In a month from now, Lonching, 75, will remarry again. She is not jumping with excitement, though, not a little bit. Lonching lost her first husband who perished with several others in a powerful storm surge that swept apart their lowly house during the onslaught of super typhoon Yolanda in Tacloban. Two years later, the tragic and sad memories would musingly occur to her as fresh as it happened.
Living in a shelter built very close to another, divided by a thin plywood and iron sheet walls, nobody would notice Lonching as she finds herself recalling the disaster. Her first husband’s death still makes her cry. At present, she is accompanied by her children and grandchildren in her reconstructed house rebuilt right on the same spot of the old.
For the residents of Brgy 37 (Seawall) Reclamation Area, the competitive noise in Tacloban’s rat-holes drowns the grief of survivors. For them, they must reconcile the loss of loved ones and properties to their eternal struggle for survival as they live. But for these same people used to live hand to mouth, there is no space for grief.
Lonching shares the need behind the decision to marry again. She expects to receive a monthly allowance from her soon-to-be husband. For Lonching, the spark of decision is rather practical than romantic. Getting married gives her hope to move to a more secured and sturdy house that can withstand a storm like Yolanda.
However, Lonching is facing a new threat. The city government wanted the residents of Brgy 37 – a village with a population of more than 3,000 – evicted from their homes. Regarding the issue on people’s safety against another gigantic storm to come, residents were strongly reminded by local authorities to demolish their own houses so they can be transferred to ‘temporary bunkhouses’. She noted that the bunkhouses are the same units erected a few months after Yolanda to ‘temporarily’ house the homeless survivors for just six months. Not less than a hundred families in Brgy 37 yielded to the arrangement.
While some of Lonching’s neighbors have voluntarily scraped off the roof and walls of their houses, Lonching would still insist that their present livelihood should not be in conflict with their safety. She took umbrage at the fact that poor people are displaced from their homes and away from livelihood by local political leaders who, she said, are well-off and well-housed, while their plea for on-site comprehensive rehabilitation is instantly brushed aside by the government’s No-Dwelling Zone (NDZ) policy.
She claims that instead of demolishing her community in the name of ‘safety and welfare’, constructing new and sturdy housing units to replace the old may still be the better and practical option for her. Lonching made mention of former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas’ residence in Capiz City fronting a bay and located within an NDZ. She argued that mansions like Roxas’ may be allowed but not a shack like hers.
She is one of the remaining residents in the coastal slum area of Brgy 37 (Seawall) that was declared a ‘No Dwelling Zone’ (NDZ) after the devastation brought by super typhoon Yolanda in 2013. The massive storm surge reached 5 meters high in the seaside barangay which led to thousands of lives and properties lost, truly an unspeakable horror.
Portrait by: Dean Lacandazo/Eastern Vista
Demolition without housing
When the recent election was concluded, Lonching keeps a high hope with the new Mayor taking over the helm at the iconic Kanhuraw Hill where the office of the city mayor stands on top. Then City councilor Cristina Romualdez won the local mayoralty post. It was notably a landslide victory against her rivals, long-time radio commentator Neil Glova and a certain Golda Cabudoy.
Despite critics dismissing Cristina’s mayorship as nothing but a continuation of outgoing Mayor Alfred Romualdez’s expired term, Lonching hopes Cristina will be more compassionate. “Hopefully Cristina does not disappoint us. I actually voted for her, I really voted for her,” exclaimed Lonching.
Accessing basic utilities
The local and national government, as part of its rebuilding efforts for Tacloban City, conceived and started implementing the Tacloban North Resettlement Project. The huge project intends to relocate all coastal settlements to the city’s northern barangays while no clear system for transition and economic aid have been laid out. Packets of demolition continue while intended relocation sites are either unfinished or lacking water and electricity.
Meanwhile, the National Housing Authority (NHA) and the Tacloban City Housing & Community Development Office (CHCDO) admitted that while they intend to move at least 14,433 families to the North Resettlement Area, only 5,767 of the 13,062 units targeted for construction have been completed so far, based on February 2016 reports.
Local community organization KUSOG in Brgy 37 said that while the completion of housing units remains a major post-Yolanda concern, access to water is another problem in the Northern barangays. Even before Yolanda, it is a recurrent problem in several communities, especially in the city’s northern district. Only 10,608 cubic meters of water per month is required to solve the demand in relocation areas but the city government fills the gap on a daily basis by transporting water through tanks.
On the same hand, outgoing Mayor Alfred Romualdez was quoted as saying in a Philippine News Agency report that ‘the administration is not keen on transferring families due to the absence of water system.’ In the same report, it said that the city government has only three water delivery tanks. The local group KUSOG said the delivery would not suffice for the need of water in the area even for a temporary case. The water provided by the Leyte Metropolitan Water District (LMWD) only reaches Barangay Diit of Tacloban. Water rationing for the rest of the northern district is delivered by other water service providers.
A new option to take?
Lonching shares that the city government’s intentions confuse her. She asks what other survivors may also ask the present Mayor. Will the new and fresh administration of Mayor Cristina Romualdez pursue the controversial post-Yolanda Rehab Plan? Will she allow to continue demolitions in coastal communities? Will she choose to facilitate people’s demands for housing and access to basic social services? For a Taclobanon like Lonching, she hopes for the better.
Even as Lonching supports the new leadership, she is weary of the programs it will pursue and implement in the next three years. She humbly urges Mayor Cristina to listen not particularly to her, but to ‘her people’. “I hope that she hears our plea not to move us – we who chose to remain here [in the community]. I hope she is enlightened and show us compassion,” ends Lonching.
Lonching, also a member of the local group KUSOG supports the demands laid out by the Gios Taclobanon, Kita an Pagbabag-o movement. She said the point of actions are actionable demands that Cristina must undertake when she assumes office in June 30.