By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
TACLOBAN CITY – Sirens wailed through downtown Tacloban as firefighters paid tribute to comrades who died during the onslaught of super typhoon Yolanda.
At a motorcade that waded through the city’s main streets under the heat of day, members of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) stood guard over a casket draped with a flag and perched atop a fire truck. It represented not only one, but five fire service officers washed away by flood waters as they rescued relatives and compatriots.
The BFP is still busy with relief, recovery, and restoration efforts, but they halted it on Wednesday to honor the lives of SFO4 Ricardo Raga, SFO3 Marius Andre Sison, FO2 Rolando Cinco, FO1 Felix Miranda, and FO1 Melquiades Baguio.
These fire servicemen, like others, were on red alert during the storm. Their bodies, identified by uniforms, were found days later and buried soon after.
“They responded to the call of duty, I respect them so much,” said S/Supt. Pablito Cordeta, the BFP director for Region VIII. “They’re really heroes.”
Florentina Sison could not hold back sobs as she sprinkled holy water on the symbolic casket at the memorial service outside the damaged regional fire service headquarters building. She remained teary-eyed throughout the entire service.
Her son Marius returned home to secure his house and rescue his family as the storm surge bore down on Tacloban City. Marius, his wife, and their three children walked hand-in-hand through the flood, but were separated from each other. Only the youngest child survived after latching on to a steel bar.
Three of their bodies were later recovered at a neighboring seminary. One of Marius’s children is still missing. Every night, Florentina still remembers her lost family members, especially when she is alone.
“If only God had taken me instead of them,” she told reporters, breaking down. “It’s really painful.”
Cinco, Miranda, and Baguio were stationed in Tanauan, Leyte and were swept away as they saved children from the floods.
Mamoliano Baguio is another grieving parent who has to bury his child instead of the other way around. Melquiades Baguio’s body was found at another town after eight days.
“I can’t do anything. The Lord took him. I am very proud,” Baguio said.
But he is already thinking of what’s next for his son’s daughters, seven and five years old.
“What they need are scholarships. I hope I get help,” he said. “We’re getting relief, but that easily runs out.”
The BFP said that it is readying financial assistance to the families of the five, some of whom already immigrated to Manila.
Fellow fire fighters also lighted candles and offered flowers for the five officers.
As the service closed, men and women in uniform faced the casket and raised their palms to their foreheads. Police officers simultaneously shot a 21-gun salute. The fire trucks gushed water upward from their hoses in a similar air. All the while, a lone trumpeter playing the “Taps” and fire trucks ringing out their sirens combined in a haunting noise.
As the hoses wound down their water salute, it started to rain. Even heaven, the emcee said, was weeping with them.
This is the first memorial activity done here for fallen servicemen, or for the matter, anyone who lost their lives in the typhoon. The local fire service, like other agencies, has had no space or opportunity for these lulls with all the work needed to be done.
Nearly 80 percent of the BFP servicemen in Tacloban City were also affected by the typhoon, but all continue to report to work, said director Cordeta.
The BFP from Manila had to bring in staff and materials here—from the drummer and trumpeter to the candles and the flowers. The casket, which rusted in some parts, was salvaged from the flood.
Nonetheless, the BFP here is pressing on with its duties, among them the rationing of water to establishments and the continuing search for the dead and missing.
Revisiting the deeds of the dead can also inspire the living who remain, said fire service chaplain Randy Baluso.
“Behind the tragedy, there is beauty that will lead us to understand also and appreciate the beauty of each one of us,” Baluso told the mourners at the service. “If we do not appreciate this, what will happen? Later on, we will just be doing things for the sake of doing it, without any meaning at all.”
“Whether we are appreciated or not, what is important is that we do our duties and missions with heart.”
Amid the struggle to rebuild after Yolanda, the convoy of fire trucks carrying the flag-draped coffin through four streets reminded Tacloban residents of the heroism that kept many alive during the storm. But it also made them stop, look, and listen to the selflessness that is still needed on the road to recovery.
(A shortened version of this piece was first published on ABS-CBNnews.com on December 5, 2013)