Loud noises can already be heard. A super typhoon is coming.
It was 7:00PM of September 13 and personnel rendering disaster duty at the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Field Office (FO) II were preparing for the landfall of Typhoon Ompong in the Cagayan Valley region.
They were used to perform preparedness for response activities as part of their main task in the Disaster Response and Management Division (DRMD), but this time it is different. They must live up to their mandate to ensure the safety of the people since Signal No. 4 was raised over several provinces in the Cagayan Valley, which will bring powerful winds and dump heavy rain.
Amid the rush to ensure that all preparations are in place, one personnel is actively consolidating reports coming from different Social Welfare and Development (SWAD) offices to monitor the status of families involved in pre-emptive evacuations. She is Constancia Domingo, one of the social workers of the Disaster Response Information Management Section of DSWD FO II, who was assigned on duty for disaster response team for ‘Ompong’.
As ‘Ompong’ made its landfall around 1:40AM on September 15 in Cagayan Valley, the strong winds and rain started to batter structures inside the FO complex, including its newly-built warehouse and multi-purpose gym. The ceiling of the main building’s third floor was also not spared from ‘Ompong’s’ wrath.
Soon after, the electricity was shut and Constancia had no other means to receive reports and communicate with other satellite offices in the region.
“Mahirap noong oras na iyon kasi nawalan ng kuryente. Mahirap kumuha ng data at wala ring paraan para magpadala ng impormasyon sa taas (It was difficult to obtain data and there was no means to send information to the central office because there was no electricity),” Constancia said.
As part of the Quick Response Team (QRT) that night, she had to stay awake. As the pounding of the strong winds continue, she became more and more concerned on the safety of her family whom she left at home. She thought about her child and her husband who was not feeling well because he was earlier diagnosed with a heart problem that is already due for operation.
Because of the failure of communication lines, Constancia contemplated to leave the office and check on her family, but the condition outside was too dangerous to ignore. While ‘Ompong’ was already barreling towards Cagayan Valley, Constancia could already hear sounds of the howling winds, the destruction of house, and the torment of thinking if she would still survive.
Despite the alarming circumstances, the call of duty prevailed upon her. She decided to stay in the office and continued to work on her tasks of preparing and consolidating documents needed when the response operation for affected families commences. With a heavy heart because she could not be with her family in this trying time, she kept her faith and prayed for the safety of her loved ones.
After the storm
It was already noon when personnel from the FO were allowed to go outside and inspect the amount of damage brought by ‘Ompong.’ Buildings, trees, posts, and houses were devastated. Roads were blocked by debris and floods ruined rice and corn fields. The feeling of shock and hopelessness was all too pervasive seeing families in a distressing situation.
Constancia thought about the people who were affected. She had a moment of grief, and at the same time, a strong urge to continue her job to serve the marginalized and disaster-stricken communities.
She said that no amount of money can compensate the fulfillment she gets from being able to serve the marginalized.
“Humuhugot tayo ng lakas sa mga taong tinutulungan natin. Hindi naman kalakihan ang sahod sa ginagawa natin pero ang pagtupad sa ating tungkulin at ang pasasalamat na natatanggap natin sa ating mga natutulungan ay sapat na (We get the strength from the people we serve. Despite receiving low income, I think that the fulfilment of our duty and the gratitude that we receive from the people that we serve are more than enough),” Constancia remarked.
For Constancia, it is during these trying times that a public servant’s heart is tested. Those who serve wholeheartedly come out stronger and wiser, while those who lack the passion end up quitting. She is now more than ready to render service to the Filipino people no matter how many disasters come her way.
Serving the isolated areas
Aside from Constancia, there are others who heed to the call of duty to deliver aid in isolated communities because of Typhoon Ompong.
In Cagayan, the Municipal Action Team (MAT) was able to reach the isolated area of Barangay Lipatan in Sto. Niño after the high river current made it impossible for boats to reach the community.
“Medyo mahirap yung daan lalo na yung bangka na sasakyan para mahatid yung mga relief goods kasi medyo mataas pa yung tubig pero kailangan dahil nangangailangan ang mga tao na mabigyan ng food packs (It was quite difficult for us to deliver the relief goods because the water in the river was still high and we need to travel using boats, but we took the risk because there were people in need of assistance),” recounted Lanie Claire Aquino, a Municipal Link of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), as she describes the danger and difficulty that they experienced in delivering the aid to the families in isolated barangays.
They tapped the help of the residents of the barangay to climb a steep and transfer the boxes of relief goods to carabao-drawn carts before reaching their destination.
Meanwhile, a MAT in Cabarroguis, Quirino also brought relief goods in Sitio Potia, Brgy. Dibibi, a Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Area (GIDA) where indigenous peoples (IPs) reside.
Despite the pouring rain, the team was able to ride a dump truck and reach the IP community by night time.
“Agyaman kami ti adu sir, madam ta uray rabiin ken madama bagyo ket niranta da kami nga inikkan ti relief goods. Ti ammuk mabisinan kami tatta rabii ta han kami nakasagana (We are grateful for your persistence to reach our community to provide relief goods. We thought that we would starve tonight because we do not have any food),” said Marites F. Miguel, one of the residents of Sitio Portia.
“Ang mga ngiti at pasasalamat mula sa ating mga benepisyaryo na napagsilbihan natin ay nagbibigay ng hindi maipaliwanag na kasiyahan na tanging mga lingkod bayan lamang ang makakaramdam (The smiles and gratitude expressed by the people who received assistance gives unexplainable joy to us),” described Ruth L. Taccad, a Social Welfare Assistant of the Pantawid in the sitio.
To date, the Department has already provided P101,023,873.30 worth of assistance to survivors of Typhoon Ompong, of which, P12,539,150.00 worth of aid was provided to the affected families in Region II. ###