Friday, December 6, 2013

Albuera, Leyte Relief Operations

Part 2: Moving a Mountain
Relief Operations in Albuera, Leyte
by Ivan Ignacio

 "Though our passion is conquering mountains, we found more fulfillment in moving one, a 5.936-ton mountain of donations across 960 kilometers to get it to the people of Albuera, Leyte." ~BP Liz

BP Liz nailed it with the opening of her Albuera, Leyte album in facebook. Huge effort and man power were needed to move a 5.9 ton of relief goods from Manila all the way to Leyte (via Cebu). And considering the time frame we had to adjust to, every BACKPACKER and friends devoted their genuine attention in making sure that we will successfully complete the feat.

It started as an idea to help a family who was greatly affected by the super typhoon Yolanda. Then the idea of helping a single family quickly evolved into helping several communities with more than a thousand families on it. On November 14, the bulk of donations coming from KaEskwela, GlaxoSmith Kline and Sanctuario de San Antonio started to pile up in two houses, one of which was the BP headquarters. It was moving to witness several individuals helping as the mountain of relief goods grew as the days passed by. Several individuals helped in carrying, transporting and labeling these boxes, not to mention monitoring and protecting them until they reach the target town of Albuera in Leyte. No task is overwhelming if you are surrounded by people who truly care, and for this I am very proud of everyone who helped. 


It was our first time to ride a ship this big!

Picking up from where we left off last week, ten individuals set out to finish what the group started. They sacrificed another round of time (and money) to make sure that we can go home saying Mission Accomplished! BPs Angel, Resty and Wilson were sent earlier to Cebu to man the relief goods in the AirAsia cargo terminal. Seven people followed the day after where Leah orchestrated a perfect coordination among all the contracted parties for our cargo's transportation. And to our delight, we were able to be with our cargo on a big ship. And it was everybody's first so it was brewing to be an outreach-slash-adventure of a lifetime.

BPs Heinz (center) and April (right) with the Philippine Army
We chartered from Cokaliong Port (Cebu) to Hilongos Port (Leyte) via Roble Shipping, who generously offered us a free cargo transport. We were certainly very joyous as we all boarded Joyful Stars, the first big ship that we all set foot on. We have chosen this mode of transport because the smaller fast crafts were fully booked that weekend. And it was a blessing in disguise because our cargo was on this ship as well. It was a five hour ride across the sea and most of us maximized the experience by roaming around the ship. As for me, I did not even get to experience the ride as I slept before the ship departed Cokaliong and woke up after it docked at Hilongos. 

At Hilongos Port, we were escorted by the Philippine Army who BP Heinz contracted for security and transport as well. They convoyed with our cargo from Hilongos up to Albuera, Leyte. That day, we rode a car, a plane, a ship and now, an army truck - it couldn't get any better!


We arrived at Brgy. Balugo Dos in Albuera and regrouped with the advance party (BPs Angel, Resty and Wilson). Our army escorts had to leave because they needed to head to a different location to assist other groups. Ever since the typhoon, the Philippine Army's schedule had been so hectic and we were fortunate that they were able to squeeze us in their timetable. As a matter of fact, if not for the delay of transporting the relief goods from Manila to Cebu, we could have hopped on to a bigger boat: a navy boat! A week ago, the Philippine Navy agreed to escort us in transporting the goods from Cebu to Leyte. We had to cancel the arrangement as there were no goods to transport last week. We are grateful enough to both the Philippine Army and Philippine Navy for being so generous and accommodating.

We just had a quick time off and sipped coffee, and then it was off to work again. We had to carry the boxes from our cargo truck to the Cawaling's residence. We were facing not just a hundred, but more than a thousand sacks and boxes - which made the task quite tedious. But with the help of the locals who willingly helped in moving the boxes, the task seemed effortless. It was a delight to see locals - adults and even children cooperating with The Backpackers in the task at hand, Bayanihan at its best.

