It took me more than three months to finally go back writing again. Honestly, I don’t know where to begin, what to talk about and how I am going to write down every single detail of what I’ve gone through along with the people that I cared for so much in the past three struggling months. I’ve been trying hard to find ways to write again – trying harder to get inspiration and begin telling the tales of challenges and survival, of pains and hardship, of bravery and heroism, of love and compassion, of changes and lessons, of resilience and hope. These are the stories I have kept for three months. These are the stories that were born when the most dreadful catastrophe came to destroy the lives and homes of our people in my beloved hometown of Cateel, Davao Oriental. These are the stories brought about by Super Typhoon Pablo, the world’s deadliest calamity in the year 2012.
Pardon me if I will sound deeply emotional. I just can’t help it. You see, long before Typhoon Pablo came to ravage all that we have in our hometown; Cateel was a place I considered a land completely blessed with so many stunning things to luxuriate from. Name it; we have it – unspoiled beaches, untouched coves, undisturbed long coastlines, breathtaking waterfalls, unpolluted rivers, preserved mangroves, amazing caves, historical landmarks, vast rice fields and other natural wonders. “Here At Cateel, We Have It All”, once I yelled. These were our pride. These were our beautiful pride.
More than a great destination to enjoy, Cateel for me and to most of my fellow Cateeleños is a loving and caring home where all of us are taken care of, loved and nurtured. It is our home and the home of our ancestors. Having been raised in this rustic town, Cateel molded the foundation of my youth. I owed to her everything that I learned growing up as a child – education, family, environment, church and society. Cateel shaped me up to become a well rounded person. Like a mother to her child, she prepared and taught me to be strong, willed and decisive to face a life away from her. Simply put, she is the foundation of what I have become today. It is where all my dreams are made and she served as a guiding light and a true inspiration to achieve them. Thus, my love for her is unfathomable.
Wherever I go, I take pride being a true and proud son of Cateel. I have been privileged to travel around the country and some parts of the world, seen most spectacular places, met and befriended various amazing people but my heart knows only one home and one great people – Cateel and my fellow Cateeleños. My love for her has grown deeper. In my own little way, I did my share in letting the whole world learn and see her innate beauty and secret wonders. Through this blog and my column at the local paper, I shared our story, our culture, and our most beloved treasures so the world will know and be lured to come and experience Cateel. It has been my paradise, our paradise. I, along with our people, wanted the world to see this. One reason – it is worth visiting, worth discovering!
On the very morning of December 4, 2012, the world was shocked when the strongest tropical cyclone that originated unusually close to the equator hit the easternmost part of the Island of Mindanao. Named Typhoon Pablo (international name Bopha), it made landfall at the town of Baganga, Davao Oriental, about 45 minutes drive from my hometown of Cateel with winds of 160 mph (260 km/h) classified as super typhoon category 5.
The night before the landfall, I was closely monitoring the weather advisories over television. Since I already lived in Davao City, 6 hours travel from our hometown, admittedly, I wasn’t that excessively worried about the coming storm that would hit the Davao Region. From what I learned, Cateel has never been hit by any typhoon in the past. I was thinking it will just be another monsoon wind just like old days. These strong winds are called “batukan”. Nonetheless, I worried for my two brothers who are based there. Noy and Dong lived there in our old two-storey house built by our departed parents. That night, I was checking on them by phone asking how they were, the weather condition, our relatives, any preemptive measures taken by the local government, et cetera, et cetera. It was still 11 pm and Dong said the weather is fine, no sign of great storm coming. Nevertheless, I asked him and Noy to leave the house and perhaps take shelter to a higher ground or any safer place when the need arises to salvage them from the wrath of the coming typhoon. He was obliged to say yes. And so I thought, they would leave the house to find a safer place when necessary. Before I went to sleep, a big brother that I am, I sent them a message to take care and pray and to call or text me when there is an urgent thing I need to know.
4:30 AM. I was awakened by the strong winds outside my window. I looked outside. It was still dark and the coldness of the dawn seemed unbearable. I checked my phone. Got two messages from Dong. One was sent 2:11 am and other at 2:38 describing how strong and heavy the winds and rains were. Immediately, I dialed his number but it was unreachable. I rang him again. Again and again. But still unreachable. I tried calling Noy’s phone but like Dong, it cannot be reached. I tried calling friends and relatives there, but all of their numbers were out of reach. “Communication lines in Cateel are down”, I concluded.
