Monday, December 16, 2013
AFTER THE 7.2 EARTHQUAKE shook the islands of Cebu and Bohol on October 15, 2013, the company where I worked in, authorized me to organize a relief mission to concentrate on the severely damaged areas. My company – Tactical Security Agency, Inc. - employ security guards assigned at the different PhilHealth and Pag-IBIG Fund branches in Bohol. Aside that, a lot of our guards came from these places and it is my task to determine which guard will be given aid.
I decide that we concentrate on the areas between the town of Talibon in the north, then going south to Tagbilaran City, as the very places that will be prioritized for relief goods giving, to include the islands. Approved during the discussion were the procurement of rice, canned goods, instant noodles, biscuits, sugar, milk, chocolate drinks, coffee, salt, “bihon” and dried fish and the people that will comprise the team.
After allocating funds good for twenty-one families of our security guards, the company’s relief mission moved forward. So, on October 26, this blogger commenced to undertake this humanitarian mission alone. I facilitated for the transfer of relief packs for the first batch of nine families from Cebu to the Port of Talibon.
The original plan was to distribute the goods on two company motorcycles to be shipped from Cebu but it was shelved due to safety, less info on road conditions and unreliable supply of gasoline on the affected areas. The PhilHealth office in Talibon then becomes the depot of relief goods intended for the guards who are residents of the towns of Getafe, Buenavista, Talibon, Inabanga, Sagbayan and Carmen.
Then on November 2, this blogger again went on another solo relief operation for the second batch comprising twelve families, with which relief bags I again facilitated for shipping from Cebu to the Port of Tagbilaran. The PhilHealth office in Tagbilaran City was used as the storage area of the relief goods servicing the guards who are residents of Tagbilaran City, Catigbian, Loon, Antequiera and Dauis.
During the two trips I took, I made many guards happy. Not because of the relief packs but because this company took pains to recognize their importance in our policies. We take care of our people and that’s what counts. Our security guards are our frontliners and we never abandon them when SHTF comes so we give back. They are our jewels. It is for this reason that Tactical Security is on top of its game in a very competitive industry.
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Monday, December 9, 2013
I HAVE BEEN LOOKING for a place that has a good carrying capacity which could not create environmental concerns in the event Snakehawk Wilderness School starts to accept extended activities on a regular basis. Although the Buhisan Watershed Area and among its fringes is a very perfect site, I could not help it when my activities use up forest resources like bamboos (which is very rare there) and would defeat my own preservation effort.
You see, my partner – William “Jungle Wil” Rhys-Davies – is working full-time to get Snakehawk forward. I have never seen him so dead serious so I suggest a place down south to get Snakehawk over the horizon. I have been to Lower Sayaw, Sibonga last April to scout the area for its resources and to assess its carrying capacity should Snakehawk pushes to host a great number of clients. It was during the time when we were negotiating with a maritime school to equip their students the necessary survival lessons.
Jungle Wil need to visit the place ASAP and I arranged Glenn Pestaño to accompany us there. This is the favourite haunt of Glenn and he knows the locals there very well and so, on July 21, 2013, we meet at the front of the San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish in Pardo, Cebu City to board a bus bound for Carcar. In less than 90 minutes, we were dropped at Ocaña, where there is a road going to Napo. From there, we ford a stream and follow a dirt road going uphill.
In less than an hour, we reach the house of our host: Rufing Ramos. We unpack our things to change into dry clothes since we were sweating quite a lot from the uphill walk. Last night it was raining very hard in the city and it stopped at dawn. When I woke up that early morning, it was still raining but I ignored the weather as I am an amphibian. By the time we start the hike, the sun shone.
I tour Jungle Wil around the house of the Ramos family and showed him the different fruit trees and herbal plants grown by Rufing. Then we move to an open meadow on a hill and showed him the campsite which could accommodate more than twenty tents. We follow a path down into a very small valley where there is a dry small brook and show him three different types of bamboo growing.
