Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Province of Romblon to be enlisted under state of calamity

ROMBLON, Romblon – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today ordered the inclusion of the province of Romblon in the list of provinces placed under a state of calamity after the destructive wake of typhoon Frank some three weeks ago.

President Arroyo announced the directive at the Romblon National High School here where she was briefed by local officials about the the possible outbreak of typhoid fever here and in Odiongan town; plus the diarrheal cases in the San Fernando town.

In his letter to the President, Romblon Gov. Natalio Beltran III appealed for the inclusion of Romblon in the said calamity list ‘so that we can avail of whatever support and assistance that may be granted by the national government’ for Frank-affected local government units (LGUs).
Beltran explained to President Arroyo that the Romblon provincial government was not able to immediately report its situation to the national government ‘due to total failure of power, transportation and communication systems which bogged down during the occurrence of the typhoon.’

Because of this, ‘gathering of the necessary reports from the different island municipalities was almost impossible which resulted to the delayed submission by the Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC) on the extend of damage caused by typhoon ‘Frank.’’

The Romblon governor added that the PDCC was also ‘so pre-occupied in assisting the rescue operations on M/V Princess of the Stars of Sulpicio Lines which sunk in the Sibuyan Sea near the municipality of San Fernando, Romblon,’ thus its failure to immediately report on the total provincial damage which would have easily included it in the list of LGUs placed under a state of calamity.

Governor Beltran further related in his letter to the President dated today (July 15, Tuesday) that his province was so ‘badly devastated by typhoon ‘Frank’ last June 21-22, 2008 which caused some lives (11 dead, two missing and seven injured) of our fellow Romblomanons, not to mention the millions of pesos worth of properties and infrastructure facilities damaged by the said typhoon.’

In his letter ot the President, Beltran attached Resolution No. 06-2008-65 of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Romblon dated June 27, 2008 declaring the province of Romblon under a state of calamity. Also included was the Romblon PDCC disaster report.

In this capital town alone, Mayor Gerard Montojo said the 31 barangays suffered a total of P70 million in infrastructure damage, including some 7,000 houses worth P31 million damaged either totally or partially. Some P31 million worth of crops were also destroyed here, including P10.5 million worth of banana plants, P8.5 million in fisheries, P6 million in coconut trees, and P3.5 million in fruit trees.

It is the second time that President Arroyo is visiting this province to check on government’s efforts to help alleviate the lives of residents affected by the super typhoon that sunk the biggest ship of Sulpicio Lines.

Two Tuesdays ago, President Arroyo was in Sibuyan island where she commiserated with affected residents by distributing relief goods, and then later pouring holy water into the Sibuyan Sea where the sunken Sulpicio ship still remains embedded in the coral reef.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Weekend Report

12 July 2008 (Saturday)

The last set of relief goods was completely procured. Repacking and procurement commenced on 06 July 2008. Students from Claret School of Quezon City, primary to high school level have been active in repacking, an orientation on the whole relief operation and its objective has been required before the repacking activity. The motto ‘we believe in life before death’ is promoted in the light of the humanitarian objective. Students from the University of the Philippines and Centro Escolar University shared their time to repack. Sibuyanons coming from the Greater Manila areas have been helping in the repacking process as well.

13 July 2008 (Sunday)

80% of food relief items, 90% of standard packs and 180 sets of tools have been repacked. 1,500 food relief in plastic bags and boxes have loaded to the contracted 10‐wheeler truck. Repacking volunteers are from Claret Campus Ministry Office, Claretian Urban Poor Apostolate, and Sibuyanons from Greater Manila areas. Seminarians from the Claretian Seminary joined as well.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

TARGET: Relief Operations Phase 2

Students of Claret School of Quezon City help in repacking noodles as part of the food-item pack for the 3500+ beneficiaries. The number of beneficiaries increased as more families are affected by the consequences of the typhoon and the MV Princess of the Stars tragedy. Fishing ban is still imlplemented in San Fernando, Romblon.

The target beneficiaries for the Phase 2 are 419 more washed-out (standard package) and 2,600 partially damaged households (food items). 180 set of carpentry tools shall also be distributed to families assessed validly to receive. A total of more or less 35 tons of relief goods.

Standard Package is composed of: 5 kilos rice, 1 pack of dried fish, 6 canned goods, Chocolate drink, Milk, Sugar, Salt, Oil, Blanket, Sleeping Mat, Mosquito net, Pot, Laddle, Basin, Knife, 2 Plates, 6 Tumblers, 2 Spoons, 1 pack of Toothpaste, 6 Toothbrushes, 1 Bath Soap and Sanitary Napkins.

