First responders: Duty calls

Marine Staff Sgt. Allen Abarcar waded through waist-high murky floodwaters in Rizal province in a bid to rescue trapped residents caught in the catastrophic rains unleashed by Typhoon Ulysses as it barreled through Luzon Wednesday evening until about Thursday noon.

First responders: Duty calls
Members of the military's Disaster Response Team rescue trapped residents in Rizal province during the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses. The team's platoon Sargeant, Marine Staff Sgt. Allen Abarcar, said they were able to rescue about 100 families.
The 44-year-old father of three and platoon sergeant of the Disaster Response Team deployed in Rizal said they were able to rescue and evacuate about 100 families.

Abarcar’s own family – his wife Leila and their three kids, the youngest only eight years old – was also faced with waist-high murky floodwaters outside their home almost a hundred kilometers away in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

“It pains me that I am not with them,” he told Manila Standard in a phone interview yesterday late afternoon, a few hours since he and his team were able to return to Fort Bonifacio to finally get some rest and wash their uniforms.

“But my wife knows the kind of work that I do, and why I have to be somewhere else. We just updated each other from time to time,” Abarcar added.

Eleven years ago, Abarcar was faced with the same dilemma as he joined other soldiers dispatched as first responders in Marikina City at the height of Tropical Storm Ondoy that left over 400 people dead.

“We were drenched in floodwaters for two days during Ondoy. In truth, we also needed to be rescued, but we could not stop because it was a race against time to help those who were stranded or trapped,” he recalled his experience in 2009.

Abarcar is just one of the many soldiers who served as front liners during the past three strong typhoons to batter the country – Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses.

“It’s a call of duty for us,” said Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo in a separate interview. “We have committed to a life of service to others which may not include our own families.”

Rescue units of the AFP have successfully rescued at least 2,727 persons in the National Capital Region, Rizal province, and Bicol Region from the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses.

The AFP serves as the lead agency for the Search, Rescue, and Retrieval (SRR) Cluster of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council Response Cluster.

“We have learned to accept the fact that it is part of our duty to leave our loved ones behind to fend for themselves while we help other people survive. Our families may have resigned to that fate, but sometimes the struggle is within us to reconcile with this irony,” Arevalo added.

For Abarcar and his team, armed with an assault amphibious vehicle, rubber boats, and their equally important stash of potable water and biscuits, this meant rescuing even pets who got caught in the massive flooding that inundated parts of Rizal province.

“Lahat ng may buhay, lahat ng pwedeng iligtas,” he said.

Topics: Allen Abarcar , Rizal province , Typhoon Ulysses , Disaster Response Team
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