BAYBAY CITY—Almost every passing day, Rolando Tagnipez lights a candle before an image of his son on a made-to-order tarp installed in his house. The ritual reminds him of his loved one whose whereabouts he has surrendered to nature’s will.
“They have not found the body of my son, together with those of his wife and son. They were among those declared missing in Kantagnos. What can I do? It’s hard for me to accept that he is gone. I just try to make myself busy,” the 70-year-old father told CoverStory.ph, speaking in his native Cebuano.
Raffy Tagnipez, 51, his wife Jonaliza, 41, and their son Javis King, 17, were among the 56 people still missing in Barangay Kantagnos, considered ground zero of the deadly landslide that on April 11 swallowed several villages of the city at the height of tropical storm “Agaton” (international code-name: Megi).
Also on the list of those unaccounted for were some of the 13 members of Jonaliza’s family. Of the 128 confirmed deaths from the landslide incidents in 10 of Baybay’s villages, 67 were from Kantagnos.
Nearly four months since a huge hillside fell over a cluster of houses in Baybay, survivors, including those who lost their loved ones, had yet to come to terms with the weight of the tragedy.
“What I am doing is I light candles for my son. But there are days that I can’t do it due to the rising cost of candles,” said Rolando Tagnipez, a pedicab driver who lives with a daughter in Barangay San Miguel within the city center.
His son Raffy was employed as a branch manager of a furniture shop in Sogod, Southern Leyte.
Tagnipez searched for Raffy, or at least Raffy’s corpse, in hospitals, but his efforts were unsuccessful. With a heavy heart, he has resigned himself to the idea that Raffy and his entire family were among the dead.
But without Raffy’s body, Tagnipez is hard put to secure financial and other assistance set by government agencies for surviving relatives.
Like spilled porridge
Virginia Queza, 60, was likewise bereaved.
She lost her husband Mario, 66, whose body was among those recovered. Their house, she said, was carried away by thick mud that seemed like spilled porridge rampaging from a nearby mountain toward a river, carrying with it boulders and toppled trees.
“I kept on shouting for help while we were deeply covered with mud, surrounded by dead bodies. My husband was still alive then. But all my pleas were ignored. I even heard someone saying that they must think of their own survival,” Queza said.
Gloria Paulo, 63, was in the city for a medical checkup when the landslide occurred. Rescuers could not find the body of her husband, Randy Baltazar, 49, in their farming village, about 10 kilometers away.
She said she still could not believe that she had lost her husband to nature’s wrath, and that she was reliving the trauma every time it rained.
Paulo and Queza were among the 164 families (or 532 persons) from Kantagnos still temporarily staying at Baybay City Senior High School when CoverStory.ph visited in July.
Another evacuation center, Baybay City National High School, was hosting 253 families (877 persons) from another landslide-hit village, Mailhi.
Donations for the evacuees had not stopped, but a city welfare officer said these were already dwindling and might not be enough to last for two months.
Per the recommendation of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Barangays Kantagnos and Mailhi were declared no man’s land by the city government due to the permanent risk of landslide.
On July 15, the city government relocated the first batch of 40 families to new housing units in Barangay Maganhan. Construction of the shelters was funded by the Office of Civil Defense (OCD).
The survivors from Mailhi are to be relocated in Barangay Higulo-an. The houses and lots are to be procured by the city government at a cost of P23 million, said Marisa Cano, city information officer.
Cano said the selection of the evacuees qualified to receive new houses was based on guidelines set by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
The priorities are families with elderly members, pregnant women, and persons with disabilities, she said.
Fewer housing units
“The city government under Mayor Jose Carlos Cari is committed to relocate these families as soon as possible, considering that the schools where they are temporarily housed are to be used for the opening of classes,” Cano said.
But she admitted that the city government had not set a deadline as to when all the families would be relocated.
Another looming problem is the reduced number of housing units to be funded by the OCD, Cano said. From the original 80 units for the second batch of beneficiaries, the units are to be trimmed due to the soaring prices of construction materials, she said.
The OCD has set aside P10 million for the project, including lot procurement and development.
Cano said the city’s assistance to the survivors included providing livelihood for them to rebuild their lives in their resettlement area.
The families depend largely on farming and copra production.