From the survivors of “Yolanda,” I vicariously shared in the terror of being overtaken by a super typhoon and the misery that follows after the winds have died down. “Lawin” allows me to write of it, this time as a victim, still in the throes of suffering its unwelcome visitation.
We had been apprised in Cagayan that after “Karen”—that bothered us only with intermittent downpours—“Lawin” was following in its heels, and this time, this was a typhoon to be reckoned with. All meteorological tracks had it either grazing Cagayan’s northern edge or hitting it, dead center. Cagayanos are no strangers to strong typhoons, and that also explains why for all their toil and honest labor, they are in fact short-changed by nature that often snatches from them heads already heavy with grain and ready for the harvest! But “Lawin” was immensely different and immensely more destructive, beyond anything we could have ever imagined.
With difficulty, my brother, nephew and I coaxed our mother to leave her house in the care of house-boys so that she could be safer with me in my own house that I thought was new enough to withstand the onslaught of “Lawin.” But as the winds started to whistle and the windows started to rattle, I was deathly scared, not only for myself but for an 84-year-old mother in my care. I entrusted the house to my housemates—all humble and faithful people—and I drove my mother accompanied only by a friend through debris-strewn roads, lashing winds and blinding rain, safely reaching a hotel and checking in.
We followed the news safely ensconced, or so we thought, from our hotel room. At that time, the winds were picking up but the Cable TV still kept us up to date. But at eleven, the six-storey hotel where we had sought sanctuary started to shake and to shudder in the wind. I have absolutely not doubts about the building’s structural soundness, but “Lawin” was teaching us all what a respectable Category 5 typhoon was capable of. I clutched my rosary beads because I had earlier asked the Blessed Mother in prayer to keep her station by my side. But the tenacity with which I held on to my prayer beads did not come from fervor but was, quite frankly, born from raw and naked fear! There is no way to explain what a dreadful thing it is to be in the eye of a furiously raging super typhoon. And it lingered. Unlike typhoons of the past that sped by after, at most, two hours of pummeling, “Lawin” lingered from midnight until four in the morning. A friend sent me a desperate text message: He and his children had sought shelter under their beds. They were so sure that their flimsy cottage would be gone with a few more gusts. Thankfully, it held.
Morning gave me the sight of a humbled, chastened Tuguegarao City. “Punished” is not an appropriate term, for God does not use the elements of nature to punish the people for whom he is tireless in mercy. But Tuguegarao City has grown through the decades. I saw it flower into a boastful metropolis from the simple town of my childhood days that it was. And what I saw this morning was a Tuguegarao stripped of its finery, the roofs of many of the houses that had marked it as a promising city, shaved off by the merciless winds.
From the road leading out of the hotel, there was a clear, unobstructed view of the Cathedral in all its majesty. The Cathedral showed no signs of the horror that had just scourged the city. It was as it has always been! I had to work my way through toppled electric posts and street lights, overhanging electric and telephone cables, broken glass in search of people I could ask to help me mend my house. I was dismayed, I still am. But as I saw people take up without complaint and without bitterness the business of picking up the pieces of their shattered lives, I felt I had no business being disheartened at all, since life had, by all accounts, dealt me a rather good card. And when I visited my friends in Barangay Linao, brothers, whose help I asked to look for skilled laborers to do work on my house, in less than 10 minutes they had summoned their relatives who assured me that they would help.
I was a student of the University of Sto. Tomas for my philosophy studies—from the bachelor’s degree to the candidacy for the ecclesiastical doctorate degree. And each time I entered the campus, I was met by the words boldly etched high up on the facade of the main building: “Tria haec: Fides, Spes, Caritas” These three: faith, hope and charity. These, I found too in Lawin’s wake!