[At least 50 people gather before the big cross in Barangay (village) Solonggon, La Libertad town, Negros Oriental, during the first anniversary of the 6.9-magnitude earthquake that hit northern parts of the province on Feb. 6, 2012. John DX Lapid/Contributor]

MANILA, FEBRUARY 18, 2013 (INQUIRER) Cries resonated with the melodies as people sang in the valley where a small village used to be in La Libertad town in Negros Oriental.

A year after a 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit the town and triggered a landslide that buried several houses in Barangay Solonggon, the pain still lingers among the families of 15 people who were killed and 34 others missing in the tragedy.

“We have not fully accepted the fact that our loved ones will never be with us again,” Marilyn Cuyogan said.

Cuyogan lost her brother, Rolly Lisundra, and his entire family—wife Norita and children Ronelyn, Renlloiyd and Rondell—in the landslide. They were inside their house when mounds of earth fell from the mountain and entombed houses below.

Their bodies were never recovered.

“It is hard to move on, especially [because] we have never found their bodies. There is still a part of us hoping they are alive somewhere but we know it is impossible,” Cuyogan said.

On February 6, she and some 50 other people held a simple but emotional memoriam for those who died in the tragedy in Solonggon. At dawn, they converged at the chapel near the Tent Residence, where 29 families still stay after their houses were destroyed.

Each prepared food—lechon, grilled fish and squid, and vegetables—to share for breakfast. They talked about that fateful day.

From the chapel, they walked three kilometers to a large cross, which was put up to remember the dead, and prayed. They cried while singing gospel songs. Candles were lit and flowers laid at the foot of the cross.

The families chose not to rebuild their houses there. Some put up tombs and markers bearing the names of their loved ones.

Vicky Ferolino said she could not accept the loss of her father, Harry Callora, who was left in the house when the landslide struck to feed their pigs.

“When we left that morning, we said beautiful things about each other, how we loved our family. I never thought that it would be our last conversation,” Ferolino said.

“It would have been less painful if he had died of an illness, not in that kind of sudden death,” she added.

Franklin Bolo, 68, planted a Crown of Thorns orchid for her daughter, Frechelle, in the area where he believed she was buried. It was her favorite plant. Carine Asutilla

Quake survivors still live in tents By Carine M. Asutilla Inquirer Visayas 11:29 pm | Friday

At least 38 families still live in tents in Guihulngan City National High School while waiting to be relocated by the city government. John DX Lapid/CONTRIBUTOR

For more than a year, Cristy Aba and her family have been living inside a tent in a school compound in Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental. Their house was destroyed on Feb. 6, 2012, when a devastating 6.9-magnitude earthquake shook seven towns and two cities in the province.

It was no longer safe to rebuild their dwelling in the city’s Barangay Larena, where it used to stand near the river, after the tremor destroyed the protective dikes.

Fifty-eight people were killed—24 in Guihulngan, 15 in La Libertad, 10 in Jimalalud, three each in Ayungon and Tayasan, two in Manjuyod and one in Bindoy. At least 63 were missing—29 in Guihulngan and 34 in La Libertad.

A total of 308 people were hurt.

While waiting for a relocation site promised by the city government, Cristy, her husband Felix and three children—aged 10, 8 and 5—stay in a tent, measuring 4 meters by 10 meters, inside the compound of Guihulngan National High School in Barangay Poblacion. Thirty-eight other families have to endure the discomfort of tent life.

Cristy and Felix sleep on a small bamboo bed while their children lie on a native mat (banig) spread on the cold floor. During daytime, the bed becomes a table where the family eat.

“If it rains, we get wet. If it’s sunny, we can’t stay long inside because it’s too hot,” Cristy said.

“We don’t have any other place to go. We don’t own a piece of land or enough money to rent a house,” she added. Her husband is a trisikad driver.

In Barangay (village) Solonggon in La Libertad town, at least 29 families are also living in tents and waiting to be relocated.

