By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
Our strides were slow, taking care not to slosh the water in large ripples. The rain had stopped past midnight, but the water in the dimly lit highway rose further up our limbs as we walked on. The occasional ten-wheeler drove by, making waves and raising howls from people who like us were wading through the flood in a single file.
“I can’t remember the last time I walked this deep in water,” said anchorwoman Ces Drilon.
She had been reporting live for Bandila from an upslope part of the Ortigas Avenue Extension in Cainta, Rizal. It was our broadcast point the whole afternoon and evening, trapped between two impassable pools of water caused by monsoon rains strengthened by Tropical Storm Mario.
Ces and her staff’s only hope of returning home lay in a Ford 4×4 Ranger sporting a snorkel. The Ranger also carried food and water for our Electronic News Gathering (ENG) van team, which expected to stay for the night.
But the Ranger could no longer park. The pileup of stranded trucks at the upslope already extended to the water. The driver could not risk stopping his crew cab in the flood to wait. Before long, he turned and drove back to dry road at the Ever Gotesco mall a kilometer away.
Ces had no extra boots, only sneakers. Then again, donning boots would not keep the thigh-deep water out of her jogging pants. With time ticking and no dry options in sight, Ces, her producer Ferdie and researchers Irish and Niño shrugged and stepped into the water.
My cameraman Rene and I decided to join their “alay lakad” just to get the packed meals. After doing our best hours earlier to stay dry, getting wet seemed a small price to going hungry.
Many were still trudging through the flood at the late hour. Some were going home, others to work. Their smiles greeted us as we met, conveying our unpleasant yet shared lot.
The rising waters caused by unabated rains the night before had stirred fears of another Typhoon Ondoy. It sent our news desk scrambling to get teams to the field even before their scheduled duty.
The ENG van team that ended up in Cainta was improvised from available technicians at 3 a.m. and sent first to San Mateo, Rizal. By midday, they were stuck at the Ortigas Extension. The team raised their transmitter there, with little prospect of leaving or getting food—similar to another team that was stranded for days in Bulacan during Typhoon Pedring.
I followed suit to Cainta, bringing a team of lights men, audio men, IT technicians and tent assemblers for the live anchoring planned for TV Patrol and Bandila. But our vans could no longer cross the pool between the ENG van and Ever.
After the water did not subside an hour later, we piled our equipment onto our generator truck and rode it to through the flood.
Another truck carrying our tents and scaffolding bogged down mid-water. The result–we had to rely on umbrellas and roadside kiosks to waterproof our hardware for the live reports.
Korina Sanchez, headlining the coverage from Cainta, interviewed the mayor and joined disaster response teams. Ryan Chua reported on the extent of the flooding and the affected people. Ron Gagalac documented the rescue of two elderly women from a submerged village.
Ces no longer visited other flood-hit areas to gather news for her Bandila story. But after the lights and camera went off, she ended up walking in the water just to get home–a rarity for the anchor usually assigned to politics and war zones.
“I probably was with Channel 4 when I last did this!” she said laughingly as we reached the deepest part of the flood.
After Ces and her team had boarded the Ranger, Rene and I decided one walk was enough. We rode back with our food and water on a pedicab that had a wooden bench on its rim and charged P50 a head for a trip.
Our ENG van team had also been cleared to leave. But our search for a way out of Cainta fizzled out after we reached a road that was deeper in water than the others we had already driven through. We slept till morning in our cars.
Our experience covering Mario did not compare to that of ordinary residents. The effort still meant risking people and equipment. Nonetheless, it made the success of getting the people’s story out and returning safe afterwards all the more worth it.