Thursday, December 22, 2011

Burial of My Cousin, Victim of Typhoon Sendong

Last Sunday, I heard the news that Typhoon Sendong hit Cagayan and Iligan and caused a flash flood which resulted in the death of over a thousand people. Hundreds remain missing. Thousands of families were left homeless.  I was worried about my sisters, relatives, confreres and friends in Iligan. I was relieved to hear that they were safe although the flood was only knee deep in their houses. The Redemptorist church was also flooded so the Misa de Gallo was cancelled.  But the others who were living along the Mandolog river and Bayug island were not as fortunate.

 Later that day, I got a call from my cousin Nene telling me that her younger brother - Arthur was one of those who perished in the flood in Cagayan de Oro. My cousin Arthur had a stroke several months ago and he was wheel-chair bound. So when the flood began to rise rapidly inside their house he panicked as the water rose to his neck level. His children rushed and tried to bring him up to the rooftop but it was too late, he was suffering from hypothermia and had a heart attack. He was only 53 years old. His family and relatives were distraught with grief. They were more fortunate than the entire families that perished and there was no one to claim their bodies or attend their burial.

 I arrived in Cagayan last Tuesday evening and as I was walking on the bridge across the Cagayan river, I could smell the stench of death below me. The houses along the river bank below had been destroyed and there were still bodies under the debris.

When we arrived at chapel of the Greenhills memorial park, there was a funeral mass that was just finishing. We were able to celebrate the funeral mass for Arthur at 9:30 am and bury him by 10:15. We were told that almost every hour every day for the next few days until Christmas there will be burial - mostly victims of Typhoon Sendong. I heard that elsewhere unclaimed decomposing bodies  will be buried in mass graves.

I met my sisters and cousins from Iligan who came to attend the funeral and burial of Arthur. They told me about the devastation caused by the typhoon and the flood in our city. The most gruesome story was about the people who took refuge in the second floor of a big concrete house. They thought they were already safe but the water rose and a huge log from the river hit the house and killed all of them.

Apparently most of the water came from the mountains of Bukidnon and  Lanao del Sur. When the typhoon came, there were no more forest and watershed that could absorb the heavy rainfall. They have been replaced by pineapple plantations, farms, meadows for cattle, golf courses and housin subdivision. So the topsoil  and the water quickly came down to the cities of Cagayan and Iligan. Some of the illegally cut logs rushed down and hit so many people. What was surprising was that Northern Mindanao - including Cagayan and Iligan never experienced being hit by a typhoon before. Climate change.

Natural disasters are often called "Acts of God." This is a blasphemy! God is not responsible for Typhoon Sendong and the flashfloods that killed so many people and left many more homeless. This is the result of the greed of human beings and corporations who destroy the environment, who are responsible for the ecological imbalance. Mother nature does not forget. And that will not  be the last.

Almost 25 years ago, when we organized and mobilized the Basic Ecclesial Communities of San Fernando and the neighboring parishes to stop logging in Bukidnon we were aware that a total log ban and reforestation would benefit not only the villages of Bukidnon but also the coastal cities of Northern Mindanao. An ecologist from an NGO had informed us that without the forest, the coastal cities will someday be inundated by flashflood coming from the mountain ranges of Bukidnon and Lanao del Sur. The Aquino government declared a total log ban in Bukidnon in 1988, but that did not stop the logging especially in the ARMM - in Lanao del Sur. By then the whole of Bukidnon have become one large pinapple plantation, grasslands for cattle, and farms. The big capitalists, loggers and agribusiness have earned huge profits from destroying the environment. It is the ordinary people, especially the poor who pay for their sins. And they call this "act of God?"

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