Our relief got stuck in the airline's cargo area for a week. Because of that, we had to inspect the boxes and sacks. For a few of the sacks, some liquid already burst and some were not good for drinking anymore. We could've just commenced with the relief giving but BP Angel wanted to make sure that all the boxes had no damaged goods and that every family packs were equal. So the group got divided into two. And with the help of some locals, there were people in charge of the repacking and people in charge of quality checking. Everybody worked hand in hand that morning to distribute complete quality family packs in the afternoon.


BP First Couple Angel and Ivan calling out the recipients' name

That afternoon, people started to flock around the Cawaling residence. Mrs. Marcelina Cawaling came up with a list of people in the neighborhood who were greatly affected by the super typhoon. A leader was assigned to organize the recipients in each of the four barangays. The plan was for the leaders to call on their people once the relief were finished. In this manner, a possible mob consisting of thousands of people will be prevented.

The locals from Brgy. Balugo Dos were the first to receive the donations. It was hard to organize the group who all waited for their turn in receiving the family packs. Constant pushing and commotion were all around the place. But as soon as each person got his or her pack, they say their sweetest Thank You's and head home to continue on with their lives.

Some of the parents came with their children. The family packs were just given to adults so in order to entertain the local kids and ward them off from the bigger crowd, BP April opened a box full of candies and biscuits. In this manner, the children had an instant line of their own.

After Balugo Dos, the crowd for Balugo Uno and a Sitio up in the mountains (where thirty families live) came. It was  the same procedure. The Backpackers and the community's leader took turns in reading the names of the recipients. After the big crowd, a number of people not listed came. They claimed that they did not make it on the list. Lucky for everyone, we had a lot of spare to give out so each one of them came home happy. It was overwhelming to hear they really appreciated the family packs and our effort.


Among all of the sitios and barangays that we targeted, there was no doubt that Sitio Lawis had the worst experience from the calamity. No house was unscathed after typhoon Yolanda left. After giving the relief to the nearby small communities, we carried and loaded approximately a hundred family packs to a hired truck. Instead of having the leader call out the people of Sitio Lawis, we decided to personally hand deliver them ourselves.

Our truck trudged the dirt path and we saw ourselves again in that heartbreaking place. Only a few trees were left standing - but although still erect, I'm pretty sure most if not all were already dead by the looks of their stance. The houses were brutally battered by the typhoon. Worst was for the houses along the coastline, theirs were completely washed out!

Despite the gloomy environment, the people were still happy and smiling. Maybe they were excited when they saw our truck entered the area or maybe they were really just a happy and optimistic community. Nonetheless, we were as excited as them to share what we had in the truck.

Family packs and towels were distributed to every person on the list. There were eighty families all in all but we brought spare packs just in case we encounter people who were not on the list. Mommy Weng spearheaded the calling of names as the happy locals came to get their packs one by one. BP Heinz separated the kids of Sitio Lawis and just like in Brgy. Balugo, the children had a line of their own. A box full of treats were prepared for them while their parents were busy in the main line. Little did Heinz know that the parents, after receiving their packs, lined up here as well to get some goodies. Surprise!

The jolly locals of Sitio Lawis were such incredible people. Regardless of the trauma and the difficult things they experienced two weeks ago (and are still experiencing up to now), they still manage to be optimistic on things. Their smiles were priceless. And when we were about to exit the area, the kids chased our truck and with their innocent and vivacious spirits, they waved goodbye and shouted, "Thank You po!".

The children of Sitio Lawis


BP Resty came back with a personal mission aside from the relief operations. During our ocular a week ago, this sympathetic BP saw an old lady staring blankly at the streets of Balugo from her damaged house. He went closer and took a photo of Nanay. It was a sad and gloomy photo which broke his and our hearts. He promised this old lady that he will be back for her.   

That afternoon, BP Resty secured bags of relief goods for Nanay. And when the work was partially done for the day, we went to see her in her seemingly abandoned shack. This is where BP Resty gave the gifts. The humble old lady even wanted to give back the nice container of relief good thinking that we were only giving her its contents. It was a heartbreaking scene when our brother BP Resty mentioned, "Nay, ngayong gabi, kakain kayo ng masarap.. (you will eat good food tonight)"


BPs Liz, April, Leah and Heinz went home two days earlier than everybody due to work commitments. The next day, BPs Wilson, York, Resty and Mommy Weng decided to try an adventure-of-a-lifetime: heading to Tacloban to board a C130 plane. They asked for permission to skip the last relief giving to try their luck in Tacloban. They also wanted to do an ocular regarding the situation in this devastated city.

The four boarded a van heading to Ormoc City where the buses plying Tacloban stop to pick up passengers. BP Wilson had a contact in the Air Force and was able to secure spots on the next C130 flight. Unfortunately, when the gang reached the bus station, the last trip heading to Tacloban was already full. The zeal in getting to Tacloban to ride the C130 plane was ardently burning so they tried their luck in squeezing themselves in, but all efforts were in vain. The passengers inside the bus did not allow them to enter in the middle. So they went back to the Cawaling residence where they joined us (Ivan and Angel) in celebrating a job well done, tuba-style!


Because of the overwhelming number of donations, we were able to expand our target areas and included a coastal barangay in Ormoc City. Just like Brgy. Balugo in Albuera, this coastal community is one of the hardest hit areas by typhoon Yolanda. During this time, only me and BP Angel were left (we conducted this simultaneously with the failed Tacloban mission of BPs York, Wilson, Resty and Mommy Weng) But we were not alone as we were accompanied by the locals of Balugo Dos.

We asked the locals to line up, but as soon as the goods got placed on the ground, word spread like wildfire and even those who were not in this community came running towards our truck. It was chaotic. As much as we would like it to be executed in an organized manner, we couldn't. We can only be prudent in handing out the goods as some of the locals would tend to line up over and over again.

After we wrapped up, it was sweet to see the smiles of the people in this community. For once, a relief truck actually went inside their area instead of dropping the goods in the highway. It was more than enough for them, just like in Sitio Lawis. As our truck trudged the path back to the highway, we heard a lot of sincere Thank Yous from every house that we passed by.


A two week feat was accomplished. Our unlimited thank you's to everyone who contributed in the success of this event.

Our Big Thanks to

KaEskwela, Sanctuario de San Antonio, Marisse Joson & friends and Glaxo Smith Kline (esp. Miss Cathy) for the big bulk of donations!

Thank you to Miss Grace LeungAtty. Noel Prado and Atty. Katrina Bote of KaEskwela for monitoring us every step of the way!

For arranging our transportation, thank you to Atty. Katrina Bote, Vina Bote, Aldwin Ku, Eya Capati-Peredo, Roble Shipping, Prestige Warehousing and Logistics and AirAsia

For the temporary quarters provided to us in Cebu City, thank you ABS CBN, Redemptorist Church and the Armed Forces of the Philippines especially to Captains Monteron and Tamarong, Lt. Reyes and Lt. Purpura and Team Lead Tayomo

Mr. Jessie Cayanong and drivers, Lolito Nacilla, Ronnel Cayanong and Edgar Cayanong of Prestige Warehousing and Logistics

Mr. Peting Roble and Mr. Avelino Fulache of Roble Shipping, Atty. Paul and Mrs. Eva Alcazaren

Thank you to the Filipino Students of the University of Tokyo-Kashiwa Campus who facilitated donations from international friends, classmates and Japanese professors.

