer. Amidst tears, she silently declared, “Hindi ako naniniwalang patay ang tatay. Baka nasa Hongkong. Kasi may mga naanod doon.” And she went back to staring the distance, hoping, wishing that Tatay would appear.

Ronnie, 13, lost all eight members of his family. “Bahala na po. Siguro, kaya ko ito.” He was defiant to pain and love. “May dahilan ang Diyos.” Ronnie prepared for his meeting with us. He fixed his hair like a rock star. Despite being broken, you know this boy will rock his way through life.

Zeny, 16, was with four other friends.They hanged on to a piece of log for nine hours. At some point, two of her friends wanted to give up. “Hindi na namin kaya. Kayo na lang.” Zeny was adamant. “Hindi, ’wag tayo bibitaw. Kaya natin ito.” This conversation would be repeated all through out their ordeal until miraculously when one of her friends was really decided to let go of the log, they found themselves in the shores of Camiguin.

Ver, 16, is a young gay boy. He saved his parents and grandparents. He risked his life to swim and rescue his family. He, who was teased unrelentlessly about being gay, proved to be the strongest in body and spirit. He saved everyone in his family. In the evacuation center, Ver is back to where he was. He is afraid to mingle with others because he is mercilessly bullied. “Baklang panget.” He decided to turn deaf by sashaying away from people assuring himself that he has not done anything wrong. He constantly prays, “Sana maging mabait ang tao sa akin. Bakla man ako, wala naman akong ginagawang masama sa kanila.”

Will you fight back? I asked. “Opo, isang araw, lalabanan ko sila.” He meant every word of it. I embraced him tightly and wanted him to know that I will be there for him.

Zaldy, 17, worked for a fast-food chain in CDO four hours a day. When Sendong attacked CDO, he was at work. He decided with the other employees to stay in the restaurant as they live in a faraway place. “Hindi ko inisip na aabutin kami ng baha. Mataas ang lugar namin. At alam kong safe ang pamilya ko. Brother ko 16 at ang parents ko, lahat malakas at marunong lumangoy. Panatag ang loob ko na okay ang pamilya ko.” He arrived at their small barrio by the sea at 8 a.m. Theirs was the highest point of the barrio. His parents were alive. He was not surprised. They were rescued and brought to a public school at the height of the storm. But his 16-year-old brother, his hip-hop dancing partner, his best friend was missing. He searched for him until he got to a place where authorities lined up cadavers. His 16-year-old brother was there, dead. He wept. He was broken. He was not only a brother but a best friend. But how did this happen? He was a strong 16-year-old boy and a fierce swimmer. He asked his parents. His younger brother after having been rescued with his parents, insisted on going back to their house because he wanted to retrieve his one and only pair of dancing shoes. He never came back.

Zaldy was inconsolable. But in this engagement, the pain was in the spirit. “Masakit. Masakit.”

“Who was the better dancer?” I asked trying to distract him from his tears. “Siya po ang husay niya. Isang tingin lang niya sa TV nakukuha na niya kaagad. Siya ang nagtuturo sa akin. Madalas kaming sumali sa contest. Minsan nananalo, minsan talo. Masaya kami. Ngayon wala na siya. Wala na akong partner.”

Will you still continue to dance? “Opo sasayaw pa rin ako. Pero ngayon, lahat ng sayaw ko gagawin ko para sa kapatid ko.”

I wept feeling sorry that in my own dance, many times I have been lost and blinded by the ephemeral trappings of fame and celebrity.

The next day I returned to the big city with an impregnable resolve to be a better dancer, profoundly grateful that I am alive and in the middle of many storms I don’t have to go back anywhere to retrieve my dancing shoes for I have been blessed with many pairs.

And from now on, every dance will be for His glory, for my partner and friends, for my brothers and sisters, for my neighbors, for my beloved mother and for my beloved country.

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