Beneath Lando’s clouds

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

PinoyJourn’s 2015 year-end series, Log 1

Landfall of Typhoon Lando as seen from the town landmark of Baler, Aurora (Shot by Brian Pimentel, ABS-CBN News)

(Shot by Brian Pimentel, ABS-CBN News)

(Note: In a succession of stories, this blog revisits major events and trends witnessed by this writer, all of which made 2015 a year for the books.)

BALER, AURORA–We were prepared for the worst.

Our news team in Baler had met the night before. Everyone had to know what we expected from the typhoon and from each other in those crucial first hours, and what to do if the unfortunate happened.

But what caught us all by surprise was the arrival of Typhoon Lando (internationally Koppu) 7 hours before the time weather bureau PAGASA first predicted it would reach land.

Our 3 news gathering teams would take their posts in different vantage points around Baler before the supposed landfall time of 8 a.m. We had agreed to be up as early as 3 a.m. that Sunday morning to give them time to leave our hotel.

Our technical team would stay the fort at our lodgings and make sure our means of broadcasting the aftermath to the world would survive the typhoon’s onslaught.

We heard the town would switch off power as early as 10:30 p.m., but most of us had already gone to sleep when the lights did go out past 1 a.m.

It would be shorter sleep than expected for most of us.

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Surviving Casiguran’s worst storm yet

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

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(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

CASIGURAN, AURORA–The black sky gradually breaks into a swirl of orange and purple.

Pockets of smoke rise in the distance, from wood– debris or fallen branches –being burnt in piles throughout town.

All is awake–a new day for Aurora’s northern town of Casiguran, still reeling from the super typhoon it first welcomed to the Philippines early this week.

The days are now dry, the run-up to sundown again climbing to stinging hot–evidence of the upside-down turn of climate.

It’s a far cry from the hours of what the locals say was their worst and longest ordeal under a storm since they could remember.

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(Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

They haven’t gone past the after-effects of it–eating breakfast in candlelight, settling for the radio during lunch instead of the usual noontime TV habit, and rushing home before darkness once again envelopes their power-less town.

But they’re thankful to have at least survived Lando.

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The eve of Lando’s landfall

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

(Shot by Rommel Zarate, ABS-CBN News)

(Shot by Rommel Zarate, ABS-CBN News)

BALER, AURORA– At the point where the Pacific Ocean meets the Philippine shore, tourists tease and play with the waves, making the most of fading daylight.

The waves have been climbing as the hours pass, the tide teeming closer to the fences that separate the sand from the row of resort-hotels in this surfing hotspot.

It’s a last-ditch attempt to enjoy the remainder of what was previously surf-friendly weather.

The resort hotel they had checked into was also hosting a surfing event for the whole weekend. But even that had to be ended a day before schedule as reports of the approaching typhoon Lando (internationally Koppu) grew dire and direr. Beach activities, including surfing, have been banned.

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When no news is good news

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

PDRRMC press con in Ilagan City after Chedeng (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

PDRRMC press con in Ilagan (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

ILAGAN CITY, ISABELA–“Sorry, guys, wala kayong maireport…”

It wasn’t pity or something sinister. No one lost a scoop nor was anything swept under the rug.

Jessie James Geronimo, information officer of Isabela province, was actually in good spirits giving this aside to national reporters at the briefing of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council and local officials in the capitol.

Geronimo’s reason for saying so: “…Because we did our job.”

Everyone at the briefing shared a laugh.

After all, there was a grain of truth to it. The reporters had nothing much to report—except that the province survived the onslaught of Typhoon Chedeng (a.k.a. Maysak) a day earlier without a single casualty.

Interior Sec. Mar Roxas, in town for the meeting, smiled, exclaiming off mic: “Good news! Good news!”

In a country too used to rising death tolls after natural disasters, Chedeng left all with a sigh of relief.

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After Pablo: Desolate

By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan

Felled trees by Chiara

CATEEL, DAVAO ORIENTAL–It is a scene straight from a post-apocalyptic movie.

Fallen tree trunks, mostly coconut palms, line up the hills like scattered matchsticks mysteriously leaning in a single direction.

The trees left standing are no better and hardly alive. Their leaves are twisted and splayed in that same direction–the track of strong winds brought by Typhoon Pablo (internationally, Bopha).

The remaining palm leaves can be called lucky. The other trees are barren, shook of their leaves.

Everywhere you turn on the roads of Davao Oriental is evidence of the wrath that passed through Mindanao.

Road to Cateel carnage by Anjo

The analogies do not end as you approach the coastal town of Cateel (pronounced kati-EEL).

With trees out of the way, all you see is carnage.

Houses crushed or overturned like cardboard, their contents spilled or exposed. Fields of banana saplings abruptly stunted in growth. Piles of twisted metal where covered courts or towers once stood.

A van is stopped as it traverses this succession of desolation.

Cateel near tree fall by Mel

Meters in front, two men hack axes at a leafless two-storey-tall tree. A rope encircles the dead trunk as a group of men wait to pull it down.

The van waits for the fall, its passengers getting off to the stinging heat of the late morning sun.

Past the fallen tree, the van reaches the town’s plaza. Or at least what’s left of it.

Our reporter Chiara Zambrano describes it on TV: “It was as if someone lifted the entire town up and then dropped it.”

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PinoyJourn’s 2011: The top posts

A year of upheaval.

2011 saw calamities challenge our notions both of safety and of the status quo.

This year, the stirrings of change disturbed the common and the powerful. One issue, one event after the other made us rethink or question our policies and our perspectives.

We saw personalities resurface to accountability. Beloved figures passed on. We remembered the past, saw it repeat itself, and wondered what has changed. In the wake of it all, we got some answers yet we face more questions.

This behind-the-scenes blog tried to find untold stories beyond the did-this-did-that sidelines of news coverage. Still, the media back-stories found themselves inserted in understated mentions. And even the unique circumstances warranted their own stories.

2011 began with a fleeting succession of big stories that for lack of downtime a number of them did not get written about here.

Among them: the mysterious EDSA bus blast, the construction mishap that killed 10, and the flooding in Albay and in Jolo that sent me for the first time there.

Even as the year ended, the season did not give pause for the routine holiday watch.

2011 also expanded the audience of PinoyJournalist as it affiliated with sites like ABS-CBNnews.com and ABS-CBN’s intranet newsletter E-Frequency. One result– the first post that breached the thousand-hits mark.

I haven’t followed through on last year’s resolution for more features outside of current events or more book reviews. Chalk it up to limited writing time and audience considerations.

2012 will sure bring more stories, and I hope, more ways to tell them.

For now, here’s the rundown of 2011’s headlines as seen through the eyes of this blog:

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Christmas duty in CDO

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.

Dec 24 Cagayan De Oro hotel bar singers by Rodrigo Tapales

(Shot by Rodrigo Tapales)

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.”

One of the CDO villages ravaged by Sendong. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

One of the affected CDO villages. (Shot by Anjo Bagaoisan)

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.”

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