Food items include: 5 kilos rice, 1 pack of dried fish, 6 canned goods, Chocolate drink, Milk, Sugar, Salt and Oil.

Carpentry tools are hammer, saw and nails.

Clothes shall be distributed to beneficiaries according to their needs as assessed by the parishes' Social Action Centers.

The relief operation is done by Sibuyan Island Sentinels League for Environment, Inc. (Sibuyan ISLE/SAM) in partnership with United Kingdom-based organization Christian Aid (CA) in coordination with Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, Inc. (LRC-KsK/FoE Phils.).

Claret School of Quezon City (CSQC) with the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) participate in the Phase 2. They are joined by St. Scholastica's College, De La Salle - College of St. Benilde and more other groups and individuals.

REPORT: Relief Operations Phase One

500 families are the beneficiaries of the Quick Response Relief Operation. The packs were distributed directly to families and churches in partnership with Vicariate of Sibuyan Island.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tragedy uncovers an island of treasures

SAN FERNANDO, SIBUYAN ISLAND -- In the shadow of mystical Mt. Guiting-Guiting is “paradise” -- wonders sufficient to grab the world’s attention from the shipwreck off its pebbled shores.

Unknown to many and sidelined in the global buzz over the sinking of the MV Princess of the Stars, this town in Romblon is home to the crystal waters of the Cantingas River, the gushing Busay Falls, the lush protected areas of the mountain (now a national park), and the tiny island of Cresta de Gallo with its white-sand beaches rivaling Boracay.

“It seems the only concern now is the ship,” Mary Jane Arboleda, a professor at Romblon State College, told the Inquirer.

“We have never experienced a typhoon like [‘Frank’]. This is the first time we experienced this kind of disaster ... because this is paradise. We have many tourist spots, and we used to have many foreign visitors,” she said. “Luxury liners used to dock close to the island, and they would come to town to see how we live, observe the culture.”


The town’s treasures, long the pride of the San Fernando folk, remain largely unexplored because the island is insulated by distance and the Sibuyan Sea.

But the need to develop the ecotourist destinations again arose with the 1,000-strong fisherfolk population bereft of a means of livelihood because of the shipwreck and its dangerous cargo.

Town officials banned all fishing, diving and swimming in the Sibuyan Sea last week, after transportation officials announced the presence of a container van of the toxic pesticide endosulfan in the sunken vessel’s cargo hold.

Authorities fear leakage. Mercifully, Sibuyan’s waters have tested negative of contamination since last week.

But as a result of the ban, the entire town is now dependent on relief packs of rice and canned goods from national and nongovernment agencies.

‘All this beauty’

“We have all this beauty but we need the help of national agencies to develop infrastructure and facilities,” San Fernando Mayor Nanette Tansingco said.

“We have tourist spots, but tourists find it hard to come here because of the problem of accessibility. As you know, trips here are not regular, and the boats leave only at certain times.

“And with the roads alone we have a problem because only 10 percent of the circumferential roads are paved. There is that potential, but we are finding it hard to package the place because we lack the infrastructure.”

The mayor said she had presented her town’s tourism potential to national government agencies. But development has yet to come San Fernando’s way.

She expressed hope that President Macapagal-Arroyo’s recent promise of developing the town’s road network would be the start of finally realizing this goal.

Getting there

To get to San Fernando from Manila, one takes a flight to neighboring Tablas Island and then a boat ride of roughly three hours to Sibuyan Island. The boats set sail only in the day, and with the weather and waves permitting.

Or one takes a ship from the Batangas port to San Fernando’s neighboring Magdiwang town, a ride of roughly 14 hours that also goes around towns in Tablas before docking at Sibuyan.

From the Magdiwang port town, jeepneys ferry passengers in a two-hour commute to San Fernando.

Once there, one can hire a tricycle and then hike from the rough road to the foot of Guiting-Guiting, which ushers water through San Fernando’s unspoiled rivers along steep gorges and into the Sibuyan Sea.

Reputed to be among the country’s cleanest, the Cantingas River in Taclobo, the barangay nearest the shipwreck, is accessible by a paved path from the main road.

Sweet water

Often empty, a cottage house by the river served as home to Coast Guard officers who stayed in town last week to conduct search, rescue and retrieval operations at the shipwreck.

Farther down the main road, a waterfall that locals tag as “Piknikan” (or a place to hold a picnic) drains from Guiting-Guiting into the Cantingas River.

Piknikan, which one reaches after a hike of roughly 15 minutes through narrow weed paths and riverside boulders from Sitio Cabitangahan, provides fresh water that locals find fit to drink.

“The water there is sweet. We even use it as chaser for our drinks,” quipped a villager.

