Driven out of the mountains, quake survivors desperate for new livelihood

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 05 2019 04:40 PM

Children play at one of the evacuation sites in Magsaysay town, Davao del Sur. Photo by Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

DAVAO CITY — Gerney Bokuya has been supporting his family by harvesting coconut and rubber from trees growing in the upland areas of Magsaysay town, Davao del Sur.

But when a 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit parts of Mindanao last Oct. 16, many hillside and mountainous areas were devastated by landslides - including the trail going to Bokuya’s farmland.

“It’s impossible to go to our field,” he told ABS-CBN News, two weeks after the first strong quake that hit the region in October. “The ground is very unstable and (we fear that) another earthquake will happen.”

Bokuya was at his home - made from hollow blocks and wood - when the tremor struck.

“That was the first time that we experienced a strong earthquake like that,” he said in Filipino. 

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With their house left lopsided, Bokuya, his wife and two children moved into an evacuation site for Brgy. Upper Bala. Authorities have also prohibited other locals from returning to their residences.

When the second earthquake struck in Oct. 29, he was at the school with his wife.

“We were really scared…especially because we were in a concrete building. You just forget about the drill and run outside,” he said.

Fortunately, they were at the evacuation site when the Oct. 31 6.5-magnitude quake happened.

Bokuya said he hugged his family as they watched smoke billow from the debris that fell from the mountains. 

“We saw large rocks falling,” he said, adding that they could hear the cries of the old women in their community whenever there is a tremor.

“By then, we were convinced to stay here, especially if there will be more earthquakes,” he said while sitting on a makeshift bed he shares with his family.

Around 200 families are staying in this evacuation site in Upper Bala, Magsaysay, Davao del Sur. They face daily problems of sanitation and lack of livelihood. Photo by Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News


But most of the time, his wife and 10-month old baby are sleeping at another relative’s larger tent at the lower part of the evacuation camp.

“It’s too hot here. And when it suddenly rains, there is mud everywhere. It is unlike in the upland where the climate is more pleasant,” he said.

At their relative’s tent, the women - although embarrassed when asked - enumerate their wishlist: clothes, milk, soap, shampoo and other toiletries for their personal hygiene.

Bokuya said they also miss the fresh food that they get from the mountains as they now rely on relief goods like noodles and canned meat.

He feels helpless about not being able to go to the field and work, especially since his family has other needs such as milk for their baby. “We don’t even have clothes because we left our house in such a hurry,” he said.

Bokuya shows off the rest of the camp, with some men constructing more temporary shelters and women digging holes for a makeshift toilet.

Magsaysay Mayor Arthur Davin said it’s been a challenge for them to keep up with the growing number of evacuees as more people are driven out of upland areas because of the series of quakes.

“Talagang grabe talaga ang challenge. Hindi pa tapos yung ibang evacuation center, ito na naman may bago na namang evacuees,” he said.

(The challenge is really difficult. We’re not yet done setting up other evacuation centers and now we have new evacuees.)

Around 200 families are staying in this evacuation site in Upper Bala, Magsaysay, Davao del Sur. They face daily problems of sanitation and lack of livelihood. Photo by Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News


“The relief goods are enough for now. We ration it,” Bokuya said. “But it’s hard to think of what our future will be like.”

Bokuya said they no longer want to return to their hillside village nor will they likely be allowed to. Two men from their village remain missing after being buried in a landslide.

And with his farmland gone, he cannot imagine how he will support his family.

His biggest hope is that the government will offer them employment and have them relocated.

For now, he is attempting to become a licensed teacher like his wife or a soldier under the 39th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.

He also sidelines as a habal-habal (motorcycle) driver whenever someone wants to go to the town proper. He receives P50 (almost a dollar) for each trip.

Bokuya said he is willing to take any job offered to him just so he can fulfill his role as his family’s provider.

The local government said searching for relocation sites and livelihood for displaced farmers will be part of their rehabilitation plans.

Davin said while there are areas that may eventually be deemed unfit for building houses, they are hoping that the people can still return there to farm, depending on the findings of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

As of Saturday, there were more than 1,000 families living in evacuation camps in Magsaysay town. According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, more than 37,000 families were affected by the quakes in two regions. Of that number, 5,416 families are in evacuation sites.