Catanduanes still needs help


Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal

The province of Catanduanes is one of six provinces comprising Region V, known as the Bicol Region.  On October 26, 1945, President Sergio Osmeña signed the law creating the province. Based on the 2015 census, the province has about 260,000 residents and is comprised of 11 municipalities and one legislative district.

Catanduanes is a tourist destination and has been growing in popularity with the surfing community.  People who wish to visit the island can either take a flight to Virac, or take a ro-ro to either San Andres, or the capital, Virac.

Last Monday, I visited the province, to bring over some donations (given by friends and family) for those who were victims of several typhoons, the latest of which was Typhoon Ulysses. The journey to Bicol, specifically Albay is not bad.  It’s a 10-hour drive from Manila to Tabaco, Albay, where you can catch a ro-ro to Catanduanes.  You can either take a boat to San Andres, or the capital, Virac.  The trip to Virac takes longer and will pass a rough portion of sea called the Tagungtung Point.

When I got to Virac, despite almost a month after Super Typhoon Rolly and Typhoon Ulysses hit, there is still destruction wherever you look  It’s common to see buildings and houses with a makeshift roof, and repair work being done almost everywhere you look.  Some business establishments have reopened, but with limited operating hours.

Because of the frequency of typhoons hitting the province, residents have developed methods to try keep themselves during storms.  However, super-typhoon Rolly was just worse than the usual storms that regularly hit the province.

Despite the preparations of the province, super-typhoon Rolly carved out a devastating path of destruction all over the island. There are 257 public schools in the province and about 52% of all schools were heavily damaged.  The other 48% schools also suffered damage.  We passed a completely damaged school in Brgy. Sto. Domingo on the road to San Andres to examine the structure.  All rooms had no more doors and roofs, and there was debris all over the area.  Despite that, there were some people who were occupying some rooms in the school. They just put used tarpaulins to protect themselves from rain.  Staying there is not safe for them, but some had chosen to still live in the school because they had lost their homes and have no other place to live.  That is the situation thousands of inhabitants in the island face now. They’ve lost almost everything and are struggling to get back on their feet.  But it’s a herculean task.  Especially considering that they were hit with about five to six typhoons and storms within a span of just a month. Just when they’re starting to get their bearings and try to stand up, another storm hits and knocks them back down, with greater force.

It’s something that tests the resolve of people because so many have lost so much.  Catanduanes is known as a producer of Abaca.  But super-typhoon Trolly wiped out the abaca production of the whole island.  I asked some people. How long will it take to recover?  They told me it takes about two years before you can harvest.  So, there’ll be hardship for abaca farmers for that two-year period. That’s assuming no other storm will hit the province within that time.  What happens if another storm hits?

Even if it may have slipped from the consciousness of many Filipinos, the people in Catanduanes are still suffering.  A lot of people have poured so much to help, but we need to reexamine and see how to provide longer-lasting assistance to them.

When I was about to depart back to Tabaco, Albay (from San Andres), I saw several vehicles with an identification sticker on their vehicles that they were from the Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce, bringing supplies for residents.  That was a welcome sight.

We need to find ways to help not only those in Cantanduanes but other provinces hit by typhoons get back on their feet.  We help each other, as one.

Stay Safe.  Stay Healthy.  Wear a Mask.