DSWD workers: Heroes behind the scenes

Heroes and heroines are  not only those found in comic books, movies or television series. They could also be ordinary people going the extra mil

e comforting victims of disasters, offering hope, and healing the traumatized.

 When the 7.2-magnitude earthquake shook Bohol on October 15, 2013, the Department of Social Welfare and Development Field Office 7 (DSWD-FO7) based in Cebu City immediately mobilized its workforce to undertake disaster operations.

 Men and women were deployed in the worst quake-hit towns in Bohol such as Loon, Loay, Loboc, Carmen, Sagbayan and Tubigon, sleeping in tents along with the evacuees, managing evacuation centers, distributing relief goods and coordinating with the affected local government units (LGUs), unmindful of the imminent danger that might befall them.

Selfless service

Chona Calamba, Pantawid Pamilya municipal link talks to an evacuee..

Chona Calamba, Pantawid Pamilya municipal link talks to an evacuee..

While on her last trimester of pregnancy, Chona Calamba, a municipal link of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, from the town of Sagbayan, still makes the rounds of families who lost their homes and loved ones due to the earthquake.

“I know most of these people, I know their struggles to escape from poverty. Taking time to listen to them during assessment is the most I can do to help them move forward,” Chona said.

Helping those in need despite her own difficulties, Chona is a prime example of the dedicated DSWD employee who goes about her task cheerfully and thoroughly.

Chona’s husband Danilo works at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources National Greening Program (DENR-NGP), hence, the couple is attuned to community work.

Organizing the townsfolks into productive members of society is a way of life for Chona, which her 10 and  five year old girls have grown up with.

“Rendering service to the community takes up most of our time, that is why we are both looking forward to October 15 (Tuesday), a non-working day and a Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha or the Feast of Sacrifice, since we could spend time with our children,” Chona recounted.

Early that morning, as the couple was playing with their children, they felt the ground shake. As they gathered the children to run, Chona experienced cramps, her legs refused to move, and she half-dragged herself outside. Her only thought – to survive for her children.

 Living in Carmen, Bohol near the epicenter of the quake, she witnessed how the houses were destroyed, even the famous Chocolate Hills torn out of shape.

 “I immediately thought of the affected families in our town, especially the Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries, if they are safe and how are they coping with the devastation,” Chona narrated.

Pantawid Pamilya is the government’s flagship poverty alleviation program implemented by the DSWD.

As soon as she has ensured her family’s safety, Chona braved the aftershocks and made the rounds to check the situation of the Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries, and how she could help them.

Twelve days after the quake, Chona is still on her feet, assuring the beneficiaries that things will get better.  Chona believes that as long as she  can still help others, she has a purpose in life.

“My baby will know selfless service even before she is born,” Chona uttered.

 Legacy of service

Ruben Boybanting, Regional Coordinator distributes relief goods to Loon folks

Ruben Boybanting, Regional Coordinator distributes relief goods to Loon folks

Like Chona, Ruben Boybanting, Regional Coordinator for the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR) was one of those who immediately responded to the needs of those affected by the earthquake.

Much as he wanted to be with his family and ensure their safety, considering that his wife just had chemotherapy, Ruben chose to continue working with his colleagues in bringing relief goods to the affected families. 

His enthusiasm kept his teammates going and his unwavering faith calmed his fears on the plight of his family, who were forced to camp out in front of their house.

 “I know I should have been with my wife and children during those difficult times but whenever I feel the guilt of not being there with them, I take comfort in the thought that as I cross a broken bridge to reach the people who need help, I am actually doing a good turn for my family. Knowing that I am helping others, I entrusted my family to God’s care and protection,” Ruben related.

Each day, as Ruben copes with the demands of disaster operations, he vows to spend a day with his family as soon as things normalize. He plans to take care of his wife in every way possible to make up for each day and night he is away.

 “Being in Bohol is enough  to get me through the day, because it keeps me close to home,” Ruben recalled.

What lessons can he impart to his children, one might ask Ruben.

