PALO, Philippines — In folklore, the crow of the rooster signals a new dawn. In the Philippines, the crow of the rooster signals a new dawn as well.
Throughout the rural barangay, or neighborhoods, of the Philippines, roosters crow all day long. These areas are a surreal mix of abandoned, demolished structures and newly built ones, new growth and dead tree stumps that once belonged to a coconut grove and makeshift shelters that look more like children’s play forts than homes for the families who live in them.
And among it all, the crowing of the roosters is like background music, accompanying the day-to-day lives of the Filipino people, a large number of whom keep chickens as a means of feeding their families. The roosters signal a new dawn for this country, which was devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan — Yolanda, to the locals — on Nov. 8, 2013.
According to Catholic Relief Services’ statistics, Haiyan affected an estimated 14 million people in nine regions of the Philippines. More than 4 million people were displaced, 6,300 lost their lives, 28,000 were injured, and nearly 1,800 were missing. The typhoon damaged more than 1.1 million houses, with half of those completely destroyed. In the hardest-hit areas of eastern Leyte and Samar, 90% of houses and 48% of primary livelihoods were wiped out.
Palo and neighboring Tacloban were directly in the path of the storm surge that sent a 20-foot wall of water sweeping across the island of Leyte, leveling everything in its wake.
Father Al Chris Badano was a theology instructor at the Archdiocese of Palo’s Sacred Heart Seminary when Haiyan hit. Most of the seminary facilities were damaged or destroyed. Thankfully, all of the 200 seminarians and four theology students were inland that week for a seminary-wide retreat.
“There were only eight of us educators,” said Father Badano. “[After the typhoon], we had a meeting and talked about it. We were asking [ourselves], ‘Had the seminarians been around, could we have managed them and made sure they were safe?’”
The building for the high-school seminary students was a three-story structure built in the 1950s. After Super Typhoon Haiyan, the third story was gone, and the windows of the second story were completely blown out.
“It looked like a war happened here,” Father Badano recalled. “It was just like the pictures I had seen of World War II: debris everywhere and people not knowing where to go. There were people robbing and looting or fleeing to their inland relatives. There were many, many dead and nothing to cover them. It was starting to get dark, and people were afraid of ghosts of the dead. At night, the [wild] dogs were howling, and it was very scary. Another thing is that there were rumors of attacks, and that was an added dimension of fear for the people.”
In spite of their own affliction, the theologians at the seminary took action the next morning, going around the island, rounding up survivors and bringing them back to the seminary, providing food and water and housing them in the priests’ quarters.
“This place was packed, first the ground floor and then the second floor. And then the other building was packed,” Father Badano said. “We only asked them to vacate when CRS came. The archbishop gave the chancery office to CRS to use [as a headquarters]. It could have taken more than four weeks to find places for them all to stay, and the archdiocese could not afford that, so CRS took over.”
Two days later, Archbishop John Forrosuelo Du of Palo called an emergency meeting of his priests. Because all communication systems were down, priests walked or bicycled to reach one another to spread the word throughout the archdiocese. Despite the obstacles, a good number of them made it. The conviction of the archbishop and his priests was that the Church, as a trusted and respected institution in the Philippines, had a moral obligation to promptly and responsibly respond in emergency situations.
They formed the Archdiocese of Palo Relief and Rehabilitation Unit, and Father Al Chris was named director. As a permanent organization, it will continue to serve those still lacking basic needs. It also will prepare for future disasters, training craftsmen and building storm-resistant dwellings and evacuation shelters, as well as stocking up on relief rations and other supplies. The unit has various work groups, each headed by a priest who is paired with a layperson who has the appropriate skills for the task.
“We are grateful to Caritas [an organization of the universal Church, with local chapters] and CRS because we are working simultaneously with them. They had training for us, and that’s how we learned all of these procedures. It was a sad experience for many of us, but from them we learned great things,” Father Badano said.
Archdiocese of Palo Relief and Rehabilitation Unit staff gained additional knowledge and skills from CRS’ Shelter Project, an ongoing effort to provide Haiyan survivors with safe and durable shelter. To date, CRS has built more than 20,000 shelters for area families and has given cash-for-work opportunities to tens of thousands more so that they can build on their own. For as many families who have achieved stable housing, there are as many still lacking shelter. And so the hard work continues.
CRS also diligently labors to educates the Filipinos about proper waste management and sanitation, serious threats because of the high water table. Water sources often become polluted and carry disease. Due to overcrowding and lack of waste-disposal systems, garbage is a mounting problem. CRS teaches waste segregation, recycling and proper disposal. In the rural areas, it’s common for families not to have indoor plumbing or toilets. Thanks to CRS, tens of thousands of families have hygiene facilities and functioning toilets.
The San Joaquin Barangay has benefited from collaboration between the Relief and Rehabilitation Unit, Caritas and CRS. San Joaquin Elementary School was a designated evacuation shelter when Haiyan hit. Of the 25 families that sheltered there, only one survived. Current residents of the barangay want to make sure that never happens again. So they’re making changes and holding monthly training sessions conducted by CRS staff that will prepare them for any disaster, be it typhoon, earthquake, fire or other imminent threat.
Pedro Lacandazo lost 15 family members in Haiyan’s storm surge. His resolve to make things better is born of the pain of loss.
“It was very painful,” he said. “We heard the weather warning, but we were not aware of what a storm surge was. We had never heard of anything like that before. That gives me the impetus to work with the others in the barangay to prepare in case a disaster like that happens again.”
Gregorio Paboose Lantajo is the barangay “captain” responsible for the neighborhood’s civic administration. As such, he is grateful for the assistance from CRS and truly motivated to work with his neighbors to recover from Haiyan and prepare for whatever might lie ahead.
“The heart of my motivation is that I’m scared that another disaster will happen and we will be stuck in the same situation,” he said. “Over the years, the storms have been getting worse. When I was a child, we’d have typhoons, shut ourselves into our houses and come out after it was done. Maybe the windows would be broken, and some power lines would be down, but that’s it. Yolanda was different. There has never been anything like it.”
Relief agencies like CRS and Caritas, in conjunction with the Archdiocese of Palo Relief and Rehabilitation Unit and the dozens of spirited and determined barangay captains and constituents, have brought a new dawn to the areas affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan. They indeed are the reason the roosters crow in the Philippines.
Register correspondent Marge Fenelon participated in the Egan Journalism Fellowship
in November to report on the relief and reconstruction programs
run by Catholic Relief Services in the aftermath of
Super Typhoon Haiyan from on the ground in the Philippines.