Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Operation Sagip Kapamilya (Last Part)

I arrived at the office yesterday morning learning the full brunt of the Ondoy catastrophe. More than half of our agents had to leave their homes as rising waters threaten to pull them into its murky depths. Five workmates live in Provident and their grim fate only reached us this morning. Their bungalow houses sunk beneath the mud in a matter of minutes saving nothing but themselves by clinging their weary bodies on rooftops while waiting for the water to subside. A mother of two hasn't left the office since last Saturday. With her home still under the pungent, artificial lake once known as Greenland Cainta, her sobs described the helplessness and guilt of leaving her kids behind. They were all safe according to her, but what she worried about is whether they have already eaten since they weren't able to save anything when their house was swamped by deadly currents when the flood came.

There were agents the office hasn't accounted yet and they all live in the worst-hit towns of Rizal. To contact these people would be close to impossible knowing their phones might be long dead, or worse, carried away by the torrents out of their once-decorated homes.

These first-hand accounts are just one of the countless stories coming out of the Floor. They were a source of disturbance, which shaped the outcome of my last entry. Despite the gains I had after signing up for the volunteer work, it felt like I could have accomplished more had I focused my efforts to convincing the supervisors to lead a relief drive. The idea, which I floated yesterday now depends on the will of each Team Leader to persuade their agents to help our colleagues heavily affected by the storm.

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Situations differ at the Sagip Kapamilya Center for two reasons. Back when I was a volunteer, the relief goods just poured in. We never had to ask for it - it was the good Samaritans who came with their delivery vans, pick-up trucks and SUVs to give out their spare clothes and food stores. When work needs to be done, volunteers just pop out of their tambay places. Like an army eager to be deployed in the battlefield, their arms are already outstreched even before the heavy sacks came rolling out from the warehouse.

An hour after leaving Lagro with the volunteers, we arrived back at the headquarters to see if there were waiting convoys in need of people to deliver relief goods to the evacuees. The truck heading towards Marikina and San Mateo had just left and so were a good number of volunteers who waited all day to be deployed at ground zero. After disembarking on the pick-up truck used by Nina Corpuz, the first thing I did was to look for a store or a cigarette vendor for my much needed nicotine fix.

I tried to look around but no store was in sight. When I passed by a guy - someone close to my age - puffing a stick of yosi next to an SUV, I didn't hesitate to ask where he got the cigarette. Instead of giving an answer, he handed over his pack of Marlboro which he included among the things he brought with him. As we both had our yosi break, he told me that he considered bringing yosi knowing it would be difficult to get one at such isolated location.

He introduced himself as Red. Red works as a programmer at Emerson and like me, volunteered for Sagip Kapamilya after his home was spared from the rising waters which inundated some parts of Mandaluyong. Our small talk was brief and I had to keep our conversation light. I thought it would be best if I spare myself from fraternizing with someone I would never see again.

This was how things are with volunteer work. You meet individuals with the same goals; get acquainted with them on a personal level; share some laughter and sorrow at the sight of victims queing for relief goods; and gain insights to the lives they lead beyond Sagip Kapamilya. You would be surprised at how friendly each and every people you meet, but when the time comes friends get shuffled to different task, expect the disconnection as swift as the connection you had.

It took just a single stick of yosi to learn everything Red was willing to tell. The next thing I knew, he was talking to this gorgeous lady across the street, while I had signed myself for another deployment together with the pick-up truck owner whose vehicle was parked next to the spot where Red and I first got acquainted.

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San Joaquin Elementary School,
Pasig City


What started as a simple inquiry for directions going to Buting Pasig became a full blown task force composed of seven individuals in two SUVs. We were deployed to deliver relief goods for 70 families housed in a temporary shelter in San Joaquin. Unlike in Lagro where we were accompanied by a TV personality from the Kapamilya network, in this run, we were on our own. Had it not for the sacks of goods stacked on the pick-up truck that led the convoy, our team would be easily mistaken for a barkada having a high-class road trip around the city.

In this assignment, I have proven my potentials to be an excellent slut. I would ride anything that would take me elsewhere and it was me who insisted that I join the team leaving Red to flirt with a chick without any distractions. Together with a guy who works for the government, we were accompanied by a bunch of kids who brought with them a land cruiser, and an upstart architect who turned out to be the best buddy of our team captain.

San Joaquin was still under muddy waters when our convoy arrived. We do not know the exact damage the floods left in the area, but had we pushed further, I knew the grim fates of Marikina and Cainta would be played over right before our eyes. The orders from Sagip Kapamilya strictly instruct that before we enter a community, we should coordinate with the Barangay Captain for assistance. That's what we did when we got there. Floods may have rendered the road impassible to small vehicles but we managed to keep our feet on dry ground by parking our pick-up truck inside the Barangay Hall.