“I may not be rich, but I will a leave a legacy of selfless service to my children.  Rendering service to those in need is my way of giving back, a simple gesture of thanks that my beloved wife and children are safe,” Ruben expounded.

A mother to others

Merj Anunciado, social worker, assists a mother during relief goods distribution in Tubigon, Bohol.

Merj Anunciado, social worker,
assists a mother during relief goods distribution in Tubigon, Bohol.

Social worker, Merj Anunciado, who is also a first time mother, spends her days and nights carrying other people’s babies to assist mothers in evacuation sites, while they line up to get their share of relief goods.

Merj has to leave her own baby with her mother in Cagayan de Oro to answer the call to serve.

As she helps mothers in the evacuation camps, it also eases the longing she felt to be with her baby.  Amid disaster operations, whenever she sees a baby cry because of being too warm inside a tent or lack of sleep due to the discomfort of sleeping on the ground, she says a prayer of thanks for keeping her own baby safe and warm even though they are apart.

 “I realized how amazing a mother’s strength can be especially when it comes to protecting her children from harm and the elements such as the cold draft of the night or the tremors of the aftershocks. Hearing the tales of the mothers’ sacrifices in saving their babies from falling debris diminishes the pain of being separated from my own child. It keeps me going day in and day out while in the evacuation camp,” Merj recounted.

While she may have longed to be with her own baby, Merj shared that she “(has) learned that being away from (her) baby does not make (her) less of a mother because for just a few minutes everyday, (she has) helped mothers cope with the aftermath of the disaster.”

“I admire the strength, resiliency and courage of these mothers who have experienced fear and trauma, yet still go on for the sake of their children,” she adds.

There are more people like Ruben, Chona and Merj. Workers who stay awake at night packing relief goods to ensure that the evacuees have something to eat the next day, tending to the sick in a makeshift hospital tent or rebuilding bridges and roads to bring back normalcy. They are those who bear the yearning for their own children and put aside their fears to give strength to others, while fervently praying that their families stay safe.

In the midst of tragedy, there’s a hero waiting to come out in each of us.

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DSWD workers: Heroes behind the scenes

Heroes and heroines are  not only those found in comic books, movies or television series. They could also be ordinary people going the extra mile comforting victims of disasters, offering hope, and healing the traumatized.

When the 7.2-magnitude earthquake shook Bohol on October 15, 2013, the Department of Social Welfare and Development Field Office 7 (DSWD-FO7) based in Cebu City immediately mobilized its workforce to undertake disaster operations.

Men and women were deployed in the worst quake-hit towns in Bohol such as Loon, Loay, Loboc, Carmen, Sagbayan and Tubigon, sleeping in tents along with the evacuees, managing evacuation centers, distributing relief goods and coordinating with the affected local government units (LGUs), unmindful of the imminent danger that might befall them.

Selfless service

Chona Calamba, Pantawid Pamilya municipal link talks to an evacuee..

Chona Calamba, Pantawid Pamilya municipal link talks to an evacuee..

While on her last trimester of pregnancy, Chona Calamba, a municipal link of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, from the town of Sagbayan, still makes the rounds of families who lost their homes and loved ones due to the earthquake.

“I know most of these people, I know their struggles to escape from poverty. Taking time to listen to them during assessment is the most I can do to help them move forward,” Chona said.

Helping those in need despite her own difficulties, Chona is a prime example of the dedicated DSWD employee who goes about her task cheerfully and thoroughly.

Chona’s husband Danilo works at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources National Greening Program (DENR-NGP), hence, the couple is attuned to community work.

Organizing the townsfolks into productive members of society is a way of life for Chona, which her 10 and  five year old girls have grown up with.

“Rendering service to the community takes up most of our time, that is why we are both looking forward to October 15 (Tuesday), a non-working day and a Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha or the Feast of Sacrifice, since we could spend time with our children,” Chona recounted.

Early that morning, as the couple was playing with their children, they felt the ground shake. As they gathered the children to run, Chona experienced cramps, her legs refused to move, and she half-dragged herself outside. Her only thought – to survive for her children.