Further up another hill is another path which goes down to a natural spring that feeds an irrigation canal for a small rice field. The waterway would be perfect for nocturnal hunting as it might be teeming with rice frogs, fresh-water crabs and, possibly, shrimps during night. Along the way is a perfect trail to teach people plant identification and a sort of a “discovery hike”.
We return and I see Rufing setting up two snares with a pressure-trigger mechanism nearby his house. This kind of snare is designed for fowls and birds and he funnel his intended prey by blocking all the spaces in between except through the snares. Hopefully, what would be caught by the snares would be lunch and he did not even bother to place bait.
As we were talking and having coffee, an unmistakable cry of a fowl came from where the snares are located and we proceed immediately to investigate. Indeed, a rooster was caught with one foot raised up high by the cord attached to a branch that served as a spring mecahnism and we have now food. Rufing’s wife dispatched the chicken in the kitchen along with the two kilos of rice which we brought.
Sure enough, we have our lunch at 1:00 PM. The chicken was not tender but it is tasty as it was free-rein. I keep going back to the pots for refills of rice and soup. I see Jungle Wil enjoying very well the food with his old canteen cup. While resting after the meal, Glenn arrive with a gallon of frothing jungle juice. It is not sweet but it is fresh nonetheless.
I go down to another steep valley where groves of spiny bamboos grow. I need to retrieve a short dry pole, a remnant of the ones I cut last April, for use as a trap. This pole would be utilized as demo for a scheduled activity. I return to the house to work on it when Rufing notice fungus growing on the rim and on the insides. I am always wary of mushrooms and fungus because I have limited memories of it but Rufing assured me that it is edible and tasty.
Rufing showed me to a place where a lot of it can be found. It grows on decaying and burnt wood and, indeed, there are a lot of it growing. I ask Rufing what name do they used for the fungus and he said that they call it as “kwakdok” and it sounds funny because it rhymes with “quack doc”. Anyway, we harvested a lot of it and I get to fill a half-full inside a plastic bag. Rufing even taught me how to prepare it before cooking.
Well, after that useful time of foraging, we both go back to the house and proceed to work on the bamboo pole and help finish the coconut wine. When it is about 4:00 PM, we decide to go down back to where we came from in the morning. We got into a snag with a group of old villagers wanting to know more of us and our purpose. Here, we get to drink hard liquor as a matter of respect and concoct alibis so we could leave.
When we thought we are free of them, we again are delayed by another group of drunken, but younger, people on the farther stretch of the road. Here, we have to use all our cunning to get rid of them because, it seemed the glasses of strong drinks are plenty and it is getting dark. When we had finally been freed of “social impediments”, it was already dark by the time we reach the highway.
We leave Carcar at 7:00 PM and reach the big city at 8:15 PM, thanks, in part, to a flying public utility jitney disguising as a bus! I did get home in one piece but I was subjected to bouts of fear on the highway.
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Sunday, December 1, 2013
IT IS THE FEAST OF Sacrifice for the faithfuls of Islam – Eid’l Adha – and it is a bright sunny day. It is October 15, 2013 and it is a legal holiday here in the Philippines and it made many people happy, especially children for there are no classes. My wife did not bother to wake me up early that morning. When I do rise from the bed it was almost 8:00 AM.
I enjoy the day as if it is a Sunday and, as usual, I drink a glass of water coming from the tap before going to the bath. My wife and grandson Jarod are watching TV and I join them in the living room. It is 8:20 AM. Suddenly, without warning, I felt the unmistakable shake of the ground coming from an oncoming earthquake before it begins to accelerate.
I immediately stood up to take shelter under the stairs. The stairs, along with the doorway, are my assigned refuge areas should an earthquake hit Cebu. The stairway is made of steel anchored on a landing three-feet high with the highest step welded to six-inch wide steel purlins and attached to three angle-bar trusses. My wife, together with Jarod, ran towards the doorway.
As me and my wife were shouting for the rest of our household, who all were still asleep upstairs, to evacuate the house, she automatically switch off the main electrical switch while I hold the TV set from falling down and lean my body weight towards my book shelf to keep it from falling. It is like wrestling a brute animal. The earthquake is persistent but I did not give an inch, no matter what, and no book fell.
One by one, Lovella, Gringo, Rocky, Kurt and Gabriel stream down the stairs for the outdoors. I admit I got goose bumps when the quake rose in intensity with such magnitude that had never ever been in my memory. I wished it would stop but it seemed to shake itself forever. The pandemonium caused was like a thousand 18-wheeler loaded trucks running full-speed on a rough road beside your house.
When I think that the shaking of my house was too much and too long, I unashamedly shout to Providence begging the earthquake to stop and my plea was heard or so it seemed. It stopped. Silence. I see my wife crying by the doorway. The rest of my household were on the footbridge and are quite shocked but okay. I trust on that bridge since I know how it was built and how thick the steel bars used.
I go back the house and check on the damage. I see no major cracks on the walls on ground level then I run up the stairs. When I am at the second floor, a strong aftershock hit my house again and I see my firewall swaying east and west. Amazingly, this house is so resilient. During its construction, all the beams, posts and frames are made of steel. I know very well that steel is very flexible unlike concrete.
All the bottles are down but no breakage, especially my Yellow Tail Shiraz and Johnnie Walker Black, which were placed above the ref and fell to the floor but, miraculously, remained intact. Another aftershock came, this time swift, brief and strong. I quickly filled a Nalgene bottle with cold water and went out with it together with my cellphone, my William Rodgers knife and the Cignus V85 VHF/UHF radio.
Once I rejoined my family on the bridge, some of my neighbors are already there. I turn on the radio and scan the different channels. I monitor each and caught some important communications like one individual’s observation of bubbles coming from the depths of the harbor waters at the waterfront, another’s alarming report on the damage of the Cebu South Bus Terminal and another report on a fire in Duljo-Fatima.
I sent text messages to my Camp Red network for the epicenter of the earthquake since I have no Internet connectivity in my home. I got replies and all tell that it is a 7.2 magnitude on the Richter Scale and its center is two kilometers south of Carmen, Bohol. Holy Toledo! I cannot believe it. I noticed the black creek beside my house shaken from its murky stupor.
My estimate was that it was a 6.6 but later reports says it was a 6.8 that hit Cebu. I check the outer walls of my house and along its foundations like the creek retaining wall and the bridge itself where we took our refuge. I check for tell-tale signs of dust and I found plenty on the bottom of my firewall since the outer part is unfinished. That is the weakest part of my house and I will retrofit it once I have a budget.
Aftershock after aftershock, we all stayed on the bridge and when the tremors are not that intense anymore, I visit the backstreet where most of my neighbors lived. All stayed outside and I have never seen so many neighbors! There seemed to be no major damage on their homes and other structures so I go back to the bridge and inspect the wall of a public school for tell-tale signs.
I walk past the school onto the main thoroughfare and looked for structural cracks on the old MJ Cuenco Bridge but I see it had not sagged in the middle nor the problematic soil erosion on one of the foundations where a warehouse is presently built was disturbed. A lot of people are on the street though and too few vehicles.
I go back to the rallying point and we all decide to go back inside the house but two successive aftershocks cause all to go back outside. Another calm interlude and we all found ourselves back inside. When another tremor came, all refused to budge anymore because they could now discern the difference in intensity.
When I think everyone is calm and confident, I leave the house astride a company motorcycle to make a tour of the city and of the offices where the company I worked for are servicing. I pass by GMC Building near Plaza Independencia and it was all rubble on their front parking lot as a parapet fell from its facade. Detritus on the bases of buildings tell of damage overhead and a good sign to evade those areas.
I proceed to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño but it was cordoned off. I continue on foot and take pictures of the severe damage of its belfry. Across this holy place is a commercial building where its top annex serving as a penthouse, collapsed. Two blocks away, the steel tower of the 14-storey Century Hotel is bent at the half.
I arrive at the Cebu South Bus Terminal and the covered interiors are now off-limits to people. A lot of the acoustic boards that cover the ceilings, to include its metal holders, collapsed and fell to the floor. A row of fluorescent lighting units are suspended by their wires after the boards fell and a lot of glass blocks on the entrance and exit facades are crushed and splintered.
From downtown, I cruise for the uptown area and arrive at the Cebu Provincial Capitol, the seat of government of the Province of Cebu. There were a lot of structural cracks on the old building but the greatest damage is from its annex building where a slab of concrete fell on the parking lot infront of the post office. Moreover, the ceiling panels of the Vice Governor’s Office have collapsed to the floor.
I move on next to the Capitol Central Hotel, Leadamorphosis BPO, Escario Building, Cebu Grand Hotel, KIA-Gorordo before making a coffee stop at the Pag-IBIG Fund in Cebu Business Park. From there, I motor on to Sky Rise 1 and Sky Rise 2 at the Cebu IT Park and continue on to the Banilad Town Center. I park momentarily to take a walk to the nearby Gaisano Country Mall, where a big slab of concrete supporting an access stairway broke and fell to pieces.
After that I go to the office to monitor the damage online before leaving at 6:00 PM for home. In all that time, there were already several strong aftershocks and my wife had been texting me to come home as it is already dusk. I returned the motorcycle to its parking area in my neighborhood and everyone are staying outdoors afraid of being caught inside in darkness during strong aftershocks.
My presence brought back assurance of safety to my household as they were held hostage to anxiety and fear when darkness fell. I feel the warmth of homelife beginning to glow as everyone are present and engage in conversations. Calamities such as these brought us more closer as we tuned in to primetime news. Dinner is served and I assume my position as the house patriarch.
The island province of Bohol was the most affected area. 17th and 18th Century Catholic churches, most of these heritage sites and natural treasures, were not spared. The old structures crumbled like sandcastles and the grandeur of yesteryears vanished along with it. I am quite sure that there would be a lot of casualties in Bohol as there were in Cebu.
It was the strongest earthquake I have experienced yet, surpassing the 5.6 magnitude that shook Negros Oriental last year which unleashed a grand tsunami scare in Cebu. Before that, it was a 4.5 in 1989 with epicenter at Southern Leyte. Cebu may be protected by other islands from tsunamis, but it is not anymore immune from big tremors. I am quite alarmed that crust movements are getting uncomfortably intense and so close.
That recent quake lasted THIRTY-TWO SECONDS. If that would go one minute, I am very sure that there would be a lot of old and recent structures tumbling down along with a high casualty rate. I would have survived, of course, underneath my steel staircase even with falling debris but the cost of repairing the damage would have been appalling but not insurmountable.
Always always ALWAYS designate a refuge spot inside your house. That spot is, by your own judgment, the safest place to weather a strong quake. If that cannot be possibly available, prepare an escape route and practice it by memory. That route should take you away from standing structures like unfinished firewalls, electric posts, water tanks, high fences and glass-paneled high-rises. You must also avoid standing below cliffs and coconuts.
Almost always, electrical power will stop and cellular communications will bog down in the first ten minutes. Use the hand held radio, if you have one, to monitor communication traffic and to inquire information. If you do not have two-way radio, use an old-school transistor radio instead and tune in to AM channels. Through these, you will dispel uncertainty and panic among your family and your neighbors.
If you had prepared yourself well from disasters, you and your family would survive the first three days. This time frame is very critical since help would usually come, at the most, 72 hours after the initial impact. Within this span, you and your family will subsist on food and water you stocked prior to disasters. I would encourage people to start learning about prepping and urban survival.
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