A few days after the rampage of Typhoon Reming which devastated Albay and Camarines Sur province, we had to drive to Albay from Camarines Sur to document the damage of typhoon Reming and also to cover the visit of President Arroyo along with the members of her cabinet which include our own secretary of Agriculture Arthur Yap. I was eager to go not so much for the event not even for the chance of meeting the president and other government VIPs in person but to see for myself the magnitude of the disaster that hit my home province and to visit my folks in Sto. Domingo, Albay which was one of the towns which bore the brunt of the rampage.

As I expected, electric posts, fallen trees and other debris still littered the highway as we drove slowly towards Albay from our regional office in Pili, Camarines Sur. Houses made of light materials were flattened to the ground and semi-concrete houses and even concrete houses badly battered and left roofless. But as we near Albay province the devastation seem to be more horrific like a scene from an apocalypse movie. Houses and commercial buildings were buried in mud; trucks and cars thrown in ricefields; huge piles of soil and sand, big boulders, tree trunks and other debris were piled like little hills on both sides of the highway; rivers were swollen and many new rivers have branched out from nowhere. The hardly noticeable river near the railroad track intersection in barangay Travesia in Guinobatan Albay all at once appear like a lake as its banks were eroded

and eaten up by the rampaging waters at the height of the typhoon and with it several houses including 2-storey concrete residential and commercial establishments along with 2 trucks and a family van were swept away.
The rice field and vegetable farm along the highway near the Guinobatan-Camalig highway boundary which was our favorite spot for taking a panoramic shot of a bountiful ricefield and vegetable farm on the foreground and the majestic mayon volcano on the background was now a wasteland covered with sand – boulders and uprooted trees. Coconut trees were reduced to mere lamp posts as they no longer have their crown of leaves.
The town of Camalig where local delicacies like “pinangat” and other pasalubong used to be a thriving business - was in a mess. Shops and stores were closed and most residents were sweeping away the tons of mud that have unceremoniously intruded into their homes.

We dropped by the Breeding Station, one of DA’s remaining animal research facilities in Camalig, Albay and took some footages of the damages on the station before proceeding to Legaspi. But as we passed through barangay Cagsawa and Busay familiar landmarks had disappeared. The remnants of the Cagsawa ruins – the church belfry was still there, more visible now from a distance. But all other houses and structures around it were nowhere to be seen as they have been buried in tons of sands, huge boulders and other debris. Even the road leading to the Cagsawa ruins was covered and what remained only was the iron billboard welcoming visitors to this once favorite tourist destination in Albay

The stench of decomposing bodies was all over the place. And I have to cover my nose and my face not only because of the stench and dust but because I could not bear the pitiful sight watching family members and rescue teams making a grim, last ditch effort to find bodies or whatever remains of their loved ones and pick up the pieces of whatever remnants of their ruined homes and ruined dreams.

From Daraga we decided to visit our extension office in Rawis, Legaspi City and took the alternate route via barangay Tagas and Barangay Bugtong only to find out that it was no longer passable as the road has been eaten up by Yawa River. We proceeded to Legaspi found the city chaotic and very messy as piles of mud and garbage littered all over. The big malls closed and most of the stores and shops closed.

We were able to take our lunch but only after queuing for over 30 minutes and then we proceeded to Camp Ola where the president and the members of the cabinet met with the local chief executives. We were not allowed entry into the conference room but it gave me an opportunity to exchange pleasantries and exchange information with colleagues from the media who were also waiting outside the conference room.

After the closed door meeting I had the chance to shake hands and talk briefly with Secretary Yap. Then we joined the presidential entourage as it went to one of the evacuation centers in barangay Binitayan.

As it was late in the afternoon and the road going to my hometown in Sto. Domingo was still not passable I decided to forego my plan to stay behind and spend the night with my folks As we drove back to Camarines Sur I watched Mayon volcano towering serenely over Albay province seemingly unaware of the tragedy that has befallen on this once peaceful and beautiful province. Its blue symmetry rises to a sharp peak as if reaching out for the sky. It has no longer the perfect cone many artists have captured in canvass. Its slopes are no longer graceful as romanticized by poets and writers. Its towering presence in practically all points of the province appears ominous and intimidating. Having discharged of the lava and other volcanic debris which have accumulated through the years along its slopes, Mayon volcano appears serene and relieved after it has refilled with its own lava the deep crevices along its slopes and restored its form. Its crater emits noiselessly, thin, white smoke that seems to indicate a life within, a new hope.

Life goes on for Mayon Volcano and also for the survivors of this disaster. Some are still in a state of shock, others in the denial stage. Still others have not given up trying to find their dead or lost kin. Most of them are worrying about where their next meal would come especially after the relief goods have run out. Others who have been greatly start a new life somewhere.
But some are already picking up the pieces and are ready to move on and start a new life. They have gathered a new strength and found a way of looking at life’s tragedy in the face. For the poor, losing a belonging is not really too bad because they don’t have much in the first place. Most of them even find it a blessing that disaster like it do happen because the government has remembered them at last.

Immediately there was an outpouring of help and support even from those who are also afflicted and victims of the calamity. But there were also the opportunists – I have heard from the evacuees and I have personally observed some members of the local disaster councils who are supposed to help or facilitate the distribution of relief goods to the victims were more concerned in helping themselves first. They are the first to partake of whatever goods are being brought in - saving the best for themselves. Indeed, it is true that difficult times could either bring out the best or the worst in man.

Considering the magnitude and ferocity of the havoc wrought by the calamity it will take two or more years before Bicolanos could fully recover from the staggering damages and losses on human lives, properties and infrastructures. As for the agriculture sector it will take ywo to three years or even longer before it could fully recover from the devastation. Final damage report on agriculture showed Bicol absorbing the most damage at P1.6 billion. A total of 18,786.56 hectares rice areas with an estimated production loss amounting to P153.8 M; a total of 5,766 hectares of corn areas with production of about P45M; over 14,000 hectares planted to vegetables, and other high value commercial crops with estimated production loss of over P343M. For livestock, a total of 13,076 farmers incurred loss on livestock and poultry amounting P137, 162,364. The sufficiency level for vegetables has decreased from 83.2% before the typhoon to 26.5% after the typhoon.

The coconut industry which is one of the major industries and considered the sunshine industry of the region took the brunt of the typhoon with a total of 43,098 hectares of coconut plantation valued at P351M damaged by typhoon Reming . Abaca, which is another major crop and dollar-earner for the region also incurred heavy losses amounting to over P267M.

Already relief assistance comes pouring not only for immediate needs of the victims but also for long term needs – such as rehabilitation and livelihood assistance for those who have lost their source of income and those who have been displaced by the calamity. Some eight tons of P90,000 worth of fresh vegetables and 500 bags of rice were sent to Bicol by the DA as part of the Mayon Mercy Mission. The Food and Agriculture Organization will also provide $100,000 emergency assistance for vegetable seeds, fertilizers, tools, chicken and fingerlings to affected farmers and fishermen.Another $5Million rehabilitation program is being drawn up by FAO with the help of the DA. Even ordinary DA employees in other regions have sent their donations and assistance to the Bicolano victims.

But Bicolanos must not rely mainly on outside help but must muster all the strength to pick themselves up from the tragedy, rebuild their lives and move on. Having survived many disasters and economic deprivations and neglect in the past, Bicolanos will once more show their resiliency and rise over this situation.

 

Truckloads of vegetables from the City government of Baguio came pouring in to the victims in Albay.

 


 

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Source:
UMAsenso
Official publication of the Department of Agriculture RFU 5
October - December 2006
Vol. 15 No. 4