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6 Months after Pepeng: Where we are and what remains to be done
by Mari-An Santos

Who could forget how Typhoon Pepeng ravaged the Cordillera in October 2009 and wrought damages to lives and properties?

Figures from the Office of Civil Defense showed 317 fatalities and 217 injured. Families affected reached 89,930; damages to crops amounted to P781.11 million; and total damages to national, provincial, and municipal roads reached more than P1.6 billion.

Noli Vizcocho of the Baguio-Benguet Public Information Civic Action Group (BB-PICAG) recalled how they assisted in the rescue and retrieval efforts, particularly at Cresencia Village in Baguio City.

The group along with other rescue and communication organizations coordinated with government agencies like the Philippine National Police, Department of Health, OCD, municipal and city administrators, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Mines and Geosciences Bureau, among other agencies, in assisting those who were in need.

Volunteers also assisted in the distribution of various relief goods in Itogon, Atok, and La Trinidad in Benguet, and in Tadian, Mountain Province, and in the distribution of shelter boxes to La Trinidad residents whose homes were totally destroyed.

These group and individual efforts along with the outpouring of support from international and local communities uplifted the very downcast atmosphere right after the onslaught of the storm. It was a small but meaningful step towards rebuilding the lives affected by Pepeng.

Connecting the region

Road repairs to reconnect the region to other areas began immediately after the rains stopped and continue to this day.

Clifton Valencerina, assistant chief of the Department of Public Works and Highways’ maintenance division, said the agency divided reconstruction of national roads into priority 1A, 1B, and 2.

Priority1A are areas that need immediate action to be passable, while priority 1B refers to the phase when roads are cleared and finally restored. Priority 2 will entail the reconstruction, rehabilitation, repair and restoration of road slips.

In Abra, clearing of landslides along the Abra-Kalinga Road has been done, while in Apayao, removal of slides along the Claveria-Calanasan Road and Apayao (Calanasan)-Ilocos Norte Road, ended last January.

The removal of landslides along Abbut-Conner Road and Kabugao-Pudtol-Luna Road, and repair and rehabilitation of road cut along the Conner-Kabugao Road are expected to be done this month.

In Baguio City, removal of landslides along Kennon Road, Baguio-Bauang Road, La Trinidad Road, Quezon Hill, Bokawkan Road, and Asin Road; and repair and rehabilitation of road cut along Marcos Highway and Roxas Street were completed last November.

In Kalinga, removal of landslides along Kalinga-Abra Road and Balbalan-Pinukpuk Road were completed last December.

Removal of landslides along various sections of the Mountain Province-Ilocos Sur Road via Tue, clearing of landslides along various sections of Mountain Province-Ilocos Sur Road via Kayan; road cut and slope protection, and removal of landslides along various sections of the Bontoc-Baguio Road and various sections of the Mountain Province-Cagayan via Tabuk Road were completed in December.

Ongoing works in Benguet include the repair and rehabilitation of the road cut along the Baguio-Bontoc Road, various sections of Kennon Road, Pico-Lamtang Road, Marcos Highway, Baguio-Bauang Road; removal of slides and repair and rehabilitation of road cut along Benguet-Nueva Vizcaya Road, at various sections of the Gurel-Bokod-Kabayan-Buguias Road, Baguio City Limit-Sto. Tomas Road, Baguio-Bua-Itogon Road, and Itogon-Dalupirip Road.

In the priority 1B areas, repair and rehabilitation of revetment of Malanas Flood Control and restoration of Baac Flood Control in Abra are ongoing and expected to be done in the next two months.

In Apayao, still to be undertaken are the repair and rehabilitation of the Abbut-Conner, Conner-Kabugao, Kabugao-Pudtol-Luna Road, and restoration and removal of landslides along the Claveria-Calanasan Road.

For Baguio, restoration of road cuts and removal of landslides along Marcos Highway, Bokawkan Road, Kennon Road, and Baguio-Bauang Road, is in line.

In Benguet, repair and rehabilitation of road slip and slope protection along Marcos Highway, Baguio-Bauang Road, Benguet-Nueva Vizcaya Road; restoration of flood control at Balili in La Trinidad, Adonot in Bokod, Klondyke in Tuba, Ambalanga in Itogon; repair and restoration of road cuts and road slip at various sections of Kennon Road, Acop-Kapangan-Bakun Road; restoration of road slip and slope protection at Salacop Detour Road and Suyoc Bridge along Acop-Kapangan Road; restoration of flood control at Loo in Buguias, and removal of road cut and road slip along Baguio-Bontoc and Gurel-Bokod-Kabayan-Buguias-Abatan Roads, are still to be undertaken.

In Ifugao, repair and restoration of road cut, slope protection structure, and removal of landslides along the Nueva Vizcaya-Ifugao-Mountain Province Boundary Road, Banaue-Hungduan Road, and Banaue-Mayoyao-Aguinaldo Road are yet to be done.

