Defying destruction: Christmas in Cateel

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

After Pablo Log 3

St. James the Apostle Parish in Cateel, Davao Oriental at night - Christmas 2012 with Christmas tree (Shot by Mel Estallo)

CATEEL, DAVAO ORIENTAL (Dec. 25)– The brightest lights around did not shine when this town welcomed Christmas.

The temporary generator powering the parish’s tree of Christmas lights along with Cateel’s rebuilt street lamps had broken down a few days earlier.

With the streets dark, the St. James Church had to call off the customary Misa de Aginaldo.

But the night before Christmas was not silent in the town plaza.

It actually seemed more like New Year’s Eve. The plaza rang with jolting pops and blasts every other minute as children set off small firecrackers to the ground. Some squealed and ran away as the pellets went off.

The town’s youth lounged around the still-littered plaza, taking advantage of the first dry night in days.

Other kids played with soldiers from Davao City who had camped out at the plaza after they responded to the onslaught of Typhoon Pablo.

Children in Cateel plaza playing with firecrackers on Christmas eve 2012 (Shots by Bernie Mallari & Anjo Bagaoisan)

(Shots by Bernie Mallari & Anjo Bagaoisan)

The soldiers have been here for nearly a month, and they only found out days before they would spend Christmas here.

They only hold on to the prospect that they’ll be back at their base by December 31st.

Nearby, some police officers celebrated in the dark over drinks. They blared pop songs from their patrol car and shone their flashlights onto some of the kids who danced along.

Still, duty called for some of the police, who stood guard at a checkpoint.

Mixed commemorations

Our news team here had just finished live reports for TV Patrol and Bandila, where Niko Baua reported that not all families in Cateel would get relief packs from the social welfare department in time for Christmas dinner.

The team was also nearing the one-month mark out of town. They were among the first to meet the storm as it reached the east coast in Leyte, then moved here.

Some cooks on the team tried their best to whip up some dishes: some ham, canned fruit salad, and spaghetti. Just for a familiar taste of Christmas without family.

Before midnight, Niko and reporter Rodney Ray Salas of ABS-CBN RNG Davao went around with their crews to find how residents in other parts of town were spending Noche Buena.

One family dined over pancit, roast chicken, vegetables, and grilled fish. They even served the crew some of their meal.

Rodney’s crew had a guitar and played some carols for the family. They also brought food packs and slippers as gifts.

Christmas eve 2012 in Cateel, Davao Oriental (Courtesy Percy & Bernie Mallari, ABS-CBN News)

Lanterns, Noche buena, Caroling, Darkness–Scenes from a Cateel Christmas eve (Courtesy ABS-CBN News)

They found another group spending Christmas miles from home: young volunteers from Albay province lighting sky lanterns.

It’s a second Christmas away for some who also helped out in the aftermath of Sendong in Cagayan De Oro last year.

The lanterns expressed their wishes for the residents to be strong and get back on their feet, one of the team members said.

But it wasn’t all festive. Niko’s team met a grandmother and her family who had eaten early–a dinner of carabao meat bought with borrowed money. She whiled the night smoking tobacco.

Another family had already turned in. Rodney’s team found the children sleeping under a mosquito net.

Their mother said they had no more money to buy food. She was thankful one of the kids had brought home something to eat.

That was another thing she was thankful for despite losing their things: that her kids were alive and the family was all healthy.

Giving back

Belated 2012 Christmas Party by Karancho motorbikers group Cateel chapter (Shot by Mel Estallo)On the 26th, a local chapter of the motor bikers group Karancho invited us to a belated Christmas party.

It was scheduled for December 16, but had to be put off due to the typhoon.

Karancho Cateel lost one person among their ranks, and condoling with his widow was one reason the party went on.

Also, they were not sure if they would meet again. The chapter chairman, Alcio Reyes said they feared there might be no rebuilding in the town, and they would be forced to move elsewhere.

The gifts and raffle prizes were simple, but met with shrieks and shouts: plastic bags of rice, mosquito nets, and medicines donated from outside.

The simple effort to be present and even wear their black Karancho t-shirts showed these residents wanted to preserve their camaraderie despite their hardships.

Ruined buildings in Cateel, Davao Oriental as seen from a second floor balcony (Shot by Mel Estallo)

Being invited to the get-together was just one gesture we experienced from Cateel residents as we pitched our tents in the plaza for the extended coverage.

We told their stories, shared our extra meals, let them watch some TV, or offered shelter when it rained.

We joined them for their Simbang Gabi (or Simbang Umaga since it was celebrated at sunrise) and offered our lights to brighten the church building during mass.

But our main service to residents was letting them charge their phones when our generator was on.

Cateel children eating Christmas meal (Shot Dec 25, 2012 by Anjo Bagaoisan c/o Mel Estallo)

(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan c/o Mel Estallo)

They lost a lot, but a number still gave back.

One neighbor opened her house for us and the servicemen here. We used its toilets and fetched water from the backyard deep well.

Others asked our crew to repair their drenched electronics. If we got them working again, the owners lent them to us during our stay.

Some neighbors surprised us with food in this town of want. One father approached us on Christmas Day and handed plastic bags of barbeque. A simple thanks, he said, for our concern for the residents.

Men play basketball at makeshift ball court in Cateel, Davao Oriental (Shot c/o Mel Estallo)

With gyms destroyed, the crew built a makeshift basketball ring in the plaza to give themselves and the residents a means to play.

Typhoon Pablo transformed Cateel in many ways.

In its wake, some entrepreneurs renamed their stalls after the storm they never thought would strike. Even an entire drive was informally dubbed “Pablo Street.”

With a tinge of sorrow, future Christmases here will include memories of “Pablo”.

But like those traders, Cateel is throwing a jeer at this storm’s destruction, saying that with help, they won’t remain down for long.

Sign among the ruins of Cateel, Davao Oriental -- Goodbye Pablo (Shot by Mel Estallo)

POSTSCRIPT: By Christmas night, the tree at the parish burned bright again. The soldiers from Davao were recalled home the day after. The ABS-CBN team spent the New Year in Cateel.

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One comment on “Defying destruction: Christmas in Cateel

  1. Pingback: Losses and look-backs—PinoyJourn’s 2012 top posts | PinoyJourn: Stories behind the Stories

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