This is a story of journalists left with no choice but to fulfil their duties as they picked up the pieces of their lives after a tropical storm named Sendong gatecrashed into their homes one fateful Friday night.
I met them in the middle of mayhem, on Christmas Day, after the storm struck the provinces they call home.
Most of them lost whatever tools of the trade they had, acquired after years of sweating it out. Yet, at the end of the day, they had stories to file, images to capture and words to churn out so that the rest of the world might know what had happened.
I only met a few journalists based in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, the provinces in northern Mindanao that were ravaged by the storm, but there are at least 35 affected by the calamity.
They are as much victims as the rest of the roughly 1,500 who died from the tragedy. Or the ones who are still missing. And the sick, too.
Leonardo Vicente ‘Cong’ Corrales had to immediately file a story about the devastation. He had no time to clean the thick mud that covered the home, the second-floor of a two-storey shelter.
But after three hours of staring at a borrowed computer, Cong was only able to muster the words: ‘Cagayan de Oro City. By Cong Corrales, correspondent.’ He could not bring out the words. He did not know where to start.
Cong’s home is along a street that is among the hardest-hit places.
Merlyn Manos is a single mother to two children. She is a stringer for a broadcast network. She, too, woke up to rising waters. Her house was flooded just a few minutes after the storm struck and she didn’t have a lot of time to pack her stuff – a desktop computer, her laptop and her video camera. She had to secure her children first. Nothing else mattered at the time.
She climbed to the roof, along with her children, to stay safe.
‘I felt then that we were going to die,’ she told me.
Jigger Jerusalem, a correspondent of a Manila-based daily, was unable to pack anything with him when he left the rented room where he stays.
The wounds are very fresh, Jigger said. He can still hear the howling winds of that night. He didn’t expect the waters would rise that fast, and up to the ceiling. He could have died, he thought. He lost most of his things, including his laptop and camera, but he promised to start again.
Michael Kundiman (missing)
Michael Kundiman, a radio reporter, has been missing since the night of the storm. His wife, Leni (pictured), continues to search for him.
Michael held on to a rope just outside their house in Bayug Island in Iligan City at the height of the storm but a shanty that had been washed away by the flood hit him.
Cong, Jigger, Michael and Merlyn are just four names. But even one is too many.
Today, each and every victim of Sendong is struggling to rise above the devastation. And there lies the power of the human spirit, that no matter the pain, it will rise again.
The journalists will start again and tell other people’s stories the way they used to before a mad storm and howling winds struck like a thief in the night.
This blog is part of a multimedia project produced by Jes Aznar and myself, in co-operation with the Center for Community Journalism and Development and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines. The original versions appeared at irisgonzales.blogspot.com and blog.jesaznar.com. To members of the international community who want to help the affected journalists, you may email me.
Photos: Jes Aznar