Congratulations and very well done to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Those poor people, ignored!!! Can you imagine watching trucks after trucks passing in convoy knowing they contain food and other relief goods that you sorely need and yet they would just vanish into the horizon, not knowing if they would ever remember or care to stop in your area at all! It is the worst kind of unprovoked punishment. 🙁
It was so wicked in the extreme!
It has been weeks and the Government relief agency has not really gotten its act together.
It was lucky that a couple of journalists deigned to stop and inquire! Otherwise a whole town would have starved to death knowing and thinking that they were marginalised and deemed unimportant that relief agency ignored their obvious pleas!
Again thank you Inquirer Team.
Ignored town gets aid from Inquirer team
“We’ll wait for your return.”
Holding her two toddlers as she stood on the national highway, vainly trying to catch the attention of the relief convoys going to Tacloban City, Rosalia Ansuas managed to flag down this reporter and his companion in Barangay (village) San Pedro, Santa Rita, Samar province, last Tuesday.
She let the journalists go with the promise that the story of her village would reach the proper authorities in Tacloban City.
Ansuas barely survived with her family when a ferocious storm surge brought by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” submerged the entire village of 211 households.
Miraculously, only one villager, Simeon Tonedo, 63, who could not run fast enough, died as San Pedro residents sprinted for higher ground, which was either the nearest hill or the roofs of their houses.
Facing another calamity
They may have survived the storm that killed at least 5,000 people in Eastern Visayas but Ansuas and the families in her village now face yet another calamity— hunger.
Last Tuesday, the Inquirer discovered this small farming community along the national highway near San Juanico Bridge, which connects Tacloban City in Leyte province to the municipality of Sta. Rita in Samar.
From the bridge, Sta. Rita leads to the Samar town of Basey, one of the hardest-hit towns that President Aquino had visited that day.
Ansuas and a few of her neighbors put up messages scrawled on sackcloth asking for food, water and medicines from passing relief convoys but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
After covering the presidential visit, this reporter hitched a ride with another Manila-based television reporter.
Upon seeing the SOS message, the two reporters decided to pull over and chatted with the residents, who had quickly surrounded them.
Ansuas said she had decided to put up the SOS message because they had grown tired of seeing truckloads of relief items coming to and from Tacloban City for a whole week.
Not a single delivery truck or van bothered to stop in Barangay San Pedro.
“I made a poster so that they would take notice of us. Many relief [caravans] just passed by. So I thought of a way to get their attention,”she said.
The SOS message had been up for about a week but not one of the hundreds of 10-wheelers, delivery vans and buses carrying relief items from Luzon, which pass through San Pedro each day, took any notice of it.
At the time, 11 days after the monster typhoon, the villagers said they had not received any relief from the national government and that they were barely subsisting on what little the local government of
Sta. Rita had given them so far: 2 to 3 kilograms of rice, two cans of sardines and one pack of noodles for every household.
With food supplies running dangerously low, parents devised an ingenious way of keeping everyone fed: At least three households would cook and eat together the pot of congee they prepared for their children.
They also said their supply of potable water was running low, as the wells had been contaminated with the seawater that came with the storm surge.
Before leaving, the two reporters promised to relay their situation to the authorities in Tacloban.
Ansuas and her neighbor, Roslyn Panganud, who had also put up her own SOS message, tried to fight off tears as they told this reporter they didn’t know whom to turn to anymore.
“Please help us and our children. You’re our only bridge to [those who can help],”said Paganud.
“Sir, please come back. The people are happy that you stopped,” said one mother.
“Sir, bulig (help), sir,” said an old woman.
Back in Tacloban City, the Inquirer team immediately contacted a staffer of Inquirer president Sandy Prieto-Romualdez, who was in Tacloban City to set up an operations center for Tabang Visayas, the relief arm of a group of private corporations, including the Inquirer.
In no time, the Inquirer team was on board two helicopters. The team had an idea of where to go but had no advance party on the ground to scout for a suitable landing site and secure the helicopters from the expected surge of hungry survivors.
The team first went to the municipality of Basey. The two helicopters were mobbed by hungry survivors. Asking the survivors to queue up was next to impossible, forcing the Inquirer team to seek the intervention of barangay captain Arnolfo Marcha and Cpl. Danilo Academia, who just happened to be at the site.
After returning to Tacloban City to get more supplies, the team flew to Sta. Rita, a kilometer away from San Juanico Bridge, where the SOS message scrawled on sackcloth and cardboard could be seen from the air, as were the villagers waving from the ground.
Shock and awe
And when the helicopters did finally land on their damaged rice fields beside the highway, the stunned residents couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
Malou Ada, a former barangay official, later told the Inquirer the villagers didn’t expect that the response would be so quick. The Inquirer team had returned within two hours.
“We haven’t seen one truck pull over and now we are seeing two helicopters full of relief goods descending on us; impossible, impossible!” said a “very happy” Ansuas.