Living in Carmen, Bohol near the epicenter of the quake, she witnessed how the houses were destroyed, even the famous Chocolate Hills torn out of shape.

“I immediately thought of the affected families in our town, especially the Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries, if they are safe and how are they coping with the devastation,” Chona narrated.

Pantawid Pamilya is the government’s flagship poverty alleviation program implemented by the DSWD.

As soon as she has ensured her family’s safety, Chona braved the aftershocks and made the rounds to check the situation of the Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries, and how she could help them.

Twelve days after the quake, Chona is still on her feet, assuring the beneficiaries that things will get better.  Chona believes that as long as she  can still help others, she has a purpose in life.

“My baby will know selfless service even before she is born,” Chona uttered.

Legacy of service

Ruben Boybanting, Regional Coordinator  distributes relief goods to Loon folks

Ruben Boybanting, Regional Coordinator distributes relief goods to Loon folks

Like Chona, Ruben Boybanting, Regional Coordinator for the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR) was one of those who immediately responded to the needs of those affected by the earthquake.

Much as he wanted to be with his family and ensure their safety, considering that his wife just had chemotherapy, Ruben chose to continue working with his colleagues in bringing relief goods to the affected families. 

His enthusiasm kept his teammates going and his unwavering faith calmed his fears on the plight of his family, who were forced to camp out in front of their house.

“I know I should have been with my wife and children during those difficult times but whenever I feel the guilt of not being there with them, I take comfort in the thought that as I cross a broken bridge to reach the people who need help, I am actually doing a good turn for my family. Knowing that I am helping others, I entrusted my family to God’s care and protection,” Ruben related.

Each day, as Ruben copes with the demands of disaster operations, he vows to spend a day with his family as soon as things normalize. He plans to take care of his wife in every way possible to make up for each day and night he is away.

“Being in Bohol is enough  to get me through the day, because it keeps me close to home,” Ruben recalled.

What lessons can he impart to his children, one might ask Ruben.

“I may not be rich, but I will a leave a legacy of selfless service to my children.  Rendering service to those in need is my way of giving back, a simple gesture of thanks that my beloved wife and children are safe,” Ruben expounded.

A mother to others

Merj Anunciado, social worker,  assists a mother during relief goods distribution in Tubigon, Bohol.

Merj Anunciado, social worker,
assists a mother during relief goods distribution in Tubigon, Bohol.

Social worker, Merj Anunciado, who is also a first time mother, spends her days and nights carrying other people’s babies to assist mothers in evacuation sites, while they line up to get their share of relief goods.

Merj has to leave her own baby with her mother in Cagayan de Oro to answer the call to serve.

As she helps mothers in the evacuation camps, it also eases the longing she felt to be with her baby.  Amid disaster operations, whenever she sees a baby cry because of being too warm inside a tent or lack of sleep due to the discomfort of sleeping on the ground, she says a prayer of thanks for keeping her own baby safe and warm even though they are apart.

“I realized how amazing a mother’s strength can be especially when it comes to protecting her children from harm and the elements such as the cold draft of the night or the tremors of the aftershocks. Hearing the tales of the mothers’ sacrifices in saving their babies from falling debris diminishes the pain of being separated from my own child. It keeps me going day in and day out while in the evacuation camp,” Merj recounted.

While she may have longed to be with her own baby, Merj shared that she “(has) learned that being away from (her) baby does not make (her) less of a mother because for just a few minutes everyday, (she has) helped mothers cope with the aftermath of the disaster.”

“I admire the strength, resiliency and courage of these mothers who have experienced fear and trauma, yet still go on for the sake of their children,” she adds.

There are more people like Ruben, Chona and Merj. Workers who stay awake at night packing relief goods to ensure that the evacuees have something to eat the next day, tending to the sick in a makeshift hospital tent or rebuilding bridges and roads to bring back normalcy. They are those who bear the yearning for their own children and put aside their fears to give strength to others, while fervently praying that their families stay safe.