In Mountain Province, repair and restoration of road cut and slope protection structure and removal of landslides at Capinitan section of the Baguio-Bontoc Road and various sections of the Napo-Palinga-ao Road; also, repair and restoration of flood control structures along the Chico River in Sabangan.

The total amount requested for completing all phases of work is P1,323,305,490. As of Feb.15, however, only P490,932,214 or 37.10 percent of the total amount was released. That barely covers areas  under Priority 1, amounting to P552,281,691.99.

Valencerina said that since the amount was requested last year, it is not covered by the election ban and work will continue.
“We pray that the remaining funds will be released soon so that the work can be completed before the onset of the rains,” he said.

Rebuilding communities

The DSWD was among the frontrunner agencies during the typhoon. The agency continued to monitor the calamity victims.
They distributed various relief goods like food packs, used clothing, blankets, and bed sheets to those affected families in Benguet and Mountain Province.

In Abra, Apayao, and Kalinga, the DSWD facilitated the distribution of UNICEF family kits in towns with affected families.

At Sitio Labey, Barangay Ambuklao in Bokod, emergency shelter assistance was provided.

Janet Armas, chief of the DSWD operations division, said the positive side has been the outpouring of help and support during disaster from various sectors.

“There was overwhelming support, with just one purpose – to help,” she said.

The DSWD continues to offer help to those affected through their regular programs like core shelter for those who need relocation, emergency shelter assistance for those who need to rebuild their homes, food-for-work for rebuilding infrastructure like farm-to-market roads, livelihood assistance, and the balik-probinsiya program.

Until now, international aid, like those from the World Food Programme (WFP), continues to come in.

Armas said that a relocation site for displaced families in Tadian and Sabangan has been identified after they complied with all the requirements.

Engr. Jojo Valera of the OCD said the Cordillera Regional Disaster Coordinating Council meets regularly to monitor and update the efforts undertaken by various government and non-government agencies in assisting those who were affected in the region.

Aside from the requisite monetary assistance from the National Disaster Coordinating Council for each fatality, they also distributed 3,105 sacks of rice in Baguio City and all six provinces. The WFP distributed 5,739.5 sacks of rice Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Kalinga, and Mountain Province.

In Baguio City, victims from Cresencia Village, Irisan, Pinsao Proper, Kitma, PNB Village, and Dominican were allocated 222 units by the National Housing Authority at a relocation area in Tadiangan, Tuba.

In Benguet, a 3.3-hectare lot owned by the Benguet State University was approved as relocation site for La Trinidad survivors. For Atok, a master plan had been submitted for the dredging of the river, construction of a multi-purpose building and a diversion dam, reconstruction of the church, and clearing of landslides in the fields.

At Sitio Labey in Bokod, a master rehabilitation plan had been submitted for the reconstruction of Bangen Elementary School, construction of core shelter and retaining walls in landslide areas, reconstruction of hanging bridges, dredging works for the silted river, and widening of the river easement.

In Barangay Corroz, Tublay, a master plan has yet to be submitted for the water system, water impounding, and reconstruction of totally damaged houses.

Affected families in Itogon can look forward to relocation site in Barangay Loacan.

In Tadian, Mountain Province, a relocation site has been identified for the victims while construction of core shelters is ongoing.

Valera points out, however, that the abovementioned relocation sites are still awaiting Presidential Proclamations.

Digging deeper

The SLU Sunflower Children’s Center mobilized volunteer mental health workers from the Philippine Mental Health Association-Baguio General Hospital Medical Center, Saint Louis University, Benguet State University, University of Baguio, Philippine Military Academy, and Youth Alliance Philippines-North Luzon to conduct psychosocial processing for adults and psychosocial interventions for children. These were conducted from October to November in evacuation centers and schools in various areas of Benguet and in Tadian, Mountain Province.

Fr. Geraldo Costa said the program comes in three phases: contact and evaluation; short term psychosocial interventions through group dynamics and play therapy; and the last phase is focused to children who displayed greater symptoms of distress and might need further evaluation and interventions.

“There was a great number of children emotionally affected by the events related to the calamities. But children are very resilient,” Fr. Costa said.

Last January, the center conducted a two-day “happy camp” for some 80 students of Sto. Niño Elementary School in Ambassador, Tublay. Activities are lined up for the next few months, still to address the needs of affected individuals, particularly children.

Valencerina said: “It falls upon the new set of officials to follow-up on the release of the approved funds for restoration.”

DSWD’s Armas said that there should be programs in place for the prevention of such calamities in the succeeding years: “[Disaster preparedness] should be implemented at all levels, starting from the barangay.”

Valera added that the reconstruction requires the concerted effort of different agencies, LGUs, and NGOs.

Half a year later, and in the middle of an extremely scorching summer, the torrential rains of Typhoon Pepeng may feel like a hazy memory. But evidence, in numbers, in destroyed roads, displaced families are still very apparent all around the Cordillera. More so, the tragic things were witnessed by countless survivors. The task ahead is still massive. We hope that our soon-to-be-elected officials will lead us to recovery, but above all preparedness should be instilled so that we will never experience such widespread disaster again.

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