Relocation woes

Over a year after the earthquake, the relocation sites are not yet ready to take in dwellers. Several roads and bridges are still undergoing rehabilitation or have remained impassable. Several schools have not been restored.

Government bureaucracy, paper work and the widespread devastation explain why repair work is taking a long time.

The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) has provided over P62 million in aid to the disaster-hit towns of Ayungon, Bindoy, Jimalalud, La Libertad, Manjuyod, Tayasan and Vallehermoso, and the cities of Guihulngan and Bais.

Based on the PDRRMC report, the earthquake hit 169 barangays, affecting 286,299 people. It added, however, that the province was able to reach and serve only 219,923 people.

Guihulngan had the biggest number of affected families at 21,790 (108,950 people) in 33 barangay.

The PDRRMC report said 2,635 houses were damaged, mostly in La Libertad at 637.

At least P665 million worth of infrastructure facilities were damaged. These included roads (P242 million), bridges (P208 million), waterworks (P130 million), and public works and other minor structures (P85 million).

Damage to school buildings reached over P251 million and hospitals, P113 million.

The provincial government is coordinating with other government agencies in monitoring the rehabilitation work on infrastructure, such as the roads and bridges linking Jimalalud to Guihulngan, according to its spokesperson, Adrian Sedillo.

While the provincial roads and bridges were already repaired, those under the Department of Public Works and Highways have yet to be fully restored.

A district hospital in Guihulngan, Governor Billy Villegas Memorial Hospital, has been rehabilitated. The province is also constructing the comprehensive emergency obstetric and newborn care unit.

Repair work in some schools has yet to be completed. In one of them, Guihulngan National High School, six sections of Grade 7 hold their classes in two large tents set up on the grounds.

“It’s difficult to hold classes inside the tents. It’s very hot inside and when it rains, we get wet. We can barely hear our teacher’s discussions because it’s so noisy outside,” said Daisymae Anotado, one of the pupils.

Mario Andong, Guihulngan schools superintendent, said it was not certain when the classrooms would be rebuilt.

The Department of Education has listed 15 schools in the division as beneficiaries for the Quick Response Fund for Rehabilitation and another five schools for construction, he said. But, he added, Guihulngan was not among the beneficiaries.

Andong has remained hopeful. When the 2013 budget is finalized, construction for Guihulngan National High School classrooms may just get funding, he said.

Paper work

In La Libertad, Vice Mayor Emmanuel Iway explained that “paper work” had slowed down the relocation of evacuees so that “everything would be polished and would not become a problem in the future.”

He said the families would soon be moved near Solonggon Elementary School, since all the documentary requirements had been submitted to the National Housing Authority (NHA).

Iway said he was waiting for the NHA contract to be signed by Mayor Lawrence Limkaichong so that the P10-million allocation would be released.

“After that, we can now start developing the land for the relocation site of displaced families,” he said.

The housing agency would also provide P5,000 to each of the evacuees for the purchase of construction materials. The Department of Social Welfare and Development also promised to provide P17,000 to every family to enable them to rebuild their homes in the relocation site.

Iway said the beneficiaries would include not only the 29 families living in the tents but also about 100 families more whose houses were damaged by the earthquake.

Last year, the local government unit was able to buy a 4-hectare lot, of which 2 hectares would be used for resettlement. Each beneficiary will be entitled to a 40-square-meter lot and may own it through an easy payment scheme—P100 per month for 30 years.

In the case of Guihulngan, the city government has been negotiating with the owner of a 2-hectare land in Barangay Planas, Mayor Ernesto Reyes said. A school would occupy 1 hectare and a relocation site would rise in another, he said.

“For the victims in the evacuation center in the city, we are still looking for a site. The [NHA] has promised to help with their housing needs once the lot is bought by the city. We’re trying our best,” Reyes said. With a report from Alex V. Pal

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved