CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, MISAMIS ORIENTAL–Hours before midnight of December 25, some guests at a high-end local hotel dropped by the bar to mark the holiday.
For most, the night out was a long-awaited respite from the circumstances that faced them that week in this typhoon-hit city.
A combo of two was there singing a repertoire of Standard tunes, mostly English and the occasional Latin.
On the keyboard was a lanky man wearing a luau polo. A virtual all-in-one band, he alternated piano and trumpet leads to the customized beats from his synthesizer.
Dodong, the pianist, alternated and harmonized tunes with his partner Rose, who was in a party dress.
The guests were impressed and called for encores. One of them approached the duo and said he wanted to sing.
Dodong said yes. “But first, I need a volunteer to play these.” And he pointed to the unused bongo drums nearby.
The clock struck 12 as the guest belted out another song.
Fireworks could be seen from the window overlooking the city. Various areas of CDO answered each other in colorful outbursts of light.
The guests watched, some wondering if the calendar had already turned, and some marveling that one of the cities ravaged by the Philippines’ deadliest typhoon in over 10 years found cause to celebrate.
Seated near the piano was a middle-aged woman browsing a laptop while taking sips at a cocktail and glances at the performers.
“My wife,” Dodong said later as he introduced her. “She’s my manager too.”
As they packed up the microphones and turned off the amps, Rose, the singer said, “We’ll be returning to our flooded houses.”
Dodong resided at a higher area of CDO. But the house his children lived in was not spared from the high waters of typhoon Sendong (a.k.a. Washi).
“All my instruments there were ruined–two guitars, my keyboard, my amplifiers. Even my studio,” he said.
“I think God is reminding us with tragedies like this to remember and return to Him.”
Life’s music must go on. Dodong would greet the new year at another gig in Manila.
That night, ABS-CBN reporter Alvin Elchico and his team visited locals quartered at one of the covered courts used as evacuation centers.
They were checking how families there were celebrating the traditional Noche Buena or Christmas dinner.
One family sat on mats around cake, brownies and hotdogs. They invited Alvin to join them. Also on the menu were fried noodles and roasted chicken.
In another center, Alvin followed a mother who brought back two plastic bags of relief goods distributed by social workers.
The goods were packed with a seasonal flavor not usually added during disaster efforts. Among the items were spaghetti, fruit salad, and cheese.
This family passed around slices of loaf bread spread with cheese for dinner. Alvin was also offered one as he chatted with them.
Their Christmas wishes were simple–to have a new home and to have back the things they enjoyed before.
Their main reason to be thankful: that they were celebrating the season complete.
Some families, meanwhile, forwent custom and went to sleep after getting their rations.
Alvin and his team were not the only ones on duty that evening.
Over 50 volunteers, government workers and soldiers in green tops and Santa hats arrived at the covered court just before midnight.
With smiles and carols, the visitors gave out spaghetti and sandwiches to evacuees who seemed unbothered being roused from sleep.
The green-shirted Santas were from up north in the province of Albay, which is no stranger to calamities.
Albay governor Joey Salceda, a long-time proponent of disaster preparedness, came to celebrate Christmas with the group. Team Albay had already been in CDO a week, helping in relief and cleaning operations.
The province gave out P1 million aid to CDO and Iligan City, the other worse hit. A good turn, in thanks for another Albay received when it was first on the warpath of past storms.
Salceda said the Spanish government also enlisted their help in bringing in a filtration machine that could serve clean water to almost 45,000 residents.
Along with the reporters that highlighted Sendong’s carnage to the world, technical crews of dozens also spent their Christmas away from home to prime those broadcasts for airing in Manila.
Many in the media were expecting a lull before the 2012 New Year coverage once Gloria Arroyo had moved to a government hospital.
The year of natural and controversial newsmakers was apparently not yet over.
No less than two technical teams per station were flown to Mindanao for this special coverage, which lasted daily from 5 a.m. till past the late-night newscast. At least one covered CDO and another aired from Iligan City.
As if to drive home the gravity of the tragedy, the top anchors of the TV networks also headed here, and with them more teams.
Swept away briefly were the routine holiday coverage of terminals, shopping centers, and amusement spots.
The stage of primetime news that Christmas week went to the nearly-obliterated barangays, the brimming relief operations centers, and the cramped gyms where the anchors reported from.
Cables were dragged through the mud. Monitors, mixers, and editing machines braced dust. The noise of generators penetrated the still air as broadcast lights became the sole illumination for many residents.
The crews thanked the skies that the rains which became hell for the residents did not return for a while.’
For the December 24 and 25 editions of TV Patrol, our CDO production team chose the plaza fronting the provincial capitol to set up for Alvin’s anchoring.
It was one of those places there spared from the flood.
Alvin’s backdrop was the white lanterns that hung from trees in the plaza. They were light bulbs enclosed by cut bottoms of translucent bottles and trailed by long strips of white plastic.
The lantern tails were now misshapen, marred by the unrelenting rains.
Still the lights were a hopeful sight to eyes wearied of destruction.
Near our setup, a number of flood-affected families took shelter in the plaza’s covered stage–a reminder that after the celebrations, the problems still had to be addressed.
(UPDATED) The teams that handled the weekday anchoring had already left, so some of our colleagues from the local RNG station, like reporters Trini Velasco and Rod Bolivar, came to help out as production assistants and floor directors.
While the visiting teams already gave long hours, the regional teams had it worse.
They were the first media responders to the tragedy as Manila scrambled to send their own. And as the network’s main face in the region, our colleagues juggled newsgathering with helping out in the local relief center.
A number of them lost homes, belongings, and loved ones too. By then, many were already running on overdrive.
On the 25th, what the team looked forward to was the closing part of the show.
At the producer’s signal from Manila, we all hastened to the front of the camera, quickly tipping off relatives and preparing sheets written with names.
The crews sent away to cover the wrath of nature on what should have been a jolly period momentarily waved to the lens–a sign to loved ones back home on Christmas night that they were doing all right.