‘Ruby’ victims struggle to survive

A farmer prepares coconuts to be made of copra at a coconut farm just next to the seashore in Hernani town, Eastern Samar. AFP photo

A farmer prepares coconuts to be made of copra at a coconut farm just next to the seashore in Hernani town, Eastern Samar. AFP photo

Life is a constant throw of the dice for farmer Nilo Dilao and other residents of Samar, the ground zero for many of East Asia’s deadliest storms.

Homes, boats, crops, livestock and jobs are all on the line each time the monster winds roar in from the Pacific Ocean, leaving survivors to mourn their dead and pick up the broken pieces, year in and year out.

“Life is a struggle here,” Dilao, 43, told  Agence France-Presse a few days after Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit) destroyed his shanty and killed more than 20 people this month.
He likened the plight of local people to those of stray chickens.

“We’re scratching at the soil non-stop in hopes of finding a scrap to eat,” he said.

Ruby came a year after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the strongest ever storm recorded on land, killed 7,350 people on Samar and neighboring islands.

Samar is often the first major Asian landmass hit by the more than 20 tropical storms or typhoons that are born in the Pacific Ocean each year.

With much of the mountainous island stripped by deforestation, most of its 1.8 million residents live on narrow, sea-level strips along the coast, at the mercy of the storms’ ferocious winds and tsunami-like ocean surges.

Living in the town of Taft on Samar’s east coast, the Dilao family survived the storm surges of Yolanda and Ruby by fleeing to a nearby hill, waiting them out under a raggedy tent made of bamboo frames and a tarpaulin sheet.

In nearby San Julian, small-scale farmer Benjie Baldenero was also struggling to cope with having lost his home after Yolanda when it happened again when Ruby battered the region.

The 40-year-old spoke of pledging the next harvest as collateral so he could borrow money to rebuild his grass hut again and replace flooded rice seedlings.

“We have not even repaid last year’s debts and here we are needing to take out more loans,” Baldenero told Agence France-Presse.

Typhoons and guerillas

The vicious cycle ensures Samar and the neighboring island of Leyte are among the poorest regions of the Philippines, accounting for just 2.2 percent of national economic output.

“Bad weather plays a major role in shaping our economy because typhoons destroy practically everything in their path,” Ben Evardone, a congressman and former governor of Eastern Samar province, told  Agence France-Presse.

Six in 10 people on Samar’s east coast are poor, according to government data, fuelling a decades-old communist insurgency that has largely petered out across the rest of the Philippines.

Samar is one of only five regions of the country where New People’s Army rebels are still active, Philippine Army spokesman Colonel Noel Detoyato told  Agence France-Presse.

“They continue to attract followers due to the poverty,” he said.

Typhoons and guerrillas also mean the island attracts few outside investors, Evardone

There are few jobs available except farming and fishing, which are among those most vulnerable to the extreme weather.

Those in the few other industries also suffer during the storms.

Jaime Caballa, 53, saw his restaurant in the university town of Can-avid ripped apart by Ruby, then ransacked by looters.

With banks unwilling to lend without collateral and his modest savings gutted by Yolanda, the father-of-four now has to deal with loan sharks to finance repairs.

“The restaurant was shuttered for a week after Yolanda. This time, we’ll likely be out of business for months,” he told  Agence France-Presse.

The extreme weather leaves the island with coconuts, also the Philippines’ principal export crop, as the main source of income.

Farmers also plant much less valuable sweet potatoes, cassava and taro to supplement their rice-based diet.

But even coconuts are no match for the strongest winds.

Yolanda destroyed most of the island’s coconut industry last year, felling more than 33 million trees across the central Philippines according to official estimates, while Ruby took care of much of what was left.

“It takes seven years for coconut trees to bear fruit. In the meantime, what will our people do? The impact of these typhoons will be felt over a long time,” Evardone said.

Many Samar residents leave the island if they can.

Samar and Leyte are well-known sources of unskilled domestic workers and laborers for Manila as well as Cebu City.

Many educated residents also eventually move out, said Cristina Colico, 36, a lawyer and San Julian native who now works at the central bank in Manila.

“Samar residents can endure the storms, that’s not why they leave,” she told AFP.

“They just want to look for better jobs elsewhere.”

But this option is not always open to unskilled workers.

“I wish we could move elsewhere, but in reality we know we have nowhere else to go,” said Dilao the coconut farmer.



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  1. When it comes to getting loans for the poor, there should be other choices, not just loan sharks or commercial/rural banks. Where are the NGO-type “gameen”-low-interest lenders? I know about NWTF (Negros Women’s), ASKI, Paglaum… there should be similar groups in Samar.

  2. Merciful God, please help the people of the Philippines.

    I am leaving the United States on 10 January 2015, to marry my Maria, a member of my church. I plan to live in the Philippines with my new family long enough to decide where it is best for us to be: The Philippines or the USA. Maria suports my decision, whatever it will be. She just wants me to stay in the Philippines long enough to develop a basis for comparison.

    Over these past few months of preparation for my leaving, and especially since Typhoon Ruby, and my fear and worry for the welfare of my new family, I have come to see that God wants me to be in the Philippines: First for my family and then for the Philippine people. I have had a change of heart in that I now desire to devote the rest of my life to missionary work: to the physical, mental and most importantly, Spiritual well-being all the people I meet, but for expecially the Philippine people; for they are in desparate need of God’s and the worlds assistance.

    I thank God every day for His giving me my Maria. If not for that most precious gift, I would be still stuck in a world of getting rather than giving. As Jesus Christ taught: I need to be in the world but not of the world. Amen!

    • Thank you for your genuine concern for the filipinos. Only people like you can help the poor people. They are just being used by filipino politicians.
      God bless you.


    • Larry Ebersole on

      Very glad to hear someone who really has the heart for devastated people of the Philippines and I thank God for connecting you to the country by giving you Maria. These people really need leaders who have hearts not deep pockets…because as you can see the government is claiming now that the re-hab plan money is all finished including all the billions of donated money yet no concrete project has been done yet. where is all the money gone ? it did a now you see it ,now you don’t act. by a bulok-cratic political play.