Malinao fiesta turns into nightmare

By Inday Espina-Varona and Vince Samonte, Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo!

Posted at Jul 29 2011 04:14 AM | Updated as of Jul 29 2011 06:49 PM

Platters of food and sauces crop up in Tess Bersoza Bautista’s album of the July 26 flood that swamped Malinao in Albay province. That’s because Bautista’s sister whipped up traditional Filipino dishes on the 25th, the eve of the town fiesta commemorating the lives of the Roman Catholic saints Anne and Joachim.

The fiesta occasions family reunions for the Bersoza family of Barangay Bagumbayan. At the crack of dawn however, Bautista knew there would be no fiesta.

“I tried to open the door but it would not swing out,” she recalls in a telephone interview with Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo (BMPM). Within minutes, water was at mid-calf level inside their home. Within an hour, it was waist deep.

The family scrambled to the second floor of their residence taking foodstuff and furniture, including a pink sofa. Bautista helped her mother, Maxima, 73, frail from the effects of a stroke and diabetes, out of her ground floor bedroom.

 As she packed Maxima’s medicines, she heard cries next door from another sister, Josephine, who limps from the effects of childhood polio. Together, they put their mother on a plastic chair and used a “floating table” as a raft till they hit the stairs midflight. Then they dragged the chair up step by step.

Breached dikes

In the old Poblacion district, 39-year-old Rey Bufete’s family shrugged off rains on the evening of the 25th and continued to cook up a storm while catching up with each other’s life.

“We never expected it to disrupt the fiesta,” Bufete says. By breakfast, however, his sibling from a barangay on the town’s lower level arrived with news of a mass evacuation. Floodwaters reached Bufete’s chest before receding.

As the Bersoza daughters watched over their ailing mother, their 80-year old father, Fred, went back to the ground floor, wading through dark water to salvage newly crafted chests and shelves and dressers made of marine plywood. Then he went out and battled the current to rescue their washing machine.

“He knew we would need it once the waters went down,” Bautista marvels. “It was only after several hours that his age occurred to me.”

They are hardy folk in Malinao, a town vulnerable to floods because of several waterways that crisscross its barangays.

The sudden rise of floodwaters was due to the collapse of a dike in Barangay Bagumbayan and a few more breaches in neighboring Tuliw and Balza, where currents deposited logs and tree stumps inside classrooms and left walls carpeted with vegetation.

Deja vu

The exact same thing happened in the 1970s, leading to similar results. On September 27, 2009 – a day after Typhoon Ondoy flooded her Cavite community -- Bautista posted her memories of Typhoon Sining on her Facebook page.

“Can you relate to a natural calamity such as Typhoon Ondoy? I can ..” Bautista wrote.

“I was a frail 9-year old girl, the eldest among a family of 6 children (to date, we are 9). My father was a driver and my mother was a plain housewife who was on her 7th month on the way to her 7th child. It was a Wednesday, October 13, 1970, my parents' wedding anniversary.”

Then, her stalwart father carried Josephine on his back to the safety of the municipal hall. The waters rose so fast he was not able to go back for other members of the family.

Then, tables also helped save the weaker members of the family.

Bautista remembers: “As waters continued to grow higher, my mother started to swim upwards until she reached the roof. Her teeth served as her tool; she bit the knots tying the ‘nipa’ to the frame of the roof; she was able to make a hole enough for each of us to pass through. Mother had carefully pushed each one of us until we were all settled on top as the waters carried our house.”

Relief work

Then – and now – Malinao folk combine hard work with prayers. “When you have done everything and there’s nothing to do but wait, your turn to prayers,” says Bautista, whose mother led them in singing the Ave Maria during the 70s flood, even as a snake threatened their group of refugees.

Bautista and Bufete had to leave Malinao to send photos of the devastation that visited their town. They are in touch with their families. The waters have receded leaving behind a blanket of thick, fetid mud and mounds of debris.

There is no electricity. There is no water. Firetrucks from neighboring towns started arriving in the late hours of July 27 with cleaning water.

“But we still have no drinking water. That’s the greatest problem now,” Bufete says.

BMPM talked to Region 5 Regional Risk Reduction Management Council Director Raffy Alejandro IV and Marissa Paeste, Social Welfare Officer 2 at the DSWD office in Legaspi. Both say relief workers have started rolling to towns isolated for two days. Distribution of goods started in Polangui town. During the interview, they said aid teams were scheduled to arrive any time in Malinao.

Bautista and Bufete do not know how long their town can recover from this new disaster. But they are sure of one thing: Come July 26, 2012, resilient Malinao will be celebrating its fiesta.