An ‘oragon’ can be vulnerable, too
It was a seemingly normal day. I stepped out of my room upon waking up from the glint of sun as if there was no storm last night, only to see people in blankets gathered on the bone-cold floor. My ears rang from the cries of grim-faced evacuees. Upstairs, I caught a glimpse of indiscernible elongated objects wrapped in “banig” in the chapel beside our house-turned-evacuation-center. “They’re dead bodies,” my mom whispered. I was five.
I remember how, on Nov. 30, 2006, Super Typhoon “Reming” slammed the Bicol region with howling winds. People from our barangay rushed to town, where evacuation centers were located, with bags, boxes, and sacks on their shoulders that carried necessities, leaving their houses emptied. As we were situated in Albay almost near the foothills of Mt. Mayon, “Reming” wasn’t the sole antagonist in our tale. Lahar from heavy rainfall and volcanic activities would cause the displacement of thousands of families whose houses were buried, with only the roofs showing. Unfortunately, most who lived nearby did not survive.
There’s nothing worse than waking up in the morning after a day of devastation and having nothing to come home to. However, this narrative is always glossed over by the mentality that every Bicolano has grown up with: “Oragon ako!” Although the word oragon may have variations in different parts of Bicol that may pertain to being “lustful,” such as in Sorsogon and Masbate, when one says “Oragon an Bicolano,” the term denotes bravery—a dauntless Bicolano. People from our region have routinely recovered from disasters by adhering to this mantra that supposedly defines the Bicolano spirit. It is believed that Bicolanos can face every calamity because, after all, we are oragon. We are stronger than any calamity.
In 2014, Typhoon “Glenda” ravaged the Bicol region, once again leaving our community distraught. It led to a blackout for three months in our municipality. Evacuation centers were jammed with families from remote areas who subsisted on the same old canned good or noodles given by volunteers. For me, it was three months of going to school in a creased uniform and placing candles on the edge of my headboard to study for a quiz the next day, because we didn’t have a generator set. The same thing happened all over again in December 2019 when Typhoon “Tisoy” hit some parts of Bicol.
I grew up thinking that being oragon meant having to endure these circumstances, because I could. But it’s time to recognize the realities we are in. This way of thinking has clouded our minds with such toxic positivity that we fail to address the real issues that we have to confront time and again in the wake of these calamities. While resilience for some would mean settling for an electric fan because a home generator cannot power the home air-conditioning, resilience for many more is struggling to rebuild homes from debris and grappling with the sudden loss of livelihood. It is scrambling through the difficulty of having a good meal at night, or of having nothing to eat at all because relief goods were not properly distributed. It would be a blessing for a family of six forced to flee to a temporary shelter to get three meals a day and chomp on fully cooked rice with bits of fish from canned sardines. Candlelit dinners are not as romantic as one may think.
We cannot continue perceiving blackouts as a time to reconnect, as though we were still kids in the ’90s playing patintero or singing Eraserheads songs under the moonlight without a care in the world. Today, in reality, it has become a challenge for kids to stay out on the dangerous streets or study in dark places. Our dependence on being resilient has made us tolerant of adversities, man-made or otherwise, blinding us to situations that torment our fellow Bicolanos and fellow Filipinos. It detaches us from the suffering of the many.
The reality is worse than the pain of candle wax dripping on fingers and darker than the soot from gas lamps—it is the loss of life and income, and the destruction of a way of life that can never be brought back. This resilience is flawed and limited, and often arises from privilege.
Typhoon “Quinta” just made landfall over the Bicol region a few days ago. There is still a power outage in our area, and yet, as I write this, another typhoon named “Rolly” is already on its way. The winds are starting to rattle the windows and branches of trees are being tossed from afar. I hear the howling of the wind rather than my keyboard keys as I sit in my dark room, the laptop screen the only source of light. Tomorrow, we will face a new round of uncertainties, and the sun will once again look down on us as if it’s the most ordinary day. Indeed, we need resilience in these times, but we must recognize that not everyone will come out stronger every time.
Juancho Belisano, 18, from Albay, is a first-year Legal Management major at the Ateneo de Manila University.
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