While I was inside my little home trying to figure out what was happening in Cateel, the weather outside was beginning get worse. Typhoon Pablo was coming to Davao City too. At signal number 2, the winds were pretty strong I was battling whether to come at work or to stay home. Thinking I could be more of use at the work getting news from home aside from doing my office chores, I decided to report at work. Honestly, this was my first typhoon experience and driving from my home going to my workplace seeing the gloomy weather was never a good sight. It didn’t rain hard but the strong winds appeared pretty monstrous to me. “Whoah, so this is what they called typhoon, huh!” I exclaimed.
I was so distracted at work I couldn’t help but worry about my folks in Cateel. Using Facebook as tool of getting information, I gathered all information as much as I can. But just like me, all my townmates living outside of Cateel worried about not getting any updates from our hometown. All we could do was to wait and post messages to calm and pray and pacify ourselves with the thought that God will never forsake our hometown. Hours passed still no word from home. Communication lines were down. Anxiety had gone worse. I called up some friends in the media to ask whatever information they can give about my hometown but nothing they can give me. Most of them were assigned to areas away from our hometown. As a matter of fact, no media person was stationed in Cateel at the height of typhoon Pablo. This caused awful unease. In middle of vagueness, one post at Facebook started to give the real picture of what really happened in Cateel. At noontime, a fellow Cateeleno, Sonny Day, posted this at his wall:
“Our house was completely destroyed…coconut trees fell. The roof is gone. 11 People dead in Cateel Davao Oriental when the Gabaldon building of the local school which serves as evacuation center collapsed. My cuz said that 99% of the houses have their roof gone! Have to go now by hook or by crook to check on my folks. May God bless us!”
My first impulse was to share it immediately to my wall but the veracity of this information had yet to be verified. But my desire to know the real situation was still at its peak I couldn’t help but share it to my Facebook wall anyway, read and shared by some fellow Cateeleños. This ignited much worry among us. Everyone seemed so rattled they wanted to know the facts. I dialed all those contacts I have in Cateel including high school friends there but to no avail. Thirty minutes later, I received a text message confirming the huge devastation that Typhoon Pablo left in our dearest hometown. Worst, according to the text message, the number of casualties were increasing. I froze in shock after I read the message. And tears slowly began to flow. “Is this really true? Is it really happening?” I muttered to myself.
Consumed by my fears and uneasiness, I began flooding my Facebook wall with post announcing what happened to Cateel calling for help and assistance. Friends around the globe especially those who hailed from Cateel were beginning to ask information from me. We all felt the same – worried about our families back home. One hour, two hours had past, still got no words from my two brothers. I was beginning to tremble. It was not normal. My brothers are used to contact us when the need arises but this time was different. Number of casualties increased every hour. I was beginning to lose hope. Some fellow Cateelenos were bugging me to get latest news but how can I respond to them when I can’t even locate where my brothers were. I called up some friends in media maybe some of them were going by then but sadly I was informed that Cateel along with Baganga and Boston were isolated. Bridges collapsed and roads were impassable. It was very disheartening news. I wanted to shout out loud. I wanted to cry hard. But I stayed focused. I went back to Facebook again trying to monitor every relevant announcement I could. I trembled in horror realizing that one evacuation center collapsed and 11 people died on the spot. The last time I spoke with Dong I told him to find a safer place. I prayed so hard he wasn’t on that building.
At around 5:00 pm, my phone rang. It was my brother’s Dong number. My heart beat fast. It took me seconds to answer it preparing myself for any news I would get, good or bad. Finally, I was able to say a word. Dong’s voice on the other line cracked – a voice of despair. We talked for a moment. He briefly described the kind of ordeal they went through during the height of typhoon. He said he and Noy were fine but our home wasn’t. Pablo destroyed our house – the home that our parents built for us. He said they got no place to stay, no rooms to sleep. It broke my heart to hear him say he got no place to sleep for the night. Everything is destroyed. Nothing was spared from the wrath of Pablo. Rich and poor, all suffered from the typhoon’s brutality. We didn’t talk much on the phone. He needed to save battery powers. All power lines were wrecked thus no electricity available. We said goodbye but I let him promised to keep safe and well. When the call ended, tears again began to fall. I cried thanking God for sparing the lives of my two brothers and I cried in despair for huge destruction of our home, our hometown and our people. It was dreadful but I had to deal with it.
Minutes after our talk, I was back at Facebook. Relieved from fact that my brothers were fine, I started my cry to let our little voices be heard – to HELP CATEEL. Since there were no video footages or photos from there yet, I started posting calls to send media people there. Luckily, some friends from both big TV Networks promised to send their news team there right away. Some friends from the radio and print media helped too. Social media started to show photos of the aftermath of Pablo but no images were taken from our dear hometown. Talked to friends, comforted each other, planned what to do, pledged to help – those were just the things we can do at that time. Day One ended with no concrete images of what really happened to Cateel shown even on the evening news. Based from the calls we got from there, all we knew, Cateel was in great devastation.
December 5, 2013. Day two. Still shocked from the news back home, I woke up early in the hope of getting the fresh news on television about the aftermath of Pablo. Photos and video footages flooded the morning news but none came from Cateel. I switched from one program to another but all the same – no images from home were shown. I tried to call Dong for any updated but he can’t be reached. I check on Facebook of any latest updates but the same – no images from home. I gave up wanting to see the real picture; instead, I prayed that help will soon come to Cateel.
I braved hard to be okay. Despite a heavy heart, I still managed to report to my workplace. On the way, my good friend and fellow Cateeleño Joanille Dacuycuy-Reyes, a banker, called me she wanted to help me in any possible way to help Cateel. After discussing few details to start up the help drive, we decided to open up a bank account to facilitate donations from friends and fellow Cateeleños around the globe. It was a very instant talk but it was a very good start of something big. Hours later, bank account was opened and ready to accept donations. At 11:00 AM, I posted on Facebook calling out fellow Cateelenos who can be volunteers in the help drive operation to help our brothers and sisters in Cateel. Three hours from that announcement, we convened at Destiny Christian Church in Davao City’s old Venee’s Hotel.
It was a moment to remember. It was a surprising sight to see more than 50 Cateeleños responding our call for help and volunteerism – an overwhelming number of people wanting to be of help and assistance. Most of the faces that I saw there on that day were new to me. But all these faces had one thing in common – the face of sadness worrying about our wrecked homes. Though grieving, I braved to stand in front to face our fellow Cateeleños. As the one who did the call, I started my words by thanking all for taking the leap of being there that day. Though grieving, I managed to utter words that would at least pacify our anguished hearts slowly describing the current situation of our hometown as relayed by our reliable sources. At that time, there was still no vivid picture of our wrecked hometown and so I tried to describe what we’ve heard, what we knew. As the meeting progressed, we all came in one pronouncement – to HELP CATEEL. All of those who came pledged to help – operation site, donation drop-off centers, service vehicles, trucking, repacking and hauling, loading and unloading, on-site relief distribution and more. Most of us came there as strangers but we ended to be all brothers and sisters – all for the love of Cateel. On that very night, with the help our major donor, Dr. Hansel Magno, we were able to send our first truckload of relief goods to our dear hometown of Cateel. That day, December 5, 2012, was the birth of #HELPCATEEL MOVEMENT.
Thanks to Pastor Roy Oliveros and Pastor Albert Clarito through Joanille’s unfailing efforts, we were able to utilize one function hall of the Destiny Christian Church at Venee’s Hotel as the official Operation Center of Help Cateel Movement. Relief Operations were made there. Volunteers ballooned to many. Donations coming from different people, friends or not, came unstoppably. Support coming from different groups, NGO’s, government agencies and private organizations poured in. With the help of some friends in the media featuring our noble cause, we were able to attract more donations and support across the country.
Social media played the most vital role in seeking aid and support worldwide. It reached the many kindhearted souls around the globe to take the leap in helping Cateel in their own little way. It reached Cateeleños in the 7 continents of the globe to come together and help alleviate the pains of our fellowmen suffering from the horrible aftermath of Typhoon Pablo. #HelpCateel became their channel of help so to speak. When the need for something arises – like medicines, additional food supplies, clothing, and hospital needs – we just post it on Facebook and Twitter, and the needed help just arrive. We called for help, people responded. Social media is and will be our greatest instrument. With the overflowing help coming in, our first relief mission sent to Cateel was followed by more truckloads of relief goods delivered and distributed by #HelpCateel Volunteers. It was life changing.
Three days after Typhoon Pablo, our eldest brother Rodel and I decided to go home to Cateel to personally to check our two brothers there and assess the situation of our house. We also headed the team of #HelpCateel Volunteers for our fourth relief mission.