The Barangay Captain - a Kapitana in her late fifties - told us that less than fifty families remain in the nearby evacuation center. Most have returned to their homes after the floods subsided earlier that day. She encouraged the team that we should see for ourselves the worst hit sitio in their barangay. However, it was getting late and chances are, the SUVs that we brought may never get out if we follow her suggestion. At the back of my head, we might get swamped by people in desperate need of assistance should we pushed through. The group came with a unanimous decision: We would hand over the goods to those families remaining in the evacuation center and would let the Kapitana allocate what was left to those we could never reach.

The distribution of relief goods was so orderly, I was having a hard time convincing myself that we were in a disaster zone. Despite the mud water around us, the families from this evacuation center seemed a little well-off than those I had seen in Lagro. There, half-naked men asked for clothes to keep their freezing bodies warm. A light drizzle soaked people and volunteers, but the distribution went on so that queues would be relieved. A father in his mid thirties stood next to the van hoping he could keep the wet carton box to serve as his family's bedding . In San Joaquin, men waited in their own separate line, while their missus and mothers received bags which included rice, canned goods and instant noodles to last them for days. Everyone got their provisions.

It would have been more profound had we been given the chance to speak with the evacuees, but for some reasons we were preoccupied by the distribution and the flood victims immediately left after getting their aid. As we prepared to return to the headquarters, I was secretly musing the idea of getting closer to ground zero - the heart of the disaster where our aid were needed most. But I doubt if it would ever happen, it was already past 10 and the operations had to stop for everyone to take their break.

We got back to camp not inside the pick-up truck assigned to deliver the relief goods to San Joaquin, but on a transport van our Team Captain used for his landscaping business. Like everyone who joined the volunteer corps for the first time, he was so moved by the acts of selflessness that he vowed to return with more volunteers the next day. One cigarette break and his van was once again packed with relief goods bound for Mandaluyong. They asked me to join but seeing some volunteers who just arrived (one coming all the way from Calamba) at the headquarters, I told them that I'm giving others the chance to feel how one's efforts get paid off in the field.

Raising my hand to bid farewell, I told my team mates to enjoy the trip and savor the bliss of handing relief goods to those who are most affected. Yet, behind the partings between brief acquaintances, my thoughts were glued towards that one single reason for my decision to stay.

I was waiting for the last trip bound for the flood victims of Marikina. It doesn't matter if I waited until past midnight for the truck to arrive but no vehicle ever came. Those who were manning the Sagip Kapamilya Center were slowing down to rest, and give way for relief preparations which everyone expected to gather steam the following day.

Besides, my request for an emergency leave wasn't acknowledged by Mami Athena. I found out a day later that her home in Cubao was under knee-deep flood waters. With nothing else to do but linger around the headquarters and mingle with volunteers who chose to stay behind, it dawned to me that I've spent the last of my remaining strength from the previous deployment I had.

I hailed a cab without telling no one my intention to leave. With an empty stomach and a work shift at 6 in the morning. I headed straight home to give myself a well-deserved sleep.

9 comments:

dr magsasaka said...

You're an unsung hero. May your tribe increase.

Trip said...

how i wish i could participate in those activities. all the best to people like u Knox. :)

Eleven said...

Every good deed done will return a hundred folds.

gillboard said...

ang mga taong kagaya mo ang kailangan ng bansang 'to. Lam mo joms, nakikita ko may pag-asa ka sa pulitika in the future...

naisip ko lang... hehehe

blagadag said...

kaya ka siguro binabalikan ni ex kasi alam nya na mabuti kang tao. sya kasi eh, di marunong mag alaga ng taong totoo. ingat ka soulja. marami ka pang pasasayahin, kasama Nya. balang araw, sasaya ka rin, kasama nya.

xtian1978ii said...

buddy more volunteers needed pa so please ask your friends to volunteer na din. a lot of places pa need to be attended. thanks big time for helping ha.

<*period*>; said...

pagpupumilit na isiksik ang sarili sa ground zero bilang pambawi saan?

maganda ang ginawa mong pagtulong sa kapwa na nangangailangan

ukol naman sa kung ano mang bagay na pinatutungkulan mo sa twitter post, mas magandang pagsisihan ang isang maling ginawa ng bukal sa loob at paghingi ng tawad kung mayruon mang nasaktang ibang tao.

the mere fact na inamin mo na nagkamali ka at nakasakit ng kapwa before (kung yun man ang pinatutungkulan mo sa twit), ay sapat nang pambawi

magingat ka palagi

xtian1978ii said...

need more volunteers pa para sa operation linis naman. grabe sa marikina. dami ng namatay. kakalungkot.

hastydevil said...

idol!