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Search and Rescue, a Community Response

At 2:30 in the afternoon of January 22, Sunday, the four-day search for the 50-year-old laborer Benito Noarin reported missing during the height of flooding at the Inarihan Spillway in barangay Carolina, Naga City, ended 10 kilometers away at a desolate area in barangay Siembre, Bonbon, Camarines Sur.

The search and rescue operations came from the combined efforts of volunteers from different groups of the Philippine Coast Guard and its units in Camarines Sur, the Gryphons Bicol R5, and the people’s organizations where Noarin and his wife are members, the LGUs of Camaligan, Bonbon, Calabanga and Canaman, and the vigilance of barangay residents along the flooded pathways.

“It was a fast and successful response, thanks to the improved weather and the active community response,” according to Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Armie Olea of the Mariners 5th Division, who was the first to sound off the 907 Coast Guard Auxillary Squadron after reading the emergency call for help that Ilaw ng Kababaihan president Grace Brizuela posted on the Tabang Bikol Movement group chat. She immediately sent a message to Captain Benito Bejo of the 907 Squadron, and from thereon, the search and rescue coordination proceeded uninterrupted.

The first day of the search yielded one body count, but it was not Noarin. Fellow Mariners LCDR Eric Lucena then helped mobilize the Gryphons Radio group, which had engaged its communications network for the search by then. Other CGAS units through 902 Capt. Noemi Lanzuela, Capt Jojo Bautista, and LCDR Franco Sandino Vasquez of Naga went on board to assist, even outside their jurisdiction. Regional Director Claudio Yucot of the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) said he was happy with the good news on the active community participation.

Volunteers from Ilaw ng Kababaihan led by Grace and Noarin’s wife, Mary Anne, joined up with Ryan of Bugkos ng Kabataan and the People’s Organization of Disaster Survivors (PODiS) members where Benito was a member. Then, on their own, the members and leaders of the community organizations initiated online blasts, “kalampag sa LGUs” and appeals to the neighboring towns.

On the fourth day, the Gryphons group posted the news that the Coast Guard in Camaligan, led by CPO Efren Abanilla, had already retrieved the almost decomposed body of Benito for turn-over to the family. The residents of Siembre in Bonbon who spotted the body alerted everyone through their friends, the barangay, and social media.

Mary Anne, now a widow at 42, said she had learned painfully to accept the “accident” that befell her husband. “There was no more time to worry and cry,” she told me when she came to my office yesterday with other members of Ilaw. She said that the day her husband met his tragic end, he had sent their daughter a message that he was coming home, despite the heavy rains. Their daughter, Bianca Marie, was celebrating her 18th birthday. He did come home.

“Mabuoton na marhay,” she spoke gently of her late husband. With her surviving six children, Mary Anne has another search she needs to face. She is appealing for assistance to cover the cremation expenses to claim her husband’s urns and bring them to a decent burial. Before Benito died, he searched for a new home to transfer from the temporary house the family was staying in at Barangay San Agustin, Canaman. Housing remains a lingering social concern in this fourth-class municipality of 36,250 people, mainly in the agricultural and service sectors.

Mary Anne is one of the women social entrepreneurs now involved in the Social Entrepreneurship Development (SED) Project with a grant from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Central Office that TBM is co-launching on Friday, January 27, at Berde Asul @Mariners, Baras, Canaman. It is a two-year research project with three HEIs (higher educational institutions), namely the Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation in Canaman at the lead with the Central Bicol State University in Agriculture (CBSUA) and the Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation, Legazpi, Albay. They joined to study the practices of developing social enterprises for resilience among disaster survivors in Bicol. The study is towards a framework and build-up of organizations for resilience and sustainability.

Meanwhile, as I was talking with Mary Anne in the presence of some members of the SED Project Team, another woman passed along my office door, which I intentionally kept wide open after lunch as part of energy conservation. The woman (I will call her Linda) who came in and stood upright in front of me is the mother of two Mariners students, with three other siblings. She has been searching for her husband who has been missing for almost five years. As a result, their life has turned upside down. The difference is that while Mary Anne’s husband, a worker, met a tragic accident, Linda’s husbaand is a high earning Marinero who is said to have “sumakabilang bakod.” In short, he left his family for another, with a mistress.

Her search is another story to tell. Amusing? No. It is a painful reality in our society.

In a disaster, one faces the danger of a loss that can cause extreme heartache, pain, and psychological/mental stress. Whether natural or by human causes, the loss puts the affected persons at high risk for emotional and health problems. But, like in Mary Anne’s case, Linda’s situation also requires community response - a search and rescue operation that needs everyone’s help and support.


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