Prof. Rolando O. Borrinaga, Ph.D.
First Posted 09:10:00 09/25/2014
(Message for the Commemoration of the 154th Naval Pueblo Day, September 26, 2014.)
It was my intention to join the 154th Naval Pueblo Day festivities this September 26, 2014, as I had always done yearly since 2007. But I have to skip attendance this year because of a conflict in schedule with another forum where I was earlier invited to speak – the Region Eight Special Convention to Unite Educators of History, with the acronym RESCUE of History, sponsored by the Social Science Unit of Leyte Normal University (LNU) in Tacloban City on the same date.
I had hoped that this special convention would be reset by at least one day, so that I could also attend the Naval commemoration. But I was told that its September 26 schedule was already fixed, and that the invitations for the participants coming from all over Eastern Visayas had been sent out some time ago.
And so I decided to abide by my colleagues in the academe this time, specially that this activity also falls under my advocacy as Regional Representative for Visayas in the National Committee for Historical Research (NCHR) of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
But I also have a Pueblo Day message for my kalungsud (townmates) in Naval, and I hope this can reach them.
Since our 153rd Pueblo Day last year, Naval was struck by several events that had always been part of our town’s historical experience, but never highlighted until recently. I refer to our own cycle of natural disasters.
On November 8, 2013, Naval was also along the path of Supertyphoon Yolanda, reported as the strongest typhoon ever to fall on land. Our town similarly suffered considerable damage to houses, government buildings, and public infrastructure, most symbolic of which was the stripped roof of the Naval Gymnasium. But we only had few casualties (four, and not reported early on), a good indicator of our cultural preparedness to face and survive disasters of this type.
Sadly, our comparative luck with Yolanda had its own underside. Naval did not rank high in the list of priority areas for post-Yolanda relief and rehabilitation support from welfare agencies and higher levels of government, which were poured largely into Tacloban and nearby areas. And after some token volumes of relief items were distributed largely along partisan political lines, Yolanda-linked assistance for “independent-minded” Naval simply stopped.
Naval was not struck by the storm surges triggered by Yolanda, which killed thousands in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, Basey, Samar, and Tacloban, Palo, Tanauan and nearby towns in Leyte. This tidal phenomenon was responsible for most of the deaths in the Yolanda-stricken areas last November, and influenced the massive inflow of sympathy and relief assistance from around the world.
Our own version of the storm surge came months after Yolanda, last July 2014 in fact, and it was triggered by Typhoon Glenda, a low category typhoon that cut across the Visayan Islands. Large waves destroyed a number of houses in Barangay Sto. Niño and made a beach out of our bus terminal for a day or two. Then less than a week later, torrential rains poured down our mountains and caused flash floods in the poblaciones and surrounding areas of Almeria and Naval towns. These also caused landslides in various places along the highway between Naval and Kawayan towns.
No relief assistance from the top
These latest disasters were promptly reported in a local website and in social media, and even picked up by some national TV stations. But apparently because no human casualties were incurred, we were deprived again of relief assistance from higher levels. Yet, some such items are actually still being distributed to Yolanda victims around Tacloban after all these months, but none to more recent disaster victims in our town.
When flash floods due to monsoon rains struck our town again early this month, which caused another round of suspension of classes, what we got was also another round of indifference from higher level welfare agencies.
The insight we can derive from this established pattern of official indifference at higher levels is that we simply have to take care of our own welfare before and when the next disaster strikes. We must be prepared to be on our own.
Oldest recorded flash flood
Flash flooding in Naval, which came in cycles of about 25 years or so through much of the previous century, has a very long history. The earliest recorded flash flood here happened on May 1, 1601, or more than 400 years ago. At the time, a new galleon was ready for launching at the Spanish shipyard here, which I theorized was located in the present Caraycaray area.
But a furious typhoon, which also caused the loss of the Galleon “Santo Tomas” in Catanduanes, dropped so much water from our mountains, and from the ravine it rose in such manner that it became a mighty river. And as its exit to the sea was through the same river mouth, it rampaged through the equipped shipyard, inundated everything, eroded the soil at the base of the scaffoldings or props that steadied the galleon, and caused these to crumble to the water and fall with the boat on the ground. The galleon was overturned and damaged completely. It was eventually burned to retrieve the iron and related materials from the destroyed boat.
A permanent feature of the historic flash floods in our geography is Anas River. Until the famous Moro raid on Biliran pueblo’s poblacion in Caraycaray area in May 1754, this river’s mouth was still the one in the present San Pablo area. With subsequent flash floods in later centuries, its mouth moved northward to that of the present Caraycaray River, between Banderahan and Sabang. Later, Anas cut a creek from Calumpang across the rice fields and skirted the old cemetery, on the site of the present Biliran Provincial Hospital. After World War II, the main path of Anas River already skirted Naval poblacion not far from Vicentillo Street and its mouth was in Laka of Baybay District. At present, the mouth of Anas River has moved farther north between Barangays Atipolo and Agpangi, about four kilometers away from its original mouth in San Pablo some 250 years ago.
20th century flash floods
In the previous century, a disaster that I presume was accompanied by a flash flood or storm surge in Naval was the typhoon of October 1912, which got noticed by the news media after Yolanda because it reportedly caused more deaths than the 1897 typhoon with storm surge that Yolanda repeated 116 years later. At the time, zinc roofs from our poblacion were blown as far as the old cemetery on the present site of Biliran Provincial Hospital.
Around 1937 or 25 years later, another flash flood struck, which I believe cut the creek from Calumpang across the rice fields and skirted the old cemetery in its path towards the sea. It was apparently this disastrous flood, which also destroyed our church, that caused our original October fiesta to be moved to January, starting in 1938. We returned to the original October fiesta schedule only in 2007.
The next flash flood in Naval came 25 years later in August 1962. The water was reportedly knee-deep in the poblacion at the time. Three tornado-like waterspouts were seen by eyewitnesses that day. One such waterspout sucked the wooden Caraycaray bridge at the time and dropped it some three kilometers away in Barangay Atipolo. The residents of Atipolo used the remains of this structure as footbridge towards their chapel in the rice field, across a newly formed creek in their barangay. Two children reportedly perished during that disaster, about the only casualties from our list of such flash floods.
The next flash flood came in August 1986, or 24 years later. I was involved at the time in distributing relief items from the municipal government to flood victims in Barangays Atipolo and Santo Niño, where an almost equal number of houses were destroyed by rampaging flood waters.
Having studied the cycle of flash floods in our town, I expected the next phenomenon to happen some 24 or 25 years later, that is in 2010 or 2011. But I was proven wrong. In fact, some two flash floods struck our town in the 1990s, one of which happened close to the year 2000, the end of the millennium.
By the 1990s, therefore, I was already apprehensive that something has been altered in our environment, based on our town’s experience with disasters. Of course, “green house effect” and “global warming” were already being talked about then at the international and national levels. But they still seemed remote and abstract to our ordinary people, and even to me.
Now with Yolanda, our people were suddenly forced to reckon the adverse impact on our lives of environmental disasters, which have become more frequent and more unpredictable. Suddenly, such concept as “climate change” has become a reality and needs to be addressed by all of us. Incidentally, “climate change” was the theme and focus of a conference of the United Nations in New York last week.
In Naval, it is time for us to learn about “climate change” using our own historical experience as case study. Armed with such knowledge, let us come up with better plans and mitigation measures to cope with the effects of this unavoidable phenomenon in the future, preferably on our own terms.
We can start on the 154th Pueblo Day of our town.