In the midst of tragedy, there’s a hero waiting to come out in each of us. ###

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Bunkhouses soon to rise in Tulungatung

Engineers of DSWD, IOM and  52nd Engineering Brigade discuss details and plans for the bunkhouses during their ocular inspection at the site.

Engineers of DSWD, IOM and 52nd Engineering Brigade discuss details and plans for the bunkhouses during their ocular inspection at the site.

Zamboanga City –  The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)  will start to construct this week the bunkhouses in  Barangay Tulungatung  for families affected by armed conflict  between government troops and the Moro National Liberation Front- Nur Misuari faction.

The area was identified by the local government unit.

According to DSWD Region IX Director Zenaida Arevalo,  45 bunkhouses will be constructed at the site.  Of the total, 26 will be built by the 52nd Engineering Brigade of the Philippine Army while the rest will be constructed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

She said that the Tulungatung site  is about four hectares with enough space for the latrines, community kitchens,  and other facilities.

The bunkhouses will have 12 rooms each and can accommodate 8,100 persons. Each bunkhouse will have five cubicles for latrines and two bathing rooms.

Meanwhile, Director Arevalo stressed that the number of bunkhouses to be constructed at the JFE Sports Complex has been limited to ten units due to health and sanitation issues.  At present, around 4,000 families are staying there.

“From the original plan to construct 41 bunkhouses at the grandstand,  only ten units will be built while theremaining will be put up at Barangay Tulungatung,” Director Arevalo explained.

She  added that eight bunkhouses are already constructed at the grandstand.  The Department will meet with local officials to determine the families who will occupy these temporary shelters.  ###

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Volunteers help quake victims cope with trauma

A CISD volunteer looks on while participants scribble their thoughts on paper.

A CISD volunteer looks on while participants scribble their thoughts on paper.

Around 2,000 children and adult quake victims from the different towns of Bohol poured out their feelings and fears during the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing  (CISD) sessions conducted by the 27 Claretian Pastoral Care: Lakbay Kalinga volunteers led by Father Arnold M. Abelardo, CMF.

Father Abelardo remarked, “When people work together to share love and compassion, miracles of healing do happen.”

Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman said the sessions are part of efforts to instill some normalcy to the lives of displaced families.

The group, which is under the Orthopedic Center Parish Pastoral Care Services, has been conducting psycho-social work in disaster areas partnering with government through the DSWD.  The group was formed after Typhoon Sendong hit Northern Mindanao in 2011.

Father Abelardo, a Claretian missionary and chaplain of the Philippine Orthopedic Hospital, is a veteran in conducting spiritual counseling.

Joseph L. Dasmariñas,  team leader of the group said, “The sessions enable survivors to understand that they are not alone in their difficulties brought about by the  earthquake and serve as a venue to discuss their thoughts and feelings in a controlled and safe environment. Through the sessions, we hope to ease their tension, anger and other negative emotions brought by the earthquake.”

“We prioritized the towns of Sagbayan, Tubigon, Loon, Buenavista, Loay, and Maribojoc because these were identified by the DSWD as among the hardest hit towns which resulted in high number of displaced families,” Dasmariñas added.

“Although they worry about their wrecked homes, most of them remain positive despite their current condition believing that they will again return to their normal lives,” he continued.

Kia del Rosario, another team leader shared that the adult participants underwent counseling while the children were provided with play therapy and draw-and-tell sessions.

Secretary Soliman thanked the group of Father Abelardo for  complementing the efforts of the DSWD and local government units in providing healing sessions for the quake victims. ###

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Volunteers help quake victims cope with trauma

A CISD volunteer looks on while participants scribble their thoughts on paper.

A CISD volunteer looks on while participants scribble their thoughts on paper.

Around 2,000 children and adult quake victims from the different towns of Bohol poured out their feelings and fears during the Critical Incident Stress Debriefing  (CISD) sessions conducted by the 27 Claretian Pastoral Care: Lakbay Kalinga volunteers led by Father Arnold M. Abelardo, CMF.