The journey back to Cateel was something I feared so much. Three days after Pablo, there were already photos and video footages shown on TV and scattered on social media. It gave us the real picture of the massive destruction of our birthplace – dreadful and heartbreaking. And so I feared of what I would feel the moment I would see it. Thus, the journey back home was never easy. In fact, that was the hardest journey I have ever made among the countless trips I have going back home.
Plying the Davao-Cuevas-Cateel road, the travel time took about 6 hours. For me, it seemed like the longest travel time I ever spent on the road. All I wanted was to see home. 3 hours before reaching my hometown, the neighboring towns we passed by were beginning to prove Pablo’s destructive aftermath – wrecked houses, fallen trees, cluttered roads. Seeing those made us all shocked. The journey was truly heartbreaking.
As we neared home, it was the total devastation of the whole town that welcomed us – too far from the usual beautiful sights we always longed to see. Debris from the wreckage scattered on the roads. Uprooted coconut trees and century old trees abound on both side of the highway. Houses were all roofless if not totally damaged. Power lines were disrupted. Communication towers collapsed. The mountains on the side were denuded. People were cramming. Some lined up for relief distribution. The whole sight was a sharp dagger stabbing us so hard. “Is this home?” I asked myself.
When we finally reached the Poblacion, we had the hard time passing through the streets. 75% was still impassable. Debris scattered all over. When finally got the chance to find a way to reach our house, I was shocked to see what happened. Our house along with the other houses in that old street we lived was wrecked. I couldn’t help by cry seeing how Pablo left it that way – incredibly destructed. The old house where I learned the basics of life that witnessed my growing days was in total bad shape. I was sobbing. I was devastated.
Moments later, my Kuya Rodel and I were reunited with our brothers Noy and Dong. I cried harder to finally see them. It was the only consolation I could get to realize that Pablo spared the lives of my two brothers despite the unimaginable massive devastation of Cateel.
As I took some glimpse around the town, I felt some eerie feeling deep inside me. Everything was like in a disaster movie and there I was standing still amidst the horrifying disastrous scene. Cateel was a huge junkyard. “This is no longer my home”, I murmured.
After checking my friends and relatives there, I hurried to our team to start our #HelpCateel Relief Operation. I thought doing relief operation was easy. I was wrong. It was really hard to see my fellow Cateeleños – acquaintances, friends and relatives – falling in line to obtain relief goods from us. It was a heartbreaking scene to see my townsfolk suffering from the aftermath of Pablo now right there in front of us in dire need to get food and medicine. Rich and poor, popular or not – all in the same boat – victims and survivors of Pablo. I had the chance to talk to some of them and they narrated their horrible experience and their tales of survivals. Some cried while others painted a melancholic smile.
As we moved to the other areas to distribute our relief goods, the scene worsened. People came to us not for food but for medicines. Many were wounded, lacerated, and needed immediate medical attention. Our volunteers were smart enough to bring first aid kits with us. Based on their stories, Pablo was like an angry demon that came at dawn determined to hurt them. No one was ready and no one can escape from his anger. They were hunted like felons and Pablo was the castigator. They had to find concrete shelter to survive. Most of them find safety at the concrete comfort rooms of their homes. Listening to them tore my heart apart. This was never the face of a Cateeleño. This was never the face of Cateel.
Moving forward to another area, I had the chance to mingle with some children who were greatly affected by the wrath of this catastrophe. They are the most vulnerable victims of this monstrous disaster. At their very young age, they were already tested with toughest times of their lives. Sadly, most of them didn’t understand what happened. As I talked to them, they seemed so fine but I knew their hearts were grieving. “God bless the children”, I prayed.
As we ended the relief mission, I came to realize that much had to be done. Help must continue. Aid must come to Cateel. That night, I was so troubled juggling scenes that popped up in my mind. “What lies ahead to my hometown and our people?” I thought. Seeing the great devastation suffered by all, I wondered when we can move forward again. When can we start over? Questions, apprehensions, worries. I was consumed with worries. But one thing was sure – we all need to HELP CATEEL.
When we left Cateel the next day, all of us were crying. It was really hard to say goodbye to our loved ones knowing the uncertainties they all got there. But despite of that, we all knew that we must all carry on and try to face what lies ahead. Leaving Cateel with such horrible situation made us all distressed. But we all managed to console each other and imbibed a little hope in hearts. After all, Cateeleños are known resilient and hopeful people.
