Angels, heroes in Iloilo’s darkest day

A special report by Florence F. Hibionada/PNS

Lay-out artist Ely Pineda. Davao City-based Ilonggo businessman Jose Padama and wife Daisy. Seattle-Washington-based Filipino-American couple Rudy and Sally Ramos. Manila-based Ilonggo professional Linc Drilon. A german shephered dog. A snake.

An uncanny group yet banded by the shared spirit of generosity, compassion, inspiration, grace under pressure, and in the case of the dog and the snake, seeming angels of young Typhoon Frank victims.

Accounts similarly compelling from those who fortunately survived and were spared on what stands as Iloilo’s darkest day and worst calamity.

Ely’s story

39 year-old Ely Pineda decided to take the Saturday, “nice and easy.” The chores can wait, he thought, as heavy rains literally drenched every inch of his two-storey house. Made of light materials, it was to be the only refuge for him and his family including his mother and five other family members.

Newspaper lay-outing work for 11 years got him to provide for his family and of late, enable him to buy one of the family’s “prized possessions, ” – a refrigerator/ freezer. By 1pm Saturday, every little and big thing his family have suddenly went underwater. Within the hour, floodwaters inside the Pineda home was about 6-feet deep as two families in neighboring houses begged entry and refuge in their second floor.

Ely wanted to accommodate more neighbors but floodwaters and the strong current prevented him. Despite the enormity of the calamity, Ely was still thankful that it happened on a Saturday, his day-off. He believes that if he was not home then, nobody would have saved his family. He would never forgive himself, he added, if he was not around that day. And he is most grateful to have helped his neighbors, one of whom was celebrating his birthday that day. The two families would not have made it with floodwaters up to eight feet deep.

The Padamas

Ilonggo couple Jose and Daisy Padama is a frequent visitor of Iloilo City with their only daughter a student here. Daisy traces her roots in San Miguel,Iloilo yet has now settled in Davao City where the family business is located.

In about three weeks, the couple will mark their 25th wedding anniversary with a big thanksgiving party planned. Upon hearing of the typhoon’s devastation, the couple decided to forego of the party and requested family friend and spiritual confidant, Father Renato Cuadras to buy P50,000 worth of blankets, mosquito nets and mats for the victims.

Come July 18th, the Padama’s silver wedding anniversary, the couple’s only plan is to hear mass.

Rudy and Sally Ramos

Rudy and Sally Ramos admit that life is comfortable in Seattle, Washington, USA. With the Ramos siblings all professionals, the couple has had time to slow down and take retirement bliss one day at a time.

Then came the desire to help and give back to the community which began with scholarship assistance to the poorest of the poor in Rudy’s hometown in Leon, Iloilo. The move was duplicated in Sally’s hometown in Januiay, Iloilo until it now grew to the construction of a housing village here.

When the typhoon struck, Sally lost no time to call Mayor Ben Margarico and asked what they can do to help.

Families must be brought to higher grounds, she was told. So minutes after floodwaters overflowed in Barangay Esperanza and Barangay San Jose, the Ramos couple managed to fill the family van with crying children, women, men and the elderly. They went back for the others as Sally assembled the rescued townmates to the town’s covered gym.

In the midst of chaos and fear, Sally requested for silence and enjoined the terrified group to pray.

“It was very frustrating for me because in my nervousness, I cannot say the prayers in vernacular. But we prayed together for strength and guidance,” she recalled while adding how one man begged for hot coffee. “He was shivering and wet. I promised to get him his coffee but asked that he join us first in prayer.”

Sally got the man more than just coffee. In minutes that she left the gym turned into an instant evacuation center, she came back with bread, crackers, dry clothes and assembled an instant kitchen in the gym.

“I took my husband’s clothes and my grandchildren’ s too. Anything that was sold in the small bakery that was open I just bought. It was not enough to feed everybody but I was happy to have at least helped several,” she said.

Linc Drilon

At the height of Typhoon Frank with thousands of distraught families on rooftops and floodwaters up to 15 feet deep, Linc Drilon made several calls to this writer. He got word of the severity of the typhoon and worried sick that he could not reach anybody as of yet.

Linc was adamant in his message – stay safe – as he offered to be of help in any way he can. He was the first to organize a relief mission group.

With Linc’s sole initiative, “Bulig sa Iloilo” was launched in Manila, a project meant to support flood victims.

“Please support our suffering kasimanwas and friends in what is turning out to be the greatest Iloilo disaster in its history,” Linc in his text message went.

Angel-dog and angel-snake?

Among the survivors of the killer flood brought by Typhoon Frank were 12 year-old Dominador Evangelista Jr. and his sister, 19 year-old Irene.

Dominador recounted how he lost grip of his sister’s hands minutes after the family’s hut was swallowed by the raging Suage River in Januiay, Iloilo. He heard his brother Dindo yell, telling him to hang on and save himself. He got hold of a floating bamboo as the strong river current brought him downstream. Dominador said his bamboo hit the bridge’s foundation so he grabbed another one. All along he thought his sister was behind him but never had the chance to check.

In the floating debris, a huge dog suddenly appeared which he believed was the pet dog of the “neighbor with the big house.” The neighbor’s dog is a German Shepherd and feared upon by the youngsters in the barangay.

Dominador continued to float with the dog for about an hour until washed ashore the next barangay. First thing he attempted to get was a stick to protect himself from the dog who would not leave him. He was just getting one when the dog slowly walked towards the stick, stepped on it then came close to lick him on the face.

Dominador said he felt safe then and followed the dog until they got to a house. An unidentified man helped Dominador, got him into dry clothes then brought him back to the town. Dominador said the dog just kept on walking as if knowing where to go. That was the last time he saw his new friend.

Dominador Sr. upon hearing his son’s accounts went to see the neighbor to say thank you. He was told though that the german shepherd was securely tighthened and never left home.

Irene on the other hand had a longer ordeal when swept away some five villages away. She just held on to any floating debris and allowed herself to be floated downstream. She said she never stopped praying, begging for God’s mercy, asking that God take her back to her parents.

“Nagpangamuyo gid ako nga luwason ako para sa ginikanan ko. Sige man pangamuyo ko nga luwason niya tanan nga nakit an ko ginapang-anod man (I earnestly prayed that God save me for my parents. I also begged that He save the others I saw floating in the river),” Irene in between sobs said.

Hungry, injured and scared, Irene managed to take refuge to a tree when she was eventually washed ashore. About an hour into said climb, Irene spotted a snake by a nearby branch.

“Gintulok ko lang ang sawa kag gina-istorya. Gaampo ako nga indi niya lang ko pagkagton kay pareho man lang kami nga ginsalbar (I just stared at the snake and kept on talking. I was begging for the snake not to bite me since like me he was also saved),” Irene continued. She went down several times to grab floating chips and noodles. She also shed tears when recounting how she was forced to take off her top and use it to cover her bloodied foot. More tears when she shared how she drank rain water from leaves of the tree.

Irene and Dominador were eventually reunited with the rest of the family.