Father Abelardo remarked, “When people work together to share love and compassion, miracles of healing do happen.”

Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman said the sessions are part of efforts to instill some normalcy to the lives of displaced families.

The group, which is under the Orthopedic Center Parish Pastoral Care Services, has been conducting psycho-social work in disaster areas partnering with government through the DSWD.  The group was formed after Typhoon Sendong hit Northern Mindanao in 2011.

Father Abelardo, a Claretian missionary and chaplain of the Philippine Orthopedic Hospital, is a veteran in conducting spiritual counseling.

Joseph L. Dasmariñas,  team leader of the group said, “The sessions enable survivors to understand that they are not alone in their difficulties brought about by the  earthquake and serve as a venue to discuss their thoughts and feelings in a controlled and safe environment. Through the sessions, we hope to ease their tension, anger and other negative emotions brought by the earthquake.”

“We prioritized the towns of Sagbayan, Tubigon, Loon, Buenavista, Loay, and Maribojoc because these were identified by the DSWD as among the hardest hit towns which resulted in high number of displaced families,” Dasmariñas added.

“Although they worry about their wrecked homes, most of them remain positive despite their current condition believing that they will again return to their normal lives,” he continued.

 Kia del Rosario, another team leader shared that the adult participants underwent counseling while the children were provided with play therapy and draw-and-tell sessions.

Secretary Soliman thanked the group of Father Abelardo for  complementing the efforts of the DSWD and local government units in providing healing sessions for the quake victims. ###

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Boholanos thankful for relief aid

A banner made by Boholanos expressing their gratitude for the help extended to them.

A banner made by Boholanos expressing their gratitude for the help extended to them.

Sagbayan, Bohol — “Daghang Salamat!” or “Thank You!”  written on used tarpaulins and sacks lined the streets of this municipality during the massive food distribution conducted by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), World Food Programme (WFP), Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), and the province of Bohol over the weekend.

DSWD Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman was pleased to see the words of gratitude of the Boholanos saying “ we are just inspired to continue with our work.”

The show of gratitude came two weeks after signages bearing “we need food and water” side by side with “need help” were plastered all over Bohol after the 7.2-magnitude earthquake on October 15 shook the province. The quake destroyed bridges and roads,  toppled houses,  closed businesses, and turned churches to rubbles.

There was a great demand for food, water and temporary shelter to which the DSWD immediately addressed through the continued relief distribution.

To ensure that the food needs of the affected families are still addressed on time, the DSWD, WFP and AusAID distributed more than 50,000 relief packs in hardest-hit towns in the province. The relief packs, good for 15 days, contain 20 kilos of rice, 10 cans of sardines, 10 cans of beef loaf, 10 pieces of noodles, 10 sachets of chocolate drink, and 10 sachets of coffee.

Secretary Soliman explained that the families who received the two-week relief packs, considered to be the most vulnerable, are those whose house is partially or totally damaged, who stays in the evacuation center or camping outside their house, and/or has a female head or with members who are with disabilities, senior citizens, and pregnant or lactating mothers.

The Secretary further explained that the objective of the distribution of the bigger relief packs is to allay the fears of the victims on where to get their next food.

“Rest assured that we will continue to provide food packs until such time that your situation will normalize,” she said during her short message to the crowd in Sagbayan.

“Nagpasalamat gyud mi nga na atiman among kaon sa inadlaw pinaagi sa hinabang among nadawat mintras nangita mi ug asa mi maka tukod balik ug payag (I am thankful for the relief goods while we continue to look for a place where we can put up another house),”  said Anecita Rufino, 41, and a mother of five children.

For some, they reciprocate the help given them by volunteering to help in anyway they can.

“Mueskwela nako inag abli sa klase bisan na-a sa tent ok ra. Mutabang pud ko ug limpyo sa among eskwelahan” (I’m going back to school even if it will just be in a tent. I would probably help in the cleaning of our school), “ 10-year old Chinchin Matutis said. ###

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Boholanos thankful for relief aid

A banner made by Boholanos expressing their gratitude for the help extended to them.

