Three Months After Sendong: Iligan Residents Far from Recovered

Three months after Tropical Storm Sendong (international name Washi) hit Mindanao’s northern provinces,  residents of the most affected provinces of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro have yet to fully recover.  According to the last report of the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (RDRRMC), Region 10 released on February 7, a total of 69,666 families with 384,431 members  in were  affected.

Of this figure, 47,009 families comprising  281,740 individuals   were from Misamis Oriental. Further breakdown revelead that of   38,071 of these families (with 228,576 members) were from Cagayan de Oro City (CDO), while the rest came from eight of its municipalities, namely: Lugait, Manticao, Naawan, Alubijid, Opol, Tagoloan, Villanueva, and Kinoguitan.

Figures from Iligan City revealed that 20,249 families with 90,285 members  were affected. Affected residents in Bukidnon belonged to 2,408 families (12,406 members) were from Valencia City and the towns of Baungon, Libona, Malitbog, Cabanglasan, Manolo Fortich, Talakag, and Impasug-ong.
As of February,  the Office of Civil Defense, Region 10, said that 4,572 families with 18,273 members still remain in 35 evacuation centers (ECs), of which 18 are located in CDO and 17 in Iligan City. The ECs in CDO served as temporary shelter for  1,795 families with 7,390 members. In Iligan, the ECs collectively housed  1,617 families with 5,657 members. Finally, 1,159 families with 5,226 members were taken to various transitory relocation sites.

As of March 14, there were still evacuation centers both in both provinces. It is still uncertain what happened to the  internally displaced persons (IDPs) who , as of last count by the RDRRMC, numbered  46,245 families  with 262,682 members.

The Situation in Iligan

Two-year old John Cyrus and mother Johnamae

Husband and wife Yamcy and Johnamae Diaz’ house was all but destroyed by Sendong. When the killer typhoon struck in the hours near midnight on December 19, the young couple and their two-year old son Cyrus John immediately moved to leave their house and evacuate the area.  They said that they immediately saw how the water was quickly rising so they placed their son inside a Durabox container (a cabinet for clothes made of plastic) and packed a small bag they filled with necessities. By the time they exited their small house, the water level had reached their necks.

“We pushed the makeshift boat with Cyrus John in it. We alternately dog-paddled and floated, always trying to get near the tallest trees that still weren’t submerged under the quickly-rising water. The backpack I had hurriedly stuffed with a few clothes and personal items became too heavy for me so I let go of it. All that mattered was getting our son to safety,” said Johnamae.

The entire family was able to swim to safety and eventually ended up in the nearby school where their other neighbors had also taken shelter. For the next three days, the school turned evacuation center became their home. The PRC and other humanitarian groups that rushed to the aid of the affected families of Iligan gave them food packages as well as blankets.

Yamcy, in the meantime, was determined to check on the house that they left behind.
“It was not much, but it was ours and if there was any chance that anything could be recovered, I wanted to take it,” he said.

Everyday for the following   three days after Sendong left and the flood waters began to go down, Yamcy returned to Purok 12. He saw that the basic structure — the skeleton — of their house had survived, but the roof was gone and many of the walls were damaged.  He began to clear the house of mud and debris, and salvaged whatever he could from his immediate environment.

As soon as they finish rebuilding their house with the help of relief agencies, Yamcy said that he will go and look for work because had been unemployed for the last three months. Before Sendong struck, he worked in the market for one of the fish sellers. He carried tubs of fresh fish from the delivery vans to the businessman’s stalls in the market.

“After Sendong, not too many people wanted to eat fish. People were worried that the fish being sold in the markets might have tasted and even eaten bodies of people who died in the floods. The businessman I worked for closed shop, and all of us, his workers, were rendered jobless,” he explained.

The family now mostly relies on donations and the assistance of relatives who still have money to spare and lend. While grateful for the donations of instant noodle packets and canned goods like tuna, sardines and the occasional tinned meatloaf, the Diazes are justifiably worried that the almost unchanging diet is bad for their little boy. Whenever they can afford to, they buy vegetables like kangkong and malunggay to supplement the rice rations they receive from humanitarian relief organizations. They are able to buy meat and fish only occasionally, and always with borrowed money.

Yamcy gestured to the soil in the backyard of their small house.

“I want to clear this area and plant vegetables here. Tomatoes, eggplant, beans are very easy to grow. If we had seedlings, my wife and I as well as our neighbors could begin planting small crops for our own consumption,” he said.

