By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
Cameraman Bernie Mallari and his ENG van teammates will not forget the day stormy circumstances thrust upon them the defining image of a typhoon.
They were told to go to the La Mesa Dam that September 26, 2009. The dam was on the verge of spilling over after an overnight of rains brought by Typhoon Ondoy.
But with Commonwealth Avenue already flooded, the team never got there. Instead, they passed by Marikina and Rizal, where they chanced upon a throng converged at the San Mateo Bridge.
A mass of flotsam was approaching the bridge in a wave. When they saw that the mass also carried people, the team lugged Bernie’s camera out in the rain to capture the attempt of those “surfers” to reach safety.
The result is an iconic grab of history. But it did not turn out well for that family caught in the flood.
Last March 28, Bernie arrived at the Marikina Riverbanks with his reporter Sol Aragones to cover the unveiling of TV Patrol’s second commemorative marker as part of the newscast’s 25th anniversary.
The ceremony was awash with memories of the flood—one of the few times the big story struck even those who tell it.
Sol and Bernie were not yet teammates in 2009. But Sol was among the many reporters sent to Marikina, where the destruction only became clearer as the waters cleared.
“Ang unang larawan ko pong nakita yung mga sapatos at tsinelas—(pang) bata man o matanda—ay nakalubog sa putik, parang alaala na talagang nagmadali silang tumakbo para mailigtas yung kanilang buhay,” Sol recalled.
Bernie’s camera was one of the few to capture the havoc as it happened. If not for the flooded throughways, the tragedy which struck the worst-hit villages might have also been recorded.
Before Ondoy, Marikina rarely landed on the radar of flood-risk areas. But Ondoy showed that nothing is spared when nature takes revenge.
The TVP marker was placed beside a public plaza that fittingly overlooked the Marikina River.
The concrete base where it stood was already there long before the marker. Local contact persons told TV Patrol staff they could not recall what the base was originally for.
It seemed to have waited for this marker.
We asked residents there how high the river rose during Ondoy. One pointed to a piece of plastic hanging from a tree branch–two floors high.
A sari-sari store keeper nearby told us how the water almost swallowed them that day had they not climbed up the roof of their house. There they were stranded for hours, having salvaged few belongings and running out of food.
Their sari-sari store is back—and with a 30-plus-inch flat screen TV to boot. Like it, hardly any traces remain today of the mire and chaos in 2009.
And that is the better turn of this story: less than 3 years after, Marikina has picked up the pieces and moved forward.
TV Patrol’s two initial Balitandaans (the first one in Pampanga) marked places forever changed by calamities. And it may be said that the strength and impact of TV Patrol stand out most during times of tragedy.
But more important are the tales of the rise from the ashes or, in Marikina’s case, from the mud.
“Natutuwa po kami na halos wala nang bakas ng unos,” said ABS-CBN News head Ging Reyes during the program.
“At yan po ay testament sa pagiging magaling ng Pinoy, sa bayanihan spirit ng ating mga kababayan, at sa tinatawag nating Pinoy resiliency.”
ABS-CBN Sagip Kapamilya’s Tina Monzon-Palma, who headed relief calls and operations during Ondoy, thanked Filipinos all over the world who extended help.
“Sinasabi nila, ‘A crisis brings out the best and the worst in man,” she said. “At dito namin nakita sa Sagip Kapamilya ang kabutihan ng mga tao.”
ABS-CBN Chairman and CEO Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III said: “This Balitandaan marker… is a tribute to all those unsung heroes.
“Para sa amin sa ABS-CBN, na sumusuong din sa peligro, gusto lang namin makiisa sa bayang hindi sumusuko sa anumang hamon ng buhay.”
Ondoy also exposed weaknesses in the government’s disaster preparedness and response plan. As TV Patrol led the calls for help, it kept watch over moves to reform those systems.
Now, the lessons of Ondoy guide efforts to brace towns and cities for coming natural disasters which are expected to be worse.
“Ang gobyerno po ay may ginagawa ngayong mapa, may ginagawang paraan. Bilyon ang gagastusin dito,” said TV Patrol anchor Kabayan Noli De Castro, who was Philippine vice president in 2009.
“Ang sabi sa akin ay kapag yun ay napatupad na, 3 days before na bumuhos ang malakas na ulan, malalaman na ho natin. Hindi yung sinusukat natin dun sa may tulay kung gaano kataas.
“Sapagkat palagay ko ho e hindi na natin maiiwasan ang pagbaha lagi sa Marikina River, kahit pa anong hukay ang gawin natin,” Kabayan added.
“Pero, alam ko ho ang Ondoy ay malaking experience na sa inyo para every time na umuulan, every time na may bagyo at every time na pag sinabi ng PAGASA na may malakas na ulan ay nakahanda na ho kayo.”
Miguel Lim, segment producer of citizen journalism effort Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo, lived then in Ondoy-hit Provident Village, also in Marikina.
For Miguel, Ondoy warned us of two tragedies worse than typhoons—the tragedy of unpreparedness, and the tragedy of apathy.
And so with TV Patrol and social media, ABS-CBN News aims to form aware and proactive citizens, he said.
The second Balitandaan also serves that purpose, said Ted Failon, who anchored TVP in the aftermath of Ondoy.
“Ito pong marker na ito sa Marikina ay palatandaan ng bagsik ng kalikasan,” he said.
“Nawa’y ito ay magsilbing palatandaan sa ating lahat at inspirasyon na kapag ‘di natin pinangalagaan ang ating kapaligiran at kalikasan, muli po itong hahataw sa ating kapaligiran.”
* See more shots of the Marikina marker unveiling here.
* Watch Sol Aragones’ TV Patrol story on this event here.