A banner made by Boholanos expressing their gratitude for the help extended to them.


Sagbayan, Bohol — “Daghang Salamat!” or “Thank You!”  written on used tarpaulins and sacks lined the streets of this municipality during the massive food distribution conducted by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), World Food Programme (WFP), Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), and the province of Bohol over the weekend.

DSWD Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman was pleased to see the words of gratitude of the Boholanos saying “ we are just inspired to continue with our work.”

The show of gratitude came two weeks after signages bearing “we need food and water” side by side with “need help” were plastered all over Bohol after the 7.2-magnitude earthquake on October 15 shook the province. The quake destroyed bridges and roads,  toppled houses,  closed businesses, and turned churches to rubbles.

There was a great demand for food, water and temporary shelter to which the DSWD immediately addressed through the continued relief distribution.

To ensure that the food needs of the affected families are still addressed on time, the DSWD, WFP and AusAID distributed more than 50,000 relief packs in hardest-hit towns in the province. The relief packs, good for 15 days, contain 20 kilos of rice, 10 cans of sardines, 10 cans of beef loaf, 10 pieces of noodles, 10 sachets of chocolate drink, and 10 sachets of coffee.

Secretary Soliman explained that the families who received the two-week relief packs, considered to be the most vulnerable, are those whose house is partially or totally damaged, who stays in the evacuation center or camping outside their house, and/or has a female head or with members who are with disabilities, senior citizens, and pregnant or lactating mothers.

The Secretary further explained that the objective of the distribution of the bigger relief packs is to allay the fears of the victims on where to get their next food.

“Rest assured that we will continue to provide food packs until such time that your situation will normalize,” she said during her short message to the crowd in Sagbayan.

“Nagpasalamat gyud mi nga na atiman among kaon sa inadlaw pinaagi sa hinabang among nadawat mintras nangita mi ug asa mi maka tukod balik ug payag (I am thankful for the relief goods while we continue to look for a place where we can put up another house),”  said Anecita Rufino, 41, and a mother of five children.

For some, they reciprocate the help given them by volunteering to help in anyway they can.

“Mueskwela nako inag abli sa klase bisan na-a sa tent ok ra. Mutabang pud ko ug limpyo sa among eskwelahan” (I’m going back to school even if it will just be in a tent. I would probably help in the cleaning of our school), “ 10-year old Chinchin Matutis said. ###

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Beyond duty

Jamila Arasid attends to the questions of some residents

Jamila Arasid attends to the questions of some residents

Zamboanga City — On September 9 at 4 a.m., my husband woke me up. He said, “Wake up. There are members of the MNLF outside.”

I opened our window, and sure enough, there were Moro National Liberation Front members marching outside. There were about 100 to 200 of them. At the front were older men. At the last were children, about 17 to 18 years old. All were wearing camouflage uniforms. Armed.

My husband told me to wake the children and to start packing our things. I told him, “They are probably just marching. They won’t do anything.”

By 5 a.m., there were more of them arriving.

By 6 a.m., we heard gunshots. I did not know this at the time, but most of my neighbors have already evacuated by then.

My husband asked me, “Why aren’t you packing?” I said, “If it’s your time, it’s your time, regardless of where you might be.” He berated me, saying, “Why are you saying that? You have our children to think of.” I questioned why we had to leave. I repeated, “If it’s your time to die, it’s your time to die, no matter where you might be.”

I started preparing breakfast for our children. I have five. My eldest is 18 years old, followed by 16, 13, and 10. My youngest is 8 years old.

The onset

We live in a squatters area in Sta. Barbara called Ayer Village, so the houses are tightly adjacent to each other. My relatives, who live next door, went to our house, because our home was made of concrete and theirs was not. My relatives, including their many kids, stayed in our kitchen.

I felt like I was in the feeding program of the DSWD as I prepared the children’s breakfast.

I called up Regional Director Zenaida Arevalo and informed her there are MNLF members in my area. Then, I heard an exchange of gunfire.

