Gerry S. Tabura, president of Neighborhood Association for Shelter Assistance (NASA) engages the new homeowners of Better Living Village in Poblacion Cateel.

CATEEL, Davao Oriental – It is 9 o’clock in this cold December evening but Barangay Poblacion, the center of this town is still teeming with people, specifically at Eduard’s Grill, the most popular dining place in the entire municipality.

Decorative lights, in keeping with the Yuletide season, adorn homes and establishments.

Overhead, a full moon glows, bathing the town in an ethereal light prompting one resident to exclaim, “Tapos na talaga ang unos, nakabangon na ang Cateel (The storm has passed. Cateel has risen).”

This is the cheerful scenario that now greets visitors and travelers here. Hardly are there signs that this picturesque coastal town comprising of 16 barangays once bore the brunt of Typhoon Pablo’s fury as it struck Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley provinces on December 4, 2012.

Year of trials and challenges

Sarah I. Bulala, Municipal Social Welfare and Development Officer (MSWDO), acknowledged that the year following ‘Pablo’s’ devastation has been “full of trials and challenges.

She notes however, that “with the help of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the provincial government, non-government organizations (NGOs) and various local and international organizations, [the town has] recovered.”

According to Bulala, DSWD continues to provide Cash-for-Work (CFW) for the victims.

CFW is the provision of compensation based on prevailing regional wage to disaster victims in exchange for doing community work, such as clearing roads of debris, declogging of canals, and repair of small community facilities.

Aside from CFW, the DSWD, together with International Organization for Migration (IOM), Red Cross, Plan International, and other humanitarian and government organizations, provided seminars on livelihood.

“Women’s groups were also organized to engage in gardening, which is both therapeutic and income-generating,” Bulala added.

“Likewise, DSWD’s other programs such as Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino, Supplemental Feeding, and Social Pension for indigent senior citizens, helped us a lot in achieving normalcy,” she said.

On the other hand, Cateel Vice-Mayor Isidro S. Castro emphasized the fast-tracking of livelihood assistance as the local government’s priority, along with the ongoing construction of new houses and repair of damaged government facilities, such as day care centers.

“We have rebuilt 25 out of the 40 destroyed day care centers in the municipality,” Vice-Mayor Castro said.

“We are halfway to total recovery but much still needs to be done. It will take maybe three to five years for us to fully recover and achieve economic self-sufficiency,” the Vice-Mayor further explained.

A second-class municipality, it mainly depends on palm oil production and planting of fast-growing trees like Falcata and rubber trees. Peanuts and vegetable farming are the people’s main source of livelihood.

The residents were trained on farming methods suited to the town’s terrain.

Focus on recovery

The struggle towards economic sufficiency after the onslaught of ‘Pablo’ was a concern shared by the local government units (LGUs) of Boston and Banganga, two other towns in Davao Oriental badly hit by the typhoon.

As Ma. Consolacion P. Cabrera, MSWDO of Boston puts it, “We are still recovering, specifically with the loss of our livelihood, but with the help of the national and provincial governments, it will not take us long to achieve our goals.”

Cabrera cited the Kapitbisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehesive and Integrated Delivery of Social-Services-Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (Kalahi-CIDSS-PAMANA) program implemented by the DSWD as instrumental in the town’s recovery.

The program is implemented in all eight barangays of Boston and is responsible for the construction of day care centers, barangay health stations, water systems and mini-market.

For his part, Banganga Mayor Arturo Monday stated, “By next year, we will be fully recovered. Our priorities now are ensuring food security and the livelihood of the people.”

Mayor Monday imparted this message to the LGUs and residents of Leyte and Samar provinces devastated by typhoon ‘Yolanda’ last November 8, “Let us set aside politics so help and recovery will easily reach the affected populace.”

“You have to be very strong, forget the past and focus on recovery as we have done,” the Mayor emphasized.

New homes for the New Year

Earlier this month, the provincial government and DSWD-Field Office XI turned over some 72 permanent housing units under DSWD’s Modified Shelter Assistance Program (MSAP) to the beneficiaries in Better Living Village at Purok Madre de Cacao, Poblacion Cateel.

Gerry S. Tabura, newly-elected President of the Neighborhood Association for Shelter Assistance (NASA) expressed their gratitude to the DSWD, and to the municipal and provincial governments for their new homes, saying, “Now that we have permanent houses to live in, we can really start anew.”

Each of the pink, yellow and white houses in the village measures 80 square meters and can withstand extreme wind and rain.

Cash grants Couple Renie and Mila Alvar of Brgy. Dapnan, Banganga, on the other hand, chose to have their permanent house built on the site where their destroyed house used to be.

The couple is also thankful that aside from the housing assistance, they are also beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilya. Renie said that the program has helped them a lot during those critical times of starting anew.

Of their eight children, two are Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries.

Their daughter Mia, 12, was chosen as the Exemplary Child of Pantawid Pamilya and has participated in the National Children’s Congress held last October in Manila.

Their children became Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries in 2011.

Renie and Mila shared that the things they learned during the Family Development Sessions (FDS) helped them recover after the typhoon.

“We were taught responsible parenthood and disaster preparedness which proved valuable before, during and after the typhoon,” Mila said in the vernacular.

“We also believe in sariling sikap na hindi parating umaasa sa tulong ng iba (doing things on our own, and not just relying on other people’s help),” the couple explained.

With their savings, they expanded their modest sari-sari store beside their new house.

Lessons learned

The three worst ‘Pablo’-hit towns in the province are adjacent to each other. From this town, it takes only 30 minutes to reach Boston travelling towards Surigao Sur, and an hour to Banganga.

These are also the farthest towns in the province. The local officials are one in saying that they have all learned some valuable lessons from the disaster.

Mayor Monday reflected, “We need to work together to build the capacities of LGUs for disaster preparedness. Likewise, we must reform by ensuring that there is equal delivery of services to everyone regardless of political affiliation, religion, gender, and social status.”

Andy A. Monday, Chairman of Brgy. Dapnan, Banganga, stated, “What happened is a wake-up call to us so we may conserve and protect the environment.”

This viewpoint was shared by Vice-Mayor Castro who underscored, “The issues concerning climate change and environmental protection must now take precedence over everything else, or else we may yet suffer from more devastating calamities.”

Better communities DSWD-FO XI Director Priscilla N. Razon summed it all up in saying, “It was our first experience in handling a massive disaster, and it was not easy for all of us. We have encountered several challenges along the way like telling various sectors what the government has been doing.”

“Through it all, I feel so blessed for having the full support of the DSWD management, a responsive and cooperative staff and the overwhelming response of the local and international groups which stood by us and helped us from disaster relief operations to recovery and rehabilitation stage.”

She adds, “I also admire the resiliency of the affected LGUs and residents. They held fast to our promise not to lose hope because the government is on hand to assist them, and we delivered, new homes and livelihood opportunities.

“More blessings will be coming, and together with our LGU partners and the people themselves, we are now building better homes and better lives.” (DSWD)