Hunger stalks Ecija farmers hit by ‘Santi’

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People line up to have their phones charged. Enterprising residents collect P20 for an hour of charging. Photo By Joel Sy-Egco

People line up to have their phones charged. Enterprising residents collect P20 for an hour of charging. Photo By Joel Sy-Egco

A week after Typhoon Santi (international codename: Nari) barreled across Nueva Ecija province and plunged most towns in darkness, many residents— mostly farmers—remain uncertain about their future.

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Still without power, sufficient food supply and safe drinking water, most affected families have to rely on dimly-lit oil lamps or a clear moon to light them through supper, which is usually a combination of freshly-caught fish from a shallow pond, home-grown vegetables and rice.

Santi, being the strongest to hit the province in recent years, snatched away expectations of a bountiful harvest as it mowed down crops that were ready for harvest and uprooted trees, some as high as a 5-storey building.

Like a gigantic comb, the storm neatly felled rows of trees—some at least 50 years old—in one direction. A businessman who invested P7 million in a mango plantation practically lost everything he had.

In the town of Cabiao which, according to Mayor Gloria Congco, was the hardest-hit, food shortage is feared. She said they have to rely on relief extended by the Ateneo De Manila University, Gawad Kalinga and other non-government organizations (NGO).

“We are the hardest hit. Income is very low. There is the immediate need to craft a mechanism to enable our farmers to start over again.

We nearly lost everything, save for a few harvests that were done prior to the onslaught of Santi,” Congco told The Manila Times.

Of the 4,746 hectares of land intended for agriculture, 4,473 hectares were affected. The food sector suffered huge losses, a large chunk of some P2 billion the entire province lost in the aftermath of the typhoon.

Top priority
Congco said their top priority is restoring electricity because other businesses slackened after the power crisis. The storm toppled electric posts and cut off power lines in most parts of the province when it made landfall.

Most business establishments and a few households are running on electric generators, which sold like hotcakes when news about a prolonged blackout first came out.

In Gapan City, people formed long queues for a generator set while many from Cabiao, which is just an hour and a half away from Manila, had to shop for their own generator sets in Raon in Manila’s Quiapo district.

Joyce Sanchez, who owns a farm implement shop in Raon, said she had sold hundreds of generator sets to residents not only of Nueva Ecija but neighboring provinces like Tarlac and Pampanga that were similarly ravaged by Santi. Each generator set costs from P5,000 to as high as P30,000 depending on “wattage.”

Mayor Congco said they hope to restore power in a week’s time. But due to the extent of the damage, residents believe electricity may only be restored in November.

“Sana lang hindi na abutin ang black out ng Pasko [I wish the blackout would not last until Christmas],” said Barangay Capt. Puroy Bautista of San Carlos, one of the most affected villages in the municipality.

Bautista installed his own generator set to serve those who need to charge their cellphone batteries for free. Since the power outage, enterprising businessmen charge P20 per hour of charging. Many are still making a killing out of this scheme.

(To be continued)

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