After a few minutes, DSWD Undersecretary Parisya Taradji is calling me. She found out that I live in Sta. Barbara from an officemate, and she advised me to leave with my children immediately and head to somewhere safe.

By 9 o’clock, the gunfire started again.

My husband told us to escape through Sta. Catalina because we cannot go through Sta. Barbara anymore with the military already there.

I was expecting we would be back home by that afternoon, so all I brought was my shoulder bag and two bags of my children.

I was watching the television to monitor what was happening. I found out that they were taking hostages in Sta. Catalina, which was where we would be passing through

We left the house at about 11 or 12 o’clock. We even actually were able to have lunch, which I prepared myself, before we left.

I remember telling my family, “Regardless of what may happen, at least we are able to have lunch so we won’t be hungry.” I said jokingly.

I was also able to clean the house before we left. I had this funny feeling while I was washing the dishes that this would be my last time to use my sink, but I shook myself. “Why would I think of that idea?,” I asked myself.

My husband, my children, and I headed off to San Jose Claret where my in-laws are, while my mother and my brother went to Mampang. I saw a lot of people were evacuating.

Sta. Barbara has a high population. Muslims have close family ties, so it is not unlikely for families to live side by side. I saw the large number of people, and I felt pity.

“Where will they go?,” I thought. “What if they don’t have relatives nearby?”

It was a good thing that my cellphone has a radio. I heard the announcement that the grandstand was accepting evacuees so I told my neighbors, “If you have nowhere to go, proceed to the grandstand.” I knew that some of them had nowhere else to go to.

The number of evacuees at the grandstand started to swell by the minute. I knew I had to help.

Evacuee helping evacuees

I left the home of the in-laws and headed to the grandstand. We were the ones who set up the community kitchen.

I spent the first night of the conflict without my family. I was at the grandstand helping people.

My husband told me, “You’re an evacuee. You left our children here.” I told him, “Please take care of them since you’re there. This is my job.”

On that first night, a stampede almost broke out because the people were hungry. A lot of them were not able to have breakfast because they fled their homes early morning. The policemen extracted us, “Ma’am, please get out.”

The problem was, the people were no longer listening to the police. They became almost unruly and very uncontrollable. I could not blame them, though. They were hungry. Some children told me, “Ma’am, we haven’t eaten since this morning.” I felt for them because I am also a victim like them.

By 5 a.m. the following day, more evacuees are coming in. There were about 10,000 of them by now. I myself had doubts if we can feed all of them. They were that many. Luckily, there were nuns who helped us cook and the city government also brought food. We were the ones who served the food, combination of bread, cup noodles, and cooked food from the city government. The city welfare officer arrived not soon after to start assessing the evacuees.

I went home at 6:00 a.m. the following day just to take a bath, but I headed out again because I needed to check my clients at the Processing Center for Displaced Persons, which is located in Mampang, one of the critical areas. My husband told me, “Why are you being so fearless about going there?”

I replied, “It would be shameful if I did not check up on them. I was able to go to the people at the grandstand, so I should also visit them.” So off I went to to PDCP to check my clients.

Fire

I went back to the grandstand after. It was then that I saw that the fires started. I called my brother, telling him, “I think there is a fire in Sta. Barbara”.

I went back to our house there to see if I could salvage some of our things.

By then, the exchange of gunfire has become intense. My husband scolded me. “Are you going to risk your life just for a few things? We can still buy new ones. What is important are our lives.” But he eventually agreed to come with me.

When we went there, there were MNLF members along the streets. I wore my tirong so they will be able to identify me as a Muslim, but I still kept my face on the ground so they won’t think of me as a prospective hostage.

When I saw our things, I realized just how heavy these were, and I would need to carry these for 30 minutes to get out of the area. My husband suggested that we just leave them in our house instead of moving them out as they could easily be stolen.

I did not want to just leave them there, especially since some of our stuff are new.

I tried hailing jeepneys outside our home, but none of the drivers agreed to help me, even though I offered them to name the price. They told me, “Ma’am, we will not go in that area no matter how much you pay us”.

