By Martin Sadongdong
It has almost been six years since super typhoon “Yolanda” struck the Philippines, leaving an estimated 6,300 people dead and over 1,000 missing, but the image of lifeless bodies lying along an airport road in Tacloban City still haunts 58-year-old David Yano.
Regarded as the most powerful tropical cyclone to ever hit the country, Yolanda made its first landfall at 8:40 p.m. of November 7, 2013 at the municipality of Guiuan in Eastern Samar, Eastern Visayas.
How could Yano ever forget the faces of the dead people when they were his neighbors at Barangay San Jose 88 (Costa Brava) in Tacloban, one of the most devastated areas hit by Yolanda?
“The bodies were just lying on the road, some of them I personally knew –drinking buddies, friends. It took the authorities two months before they could finally remove all the bodies. Some were almost rotting,” Yano told the Manila Bulletin in vernacular.
However, what made the hair at the back of the soft-spoken barangay tanod’s (village watchman) neck stand up were the voices he heard at night.
Yano’s shift at the barangay hall starts at 10 p.m. until the following morning. He was a newbie tanod when Yolanda happened and he would often patrol the village to help authorities recover the bodies.
He said that every time he would leave their house, he would hear eerie sounds coming from Real cemetery, one of the two cemeteries in Barangay San Jose.
“The first time I experienced that, it was a month after Yolanda. I ran to the barangay hall and told my fellow tanods what I experienced,” Yano said.
He said the frightening experience happened a couple of times before it eventually stopped.
“Maybe my prayers worked because every time I experienced it, I would often pray for their souls,” he said.
Yano is just thankful now that his family was spared by Yolanda. He recalled how he and his wife, Artemia, swam for 30 minutes and held on to a banana leaf before they were rescued from the deep flood.
He said he would visit his dead friends who were buried at Real cemetery on November 1 in time for All Saints Day.
While Yano was afraid of the voices he heard, his neighbor, Lea Reposo, does not believe in ghosts or supernatural creatures.
“I don’t believe in such things,” the 56-year-old street vendor said.
Reposo said she was more afraid of the “failed” housing project that the national government promised to them.
“The officials who handle the housing project ask for P4,500 from us for the jalousie windows,” she said.
Reposo said she could not afford it since she only earns P500 to P1,000 from selling isaw (chicken intestines) and other grilled street foods — enough to feed her family for a day or two.
“You cannot also occupy the unit if you don’t work for it. You have to help in building the unit. For those who have a day work like me, it’s impossible,” she said.
At present, Reposo, Yano and several hundred other families are residing at temporary houses built by a non-government organization (NGO).
Anomalies in housing projects intended for Yolanda survivors, like Reposo, are no longer new.
On October 9, 2019, the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) recommended the filing of criminal and administrative complaints against 12 officials of the National Housing Authority (NHA) over alleged anomalies in resettlement projects for Yolanda survivors in Eastern Visayas.
“Ghosts are just made-up stories. Even when Yolanda struck, the bodies of dead people piled up on the street like lechon (roasted pig) during a fiesta. But I wasn’t afraid because what I thought of was how I and my family would survive. The people were not afraid of the dead people, they were afraid of going hungry,” Reposo said.
“Now we are concerned with what happened to the government’s promised housing unit for us,” she stated.