Yolanda, 10 years after: How displaced Daanbantayan residents mark ‘fateful day’
Daanbantayan Mayor Sun Shimura also gives updates on the housing projects of residents displaced by super typhoon
CEBU CITY, Philippines — The air was festive in Maya Park Homes on Tuesday, November 7, 2023.
Buntings were out; dance music was playing on loudspeakers and residents, particularly the young ones, were preparing for another night of disco.
It was the fourth disco for that week in Maya Park Homes, located in Brgy. Maya, Daanbantayan, the northernmost town of Cebu, said Susima Pepito, a resident there.
Standing outside her house, she saw some of her neighbors trooping to where the music had been blasting since Tuesday afternoon.
Outside the Pepitos’ residence, some of Susima’s siblings and cousins also had their own merriment with dried fish, a popular produce in Daanbantayan, and local beer.
“Tomorrow, there will be another disco… And tomorrow, we will be entering another anniversary since Yolanda hit us,” she said in Cebuano.
The families residing in Maya Park Homes had a rather different albeit heartwarming way of remembering how Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) changed their lives — holding a week-long fiesta.
“It has been a part of our neighborhood’s culture… And for me, it’s a great way to remind everyone that we got each other, and we will stay strong despite the things life throws at us,” Susima said.
The fiesta atmosphere in Maya Park Homes was a stark contrast to what Susima and most of the 600 families living there endured 10 years and a day ago.
Daanbantayan is a first-class municipality located at the northernmost tip of Cebu island, where Yolanda made another landfall on November 8, 2013.
It destroyed everything in its path, including the Pepitos’ hut that once stood on the coasts of Damba in Brgy. Maya.
The super typhoon, touted as the most powerful storm recorded in recent history, also claimed nine lives in northern Cebu.
A decade later, while most had already gotten back on their feet, work continued not only on Yolanda’s rehabilitation efforts but also on what the future holds, particularly in bracing for similar disasters.
“I wouldn’t say that there’s only a few tasks left (in line with the Yolanda) rehabilitation efforts. We still have a lot of work to do,” said Mayor Sun Shimura.
In Central Visayas, only northern Cebu was severely affected by Yolanda. This also means that all state-funded housing projects for displaced families like the Pepitos are concentrated there.
There are 37 housing project sites for Yolanda victims in Cebu, which totals more than 19,000 houses, based on data CDN Digital has obtained from the National Housing Authority – 7 (NHA-7).
These figures did not include those donated by non-profit organizations and members of the private sector.
As of October this year, the national government has already turned over 18 out of the 37 housing sites in northern Cebu.
The latest was in Brgy. Banban in Bogo City where in 2021, they turned over 750 units to the city government. Two years later, the site already had occupants, said Dante Estrobo, officer-in-charge of the Cebu District of NHA-7.
Meanwhile, 11 more housing projects are currently being implemented by the local government units (LGU) concerned and construction continues for two more.
But five are currently in limbo.
NHA-7 has since terminated all three housing projects based in Madridejos on Bantayan Island after the developer failed to fulfill its obligations.
“We already terminated the projects, and we will re-bid them. The developer had also been blacklisted,” Estrobo said.
In addition, two housing projects intended for displaced families in Daanbantayan were also set for termination after the developer backed out due to rising costs of construction materials.
“It’s been 10 years since Yolanda and prices of all goods, including those needed to build a house, have risen. The developer admitted they can no longer fund these projects so we agreed to pre-terminate them,” explained Estrobo.
After the housing projects have been turned over, it is up to the LGUs concerned to allocate them to the qualified beneficiaries.
According to Estrobo, around 90 percent of the turned-over housing units, like those found in Maya Park Homes in Daanbantayan, already have families living in them.
Susima remembered feeling relieved and grateful when she learned that she was among those qualified to receive a free housing unit from the government after Yolanda leveled their home.
“My joy and gratitude to the Lord cannot be measured that time. I was badly hoping that I would be included because I have been complying with the requirements, and going back and forth to the municipal hall. We really cannot afford to rebuild one,” she said.
In 2019, Susima, her husband Marciano, and their children moved into their new home in Phase 1, Maya Park Homes in Brgy. Maya.
Although it was far from the sea, where both husband and wife could make a living, the mother of five said she could not just pass up the opportunity to have a new home, especially when the one they lived before no longer existed.
As weeks become months, and months become years, more families made Maya Park Homes their new address. But not all wanted to live there for the rest of their lives.
Susima said that some of the units down their block had not been occupied by their owners for years.
“From what we’ve heard, they do not like to be far away from where they work or their business,” she said.
Even Shimura and Estrobo both admitted that the government had difficulties in encouraging the beneficiaries to live in the houses provided to them.
Yolanda was a tough lesson for everyone, said Shimura, that prompted the government not only to improve on their disaster preparedness measures but also to plan ahead.
The super typhoon might have happened a decade ago already but the municipal government of Daanbantayan continues to invest to strengthen its disaster resiliency efforts.
Shimura, in a separate interview with CDN Digital, said they are planning to procure technological solutions to enhance their early warning systems.
“Instead of deploying all our personnel to announce important disaster updates, we are looking to employ technology to broadcast them to the widest possible audience,” Shimura said in a mix of Cebuano and English.
They are also planning to purchase a 20-seater rescue boat, both to rescue those distressed at sea and in flooded areas.
Fiesta and the Future
Before Maya Park Homes began the festivities on November 7, a short, solemn procession occurred by 6 p.m. where families marched around the village.
It was to pay respects to those who lost their loved ones, and the hardships Daanbantayanons suffered in Yolanda’s fury.
Susima joined by lighting a candle outside her house.
“I cannot join the activities since I have my own kids to tend to,” she said.
Until now, the sound of strong winds and rains still terrifies Susima. But something else has started to occupy her mind — and that is the increasing costs of essential goods.
The combined income she gets from selling fish and her husband’s work as a porter in nearby Maya Port was barely enough to buy fish and rice and send all of her five children to school every day.
Like all parents, Susima wanted all her children to finish their education, and have a better future than what they had. This is why she had to stay strong and pray for the best to come, she said.
The week-long festivities Maya Park Homes had on the anniversary of Yolanda’s devastation served as an inspiration for the Pepitos.
“I may be unable to join with them in the events they organized but it’s heartening to see everyone get together as a community. And that’s why it’s called a fiesta,” said Susima.
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