I remember looking at the trucks and the jeepneys in front of my neighbors’ houses, and I thought to myself how advantageous it would have been if we had our own means of transport. Their vehicles were filled with things from their houses, while I brought almost nothing out of our home.

When I went out carrying my child’s bag, one MNLF member went up to me and said, “Ma’am, that looks heavy. I’ll help you carry it.”

He helped me bring it to Sta. Catalina.

My husband scolded me for that. “Why did you let the MNLF carry your bag?” I said, “Because he offered to.” I smiled.

Son

I called my brother again, and we, along with our mother, went back to the house to see if we can carry more things.

At about 5 p.m., there was a young boy riding a motorcycle who arrived, and he told the MNLF members in Yakan dialect, “The military is about to enter the village.” The boy was wearing civilian clothes. He was about my son’s age, I remember thinking.

The MNLF announced that all of the civilians should leave. My husband tried to hurry me along, but I told him, “I can’t leave my mother alone.” She’s 61 years old.

We ended up not being able to bring any of our things with us, except for my child’s school uniform and a DSWD shirt. The DSWD vest I’ve been wearing the past days is not even mine – I just borrowed it from someone in the office.

Not, not feel the need to help

I have been working in the relief operations since the first day, because I could empathize with the evacuees.

In truth, I do not even have to do this. As the center head, I could have just stayed at my center. But then, in times like this, you could not not feel the need to help. I do not even want to be assigned to a specific role for the relief operations. I would always say, “I’m a freelancer.”

I would go where my services are needed. On some days, I would be working at the grandstand. I would do intake interviews or take charge of the release of family access cards. On others, I would be helping the community-based evacuees. I also continue to monitor my clients at the center. If I see that they are doing okay, I would go back to the operations center and see what areas will need my help.

My clients from the center later on were forced to evacuate from the PCDP. We brought them to the Home for Women. I would check up on them every day after coming from the grandstand, especially since I would get occasional text messages telling me that some of them had misunderstandings with each other or got sick. There were times when I also had to bring them to the hospital when they got ill.  I still visited them even at the height of conflict.

In spite of the things that I have done, I feel like I could do so much more.

It was over the radio that I first found out that our home was one of the structures that were burned down. The huge fire happened on the Thursday of the first week of conflict. I half-expected that to happen, because there were a lot of MNLF members in that area.

It hurts

Deep inside, it hurts. I spent years working hard to establish our home. Also, I grew up in that place. I just tell myself God has a reason for all these things.

When things settle down, I do not think I will go back to Ayer Village. A lot of people like Sta. Barbara because it is accessible to the city proper, including the schools, the hospitals, and the offices. You can actually walk to the mall from there. My mother, my father, and my brother might go back there, but I do not think I’ll be able to return with them. I will probably have a new house constructed somewhere in Talon-Talon.

Never getting tired

We will have to start from scratch though, since we barely saved any of our things before the fire.

The experience traumatized me. I do not think I can see huge fires again without getting scared. It is actually frightening how people got used to the fires here. On the first and second days, people got nervous whenever they saw homes being burned down. After that, it became almost normal to see smoke rising in the air. What made the situation worse was that the firemen could not enter the areas to put out the fires because these were critical places. That was the situation here at the height of the conflict.

I was in denial when I first heard that our house burned down. It was only when I saw a photograph on Facebook of the aerial view of Ayer Village and saw that our area was affected that it sunk in, and I cried.

I went home at 4 p.m. that day. My children told me, “It’s a miracle that you went home at this time,” because I haven not been coming home early.

I cried when our house burned down, but I decided to keep on working. I have not had a proper rest since the start of the conflict. I have been working almost non-stop.

But I like it like that. Working actually helps me. If I just stayed at home, I might go crazy thinking about what we’ve lost. It’s better if I continue to work – at least I get that feeling of contentment that I was able to help people.  I have always been the kind of person who likes working and who does not like resting. I want to be of service and help others. I will never get tired of doing that. ###

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