Johnamae, in the meantime, wistfully wants to reopen a store.

“I used to run a small store before Sendong. Everything in the store disappeared in the flood, and for a while I really felt bad about it. Maybe one day when Yamcy has found stable work I could start over again,” she said.

Food and Cash for Work Programs
When asked if the local and national governments have done anything to help the residents of  Purok 12, Yamcy ruefully shook his head. he said that he was not really aware of any efforts the govenrment was doing.

“There was a ‘food for work’ program and another called  ‘cash for work,’ but they didn’t last long and not every body was given opportunities to participate. It was a three to five day-scheme, I was told. Work for three or five days and be paid P200 (US$5) every day, or get food packages. The problem was each man was only allowed to register with the program once and that was it,” he said.

In a report in the Philippine Information Agency dated Feb.16, it was stated that the Department of Labor and Employment implemented the emergency employment program Yamcy described.

The program was first implemented on February 6, with each  worker being given   P215  (US$ 5.119) per day for 15 working days. They were provided  with working tools like shovels, rakes,  and wheelborrows which were to  be returned after the completion of the clean-up operations in the evacuation centers and public areas.   The local government  admitted that there were problems  with the clean up of the  dirt, mud and garbage in the heavily-affected  areas affected so the authorities came up with  cash for work program.

Jun Reyes, 44, also lives in Upper Hinaplanon. Before Sendong, he worked as a security guard, but since the typhoon, he has been unemployed. He applied for the cash for work program, only he he said that he was given P250 (US$5.95) a day for 10 days.  In the food for work program, he heard that people were give a half sack of rice for five days of work.

Jun Reyes participates in the "cash for work program" of the local government

“That was the only catch —  a person can only work once for the program and that was it. I suppose it’s a fair enough deal, but I’ve heard that the Iligan local government received so many cash donations so one can’t help wonder where all the money has gone. I don’t think the local government could have used up billions and billions of donations in just a few months,” he said.

Audit Donations for Iligan Victims
Yamcey and June are not alone in wondering about what has happened to the donations that poured into Iligan in the wake of Sendong.

The media continues to report that various donations in cash and kind continue to pour in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro.

For instance, in a story also posted in the website of the PIA, it was stated that as of March 2, the Dumaguete City Disaster Advisory Council has approved more than P3.8 (US$95,238,095)  million in financial assistance for the typhoon victims. City Mayor Manuel Sagarbarria  said that  the budget will come from the financial contribution of LGUs  , private individuals and others.

Of the said amount, P1.940 million  (US$47, 619,047) will be allocated to the 388 families  whose houses were totally damaged. Each of the said family  will receive P5,000 (US$116) . Victims whose houses were partially damaged will receive P2,500  (US$59.52) each.  Total allotment for the said group was P1.845 million (US$43,928), to be divided among 738 families.

In the meantime, the city government has collected about P6 million  (US$142,857) cash and check donations for Iligan.

As the media continues to divulge information on the funds that the affected provinces have received, the public and especially the affected residents are justified in wondering where the money is being used. In the areas frequented by volunteers of humanitarian and relief groups both local and international, residents complain that they have yet to receive concrete help from the government. Most of the help they are getting, they say, come from the humanitarian groups.

In a report posted on the Iligan local government website, it was said that there were appeals from concerned groups that  the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA)  audit the Sendong” cash donations. The city’s auditor Gulam Sucor said they would first secure the consent of the Central Office of the Commission on Audit(COA), as  even the outsourcing of audit services would normally need the consent of the agency.

“We want to assure  the public that a tight audit is being done, and the public can check for themselves  as we will post the information on the donations on the website of the CoA. We will also post the full audit report of all fund sources and statement of expenditures of the city of Iligan for 2011 until April 2012 when they’re completed,” Sucor said.

Currently the  donations are said to amount to P242 million (US$5,761,904,761) . The Iligan government said that this will be used only in the building of houses, with  P60 million (US$1,428, 571) going to the repair of damaged infrastructure; P14 million (US$333,333)  to the  repair of water supply facilities;  and the P11.87 million (US$285,714,285) for cash for work program.

In a report  was dated  Feb. 27, Iligan  officials planted  1,500 mahogany seedlings along Mandulog River in Barangay San Roque.  Iligan City was said to have “observed the Iligan Love Month and the 26th anniversary of the People Power Revolution.” The LGU launched the  of tree-planting/growing campaign it dubbed “Plant a Tree and Grow with Me” and officials said that the  number of seedlings planted  corresponded to the approximate 1,200 number of flooding casualties in Iligan.  A memorial marker  was also erected in honor of the victims.

Where are the DSWD’s Funds for Relief Victims?
As for the national agencies, as early as December 29, 2011 or a few days after Sendong struck, reports already came out questioning their management of the funds.

In a story filed by  Michael Punongbayan of the Philippine Star, it was said that the as of December 2011, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had more than P193.6 million  (US$ 4,619,047, 619) in donated funds which could have been used to help victims of Sendong.
COA  auditors questioned  why the money was ” lying idle in a government depository bank and is not being utilized for its intended purpose.”

In Punongbayan’s report, it was also said that the COA  discovered how the   DSWD has received over P314.7 million (US$ 7,500,000,000)  in donations for typhoon victims from various sources from 2004 to 2010. As of Dec. 31, 2010, over P193.6 million (US$ 4,619,047,619)  was unused.

“The donors may have thought that all their donations had provided relief to the beneficiaries and were used to rehabilitate the damage done by the calamities which struck the country in the past years,” COA said.“Although the government had earned corresponding interest from such deposits totaling P2,506,990.45 (US$ 59,690,476) and P57,688.66 (US$1,373.52) for local and foreign currency accounts respectively, as of year-end, it defeated the objectives for which the assistance was provided. The management’s failure to utilize foreign currency donations amounting to P36,316,984.94  (US$ 864,690.1176) also for victims of typhoons, resulted to foreign currency loss of P757,326.07 (US$ 18,031.5731).”

The COA also said that DSWD records state that funds were spent on  the rental of warehouses, forklifts and the use of trucking services. Money was also spent on operations for the release of donated goods and food, as well as the delivery of  electricity and water services.

The COA reacted to this, saying that expenses that will be sourced from donated funds should be those that will directly benefit the beneficiaries. It also said that  donations should not remain idle in banks waiting for another calamity to occur.

During last year’s budget deliberations, it was revelaed that 80 percent of the DSWD’s   P49.359 billion (US$116,666 million)  budget has been allotted to the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program. The remaining  P9.914 billion  (US$23,809,523 million) was said to be for the assistance for victims of disasters and natural calamities. In any case,  the budget for disaster victims pegged at  P48.043  million  (US$ 1,142,857 million) is less than one-tenth of one percent of the total DSWD budget. The DSWD’s  Quick Reaction Fund is P662.5 million  (US$ 15,785,714 million) for 2012.

Water and Safety Issues

In any calamity, it’s always the children and old people who are most vulnerable.
In the aftermath of Sendong, 38-year old mother of four children Norjannah Omar was desperate over more than the considerable to their house. The immediate environment of their house in Purok 12 flooded for almost a week and clean and potable water supplies were scarce.
“Even before the typhoon struck, our area already didn’t have access to potable water from the local water company. We had to buy drinking water from a company that sells mineral water, and even then it was expensive,” she said.

A five-gallon plastic container of drinking water costs P30 (US$0.7143), and the Omar family uses one day. Every week, they spend P210 (US$5) for water and P840 (US$20) for a month’s supply.

“It took while for the water company to resume its operations and to send its delivery trucks to our homes here. We were forced to boil water from the hand pump so we could have drinking water. Two of my children had stomach problems like diarrhea and I felt that it was my fault because I didn’t boil the water properly,” she said.

In the meantime, another child fell ill with leptospirosis.

“We’ve always known that there were rats here. The children often liked to wade and play in the puddles that remained after the flood, and my five-year old daughter had open wounds in her feet. The doctor in the public hospital said that that’s how she got leptospirosis — the rat pee and feces mixed with the water in the puddles and the flood water,” she said.

Homes for the Rendered Homeless
Last March 6, it was announced that 102  houses will  be constructed by March 15 in Sta. Elena Bayanihan Village also in Iligan. This is through the  joint efforts of the City Engineer’s Office, City Mayor’s-Technical Division, and Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers Iligan Bay Chapter.

City Engineer Franklin Maata was quoted as saying that the   construction efforts were delayed because of a shortage of hollow blocks in Iligan. They are already  buying hollow blocks in other areas of Lanao del Norte  to supplement Iligan’s construction materials needs.

Lennie and Matthew

In the meantime, late last month, The National Housing Authority (NHA) said that it will   purchase lots that will be used as relocation sites to those affected families in Iligan whose houses were washed out. The NHA was said to be  sending  a team to  Iligan city to assess the prices of the lots presented by the owners to be used as relocation sites. The NHA is also coordinating with humanitarian and relief organizations that have offered to build more permanent shelters and houses for the victims.

While the relief agencies wait for the government to turn over land where houses for the victims can be built, tent cities and camps have been established in various areas in iligan.

One such tent city is in Luinab and it   serves as the temporary home of 156 families. The average family has between two to six children. The tents were donated by an international relief agecy  each tent spans some 20 square meters.  Inside the floor is laid with thick plastic and rubber matting. There is no electricity inside the tents, but the refugees are lent flashlights, and there are lamp posts that are turned on at night.

Thirty-four year old Lennie Liza Rinez lives in one the tents with her husband and two children. The elder is Jandy, a two year old girl with big and beautiful doe eyes, while the younger is  a six-month old baby boy named Matthew.  Lenni’s husband sells peanuts in the city proper, and earns P200  (US$5) a day.

The Rinezes had no options left when Sendong struck. They used to live in a rented, one room house in Katipunan in Hinaplonan, and the typhhon destroyed it.

“We had nowhere else to go. At first we lived with relatives, but there was no space in their house either, and it didn’t seem to rise to impose on them too much because they,too, were victims of the typhoon. Their house survived, but there wasn’t space there for another family with two young children,” she said.

Lennie is a little embarrassed to show their tent-home because, as she said, she had not tidied up.

“It’s a little hard to keep everything clean and orderly with two small children always getting into everything,” she said. Inside the tent, clothes clean and dirty were strewn everywhere along with empty plastic bottles and containers which Lennie explained to be the children’s playthings.  It was clear that they did not have to many belongings. The small tv they used to own was lost in the flood.

“We didn’t get to save anything but clothes when the water started rising. We all just ran out of the house and kept moving until we got to an evacuation center,” she said.

Lennie shared that while daytime is hot and humid in the tent city, the nights can get very cold. Lennie puts her two children in sweaters at night, but they still catch colds.  The baby boy, in particular,  keeps coughing in the afternoons. Lennie is worried that he might have tuberculosis.

“The settlement administration and the relief group  gives us vitamins and vitamin drops for the children, but I would much rather take my children to the doctor,” she said.

While clean drinking water is not a problem in the tent site as the relief agency  supplies 4,000 liters twice a week, ther are other factors that need to be addressed to ensure that the refugees do not fall ill, especially the children.

The back area of the campsite was cleared and toilet stalls were built, numbering nine to 12 in all. Most of the toilets upon inspection, however, were foul and dirty.  The refugees explained that they couldn’t clean the toilets regularly as they should because the water supply was too far from the toilet area. The stalls for bathing were put up in the front area of the camp site where the water pump is, and where the relief group’s water delivery truck  releases its contents through a hose and into a gigantic water bag that functions as the camp’s water storage facility.

During a lecture on hygiene  given by relief volunteers Lennie promised to pay more attention to keeping clean habits inside the tent and outside. Her immediate neighbors also do the same.

“I know it’s important to keep clean because it’s what will help keep us healthy and less susceptible to sickness,” she said.

The Long Road to recovery for Iligan
It is clear that three months after Sendong, much still needs to be done to ensure the complete recovery of the affected families. Even as everything appears to have returned to normal for the rest of the city and province — business establishments have opened, the local government offices and police and security agencies have returned their normal operations — the residents affected by Sendong still have a long way to go before they can pick up the reins of their lives before the typhoon struck.

Many of the affected families are unemployed, and those who do have work do not earn enough. Their meager wages as day laborers, household help, and utility workers are already far from being enough to cover their family’s basic needs. The challenges they continue to face in the aftermath of Sendong are still considerable as they have to contend with either major house repairs or to completely find new shelters.

Either way, they need financial aid.

In the meantime, to restore their sense of dignity, the affected families also need to be provided means of livelihood and subsistence. Many were employed before the Sendong struck, but lost their jobs afterwards. Others chose to stop working so they can focus on rebuilding their houses, and even with the aid of humanitarian groups, the process is fraught with difficulty. The affected residents of Iligan need all the help they can get if they are to get their lives are to return to normal again.

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