Thank you to the PLUS Mutants headed by Stephen Dayandayan who organized a concert for a cause

Thank you to the Cawaling family who housed us and kept us safe during our stay in Albuera


Mr. Marcelo Germar
Ms. Myrna Laceda Ferran Frederiksen
Dra. Cocai Hemedes
Aaron Quime
Dyann Severo
Albert Calvelo
Albert Salvatierra
Jun of Mandaluyong
Amber Prudenciado

Miss Ermie Bahatan
Rhenzie Bahatan
Chester Bahatan
BP Ghei's Berde Girlfriends
Janet Nogoy
Carol Anne Ilagan
Madessa Asuncion

Reinalyn Bato
Gloria Gonzales
Marian Laurice Mores
Kia Camaelle Vinas
Giselle Cruz
Angelito Zabala Jr.
Mark Arthur Cruz
Jeffrey Dinio

Kurt Revolteado
Charito Carlos
Charina Ho
Olive Paragas
Ma. Liza Revolteado

Lady Elaine San Luis
Lorenz Albert Jamon
Rochelle Inclan
Karen Pangilinan
Lianne Car Peralta
Joy Catan
Mark Christian Morillo
Ethelryne Domingo

Rheyma Caingcoy
Miles Tapel Valer
Cecile de Castro
Rheena delos Reyes
Kristine Sibayan

24/7 Solaris friends
Rochelle Calubag
Anne Casebo
Madeline Bee
Rej Melgar
Eric Aizon
Andrew Castellano
Lance Baldoz
Myla Burgos
Ann Misch Lao
DM reyes
Paula dela Cruz
Marvin Remulla
Jennifer Domingo
Lenard Reyes
Lizza del Rosario
Rye Ocoma
Mon of team Dang
Phil, Third, Say and Bea of team Ran
TM Peewee
Mylene Dayao
Abi Wenceslao

Antonette Dimaguila
Beverly Olap
Lady Ann Lorzano
Merla Escobar

Ever Queen Leono
Mallows Dolot Nidoy
Elizabeth Buena
Lynx Hufancia
Tintin Carilimdiliman
Melissa Reyles
Cheekay Torres
Jonalisa Agad
Clarissa del Rosario

BP Resty's family


Wilson Galapon, April Bedana, Heinz Alvarez, Leah Nogoy, 
Resty Ritualo, Ivan Ignacio, Angel Cawaling, Liz Honrade, York Advento 

and our sincerest thank you to Mommy Weng Bulaon for joining us in this project!

and to the rest of The BACKPACKERS family who did not attend the two week mission but made sure to help in bringing out volunteers and donations

This is Bayanihan at its best!


"Though our passion is conquering mountains, we found more fulfillment in moving one, a 5.936ton mountain of donations across 960 kilometers to get it to the people of Albuera Leyte.
It wasn't an easy feat. It was a lot of negotiating. Waiting. Lifting. Sometimes even begging. Maybe a bit of shouting or imposing and we apologize to those who had been at the receiving end of our less than graceful moments.

But more than that we want to express our utmost gratitude. First, to the people who helped build the mountain. To Kaeskwela and GlaxoSmithKline. To the group of talented artists who held a concert for us- PLUS. To our friends, families, coworkers and even to strangers who had heard of what we planned to do and chose to take part.

Looking at how irregular our packages were in the cargo office brought such pride even though they pose difficulty in shipping. It showed that this was a collaborative effort, that the donations were as diverse as the people who gave them. Random people who gave what they could. Thank you so much for the effort and the trust.

Thank you AirAsia for airlifting the donations for free and for sponsoring the tickets of some us. To KaEskwela for supplying the trucks and coordinating with different people and groups to get things moving.

To the drivers who looked after our cargo for days. To Ms. Eva and Mr. Cayandong who gave a brief refuge for our cargo in Cebu and helped us with the last leg of transporting them from Cebu to Leyte, our biggest thanks. Thank you as well to the uniformed men of Philippine Army who escorted us to Albuera.

To the locals of Albuera who prepared the list of recipients to make sure help will reach those who really needed it and provided manpower for the distribution, thank you. Thank you also for making us feel welcomed and safe on the few days that we were there.

To our friends who came with us to Leyte and who were also present since Day 1 –moving boxes and calling people, the success of this project is yours as much as ours. 

Lastly to my Backpackers family, though most of the time we were just “winging it”, we handled every obstacle thrown in our way with openness and humor and most importantly, together. I couldn’t be any prouder. Love you all."

from BP Liz Honrade

Thank you very much!

Photo credits to Liz
and Mommy Weng
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