We were back in Davao filled with tales, photos and conviction that we must exert all our efforts to help alleviate the agony and pain experienced by our people. And so, our #HelpCateel Help Campaign strengthened. We grew bigger. People from different walks of life came to volunteer and offered more help. Help from Cateeleños worldwide poured in more. We are able to send more relief mission to Cateel in the succeeding days.
As days went days, aside from the food program, we partnered with organized groups and medical organization to help us with Medical Mission and the likes. We tapped Psychiatrist and Psychologist to facilitate Stress Debriefing. We got major donors to finance our Christmas Treat for the Kids of Cateel. With the help of donors, benefactors and sponsors, we are able to continue our mission and serve our people.
Every weekend, I would come to Cateel with our equally energetic volunteers to bring help to Cateel. Little by little, we were able to get a name. People recognized us. They always looked forward to see us. We’ve reached the farthest part of our town. The whole 16 barangays of Cateel were served. Thanks to our dearest volunteers, huge help was delivered to our people.
Media also played essential task of our organization. Big TV Networks, ABS-CBN, GMA, TV 5, helped us spread our call for help. They came to get our stories that was heard and positively responded by people. Print media and bloggers helped too. Social media became our bestfriend. It was very overwhelming to see how people support our call for help. Indeed, in this modern time of social media and the internet, everything is possible.
For us volunteers, #HelpCateel Movement becomes our refuge. As composed mainly by Cateeleños, the movement became our own home. Here, we have caring mothers, supportive big brothers and sisters and little siblings that made us one happy family. We are all in the same home – One Goal, One Family, One for Cateel. We’ve morphed from a simple action center to a caring home and loving family for each other.
Today, three months since Pablo ravaged our town, #HelpCateel Movement continues its goal to help and rebuild Cateel. With the continued support and help of different groups and individuals, we are able to continue our mission to help alleviate the burdens of our people. Moreso, Cateel is blessed because humanitarian help from all over the world poured in to support and rebuild our town.
In one of our missions to Cateel, we visited some key tourist destinations in our town including the famed Aliwagwag Falls. As a travel blogger and a Cateeleño who takes so much pride about Aliwagwag Falls, my heart bled seeing how Pablo denuded the thick rainforest surrounding her majesty. The once green waterfalls is now a shade of brown – really upsetting. But I know nature has its own way of recuperating. There is greater hope for Aliwagwag Falls. With the help Environmental Groups, DENR and even our own people, we will bring back the glory and grandeur that is Aliwagwag Falls.
In three months that I have been going back and forth to Cateel, I have experienced things that I know I will value for the rest of my life. The value for life, the love for Mother Nature, the compassion for fellowmen and unfathomable love for one’s homeland – things I have lived in this course of doing this noble cause. I was never there when it happened but I can feel the fears and anguish of our people when they experienced it. I lived in the big city now so comfortable with the comfy bed but I know how hard it is to sleep roofless and wet. I can feel how traumatize they are they now fear heavy rains, strong wind and the roaring thunder. I can feel them. They are my people. I am one of them. I am with them.
Cateel has been my home. It will forever be my home. I had been very proud of it and even prouder now despite the wreckage it is now suffering. We are Cateeleños – bigger and stronger than Pablo.
Typhoon Pablo was a disaster we will never forget for the rest of our lives. Pablo may be a monstrous destroyer of our homes but somehow it taught us that love can beat all odds. Because of what happened, we become united to overcome such devastating obstacle digging deep enough, fighting hard enough and finding the courage within ourselves to help one another.
Just as the old saying goes, “It doesn’t matter how we get knocked down in life, all that matters is how we get back up”. And I know in the not so far future, we will rise again. We will rebuild our lives and shape a better Cateel. We will. God, we will!
I would like to thank take this opportunity to thank those who have helped us in our noble cause to bring help to our hometown of Cateel. Our deepest gratitude to all our donors, benefactors and sponsors who become our partners in this movement. My deepest appreciation and grateful heart goes out to all the HelpCateel Volunteers who have been with us since day one helping and mobilizing all necessary help we can send home. To my fellow members of the HelpCateel Core Group and Prime Movers, you know who you are, thank you very much for your valued commitment, compassion and love for this group and Cateel as a whole. To all Cateeleños Worldwide, salamatay gayud ng mga tabang mayo.
To all those who helped in bringing humanitarian aid and support system to our town and townmates, NGOs, Intenational Group, Government Agencies, Government Offices and privates groups, in behalf of our people, our deepest gratitude to you all. We will never ever forget you – your kindness and generosity.
CATEEL, we will rise again!