Some 2.5 meters from the town center, the Busay Falls showers cool water into a natural pool in Barangay Panangcalan.

According to Tansingco, the rivers drain out to sea and are in no danger of contamination even if toxic chemicals leak into Sibuyan waters.

Some 45 minutes from the island is Cresta de Gallo, a 5-hectare “virgin islet” surrounded by transparent blue waters and coral reefs.

“It’s a great diving spot,” said Tansingco. “You can circle the shoreline in 30 minutes. It’s like Boracay ... [except that] it doesn’t have facilities, not even fresh water.”

Saw-toothed ridges

Guiting-Guiting (or “G2”) is thus called because of its “saw-toothed” ridges.

Its steep slopes and vertical rock walls continue to challenge even the experienced mountaineers, who regard it as one of the “most difficult climbs” in the country, along with the jagged-edged Halcon (in Oriental Mindoro) and Mantalingajan (in Palawan).

G2 is also known for its rich biodiversity, and studies cite five mammal species—the Greater Sibuyan and Lesser Sibuyan forest mice, the Sibuyan giant moss mouse, the Sibuyan pygmy fruit bat and the Sibuyan striped shrew rat—found on no other mountain.

The rare Philippine tube-nosed rat and Philippine hawk eagle are also among the mountain’s inhabitants, thriving in a lush forest cover with a variety of endemic fauna.


San Fernando’s nature spots are a staple in the townsfolk’s conversations with visitors. And the chit-chat always comes with a warning.

“This is an enchanted place,” Meriam Rafol, a long-time resident and teacher at the local state college, told the Inquirer.

“If you notice, there’s no nightlife here and there are no bars. Those who dared put up one lost their business because the mountain’s spirits do not like that,” she said.

According to Rafol, there was once a riverside bar/restaurant in Cantingas but the river swallowed it whole.

Then there was a visitor who went for a swim in Cantingas and later insisted that he had met a woman in white—someone that none of his companions saw.

The townsfolk also spoke of hearing the mountain cry and wail as mining explorers drilled into rock walls in search of nickel, and of the mountain bleeding each time a drill struck its face.

Golden ship

And talking about another mystical presence, the locals told stories of the “MV Sibuyan,” a purported golden ship that would show itself to a vessel in trouble at sea and guide it to safe shelter.

“Sailors think it’s a real ship on its way to a safe dock. They do not know that the ship goes straight to Cantingas; that’s why many ships run aground here,” Rafol said.

The way the townsfolk tell it, the mountain’s mystical dwellers only want respect and care from visitors.

(by Tarra Quismundo of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Southern Luzon Bureau)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sibuyan ISLE lauds Romblon LGU

Sibuyan ISLE, Inc. lauds the local government stance to file a class suit against Sulpicio Lines for the large amount of expenses in the rescue operations and damages to the livelihoods of Sibuyanons. Sibuyan ISLE, Inc. for its part shall conduct rehabilitation and alternative livelihood trainings and programs for the affected communities.

More Help

Please forward your help to Sibuyan Island to our Relief Operations Warehouse at the auditorium of Claret School of Quezon City (Mahinhin St., Teacher's Village, Quezon City). Please coordinate with Ms. Sol of the Campus Ministry (09178452035) or Rod (09182697059).

Sibuyan ISLE, Inc. joins the call for Endosulfan Ban

Sibuyan ISLE, Inc. Coordinator Rodne Galicha being interviewed by a GMA 7 News reporter during the EcoWaste Coalition mobilization at the Fertilizers and Pesticides Authority (FPA) on 3 July, 2008, urging the government to ban the use of the toxic endosulfan that may possibly harm the environment and the lives and livelihood of the people of Sibuyan Island and of the country as a whole.

"The possible contamination of Sibuyan Island and its marine environment with endosulfan, other chemical cargoes and bunker fuel from the sunken vessel is already affecting the life and livelihood of our people whodepend mainly on the abundance of the sea," he said in the official statement by the lone environmental group in Sibuyan Island.

"We therefore urge all the parties involved, including the national overnment, Sulpicio Lines, Del Monte Philippines, Inc. and Bayer Crop Science, among others, to pursue quick and efficient strategies and mechanisms to protect our people, prevent marine pollution and reserve the rich biodiversity and abundance of the Sibuyan Sea," he stated further.

To respond to the calls of the government and the people, the relief operation shall continue through its Phase-Out activities of psychosocial formation and livelihood training programs.

Sibuyan Relief Operation Team prepares for Phase 2

A crucial task is being undertaken by the Task Force Sibuyan team for the Phase 2 of the relief operation. A management team and system based on the assessment of the Christian Aid Rapid Response Assessment Team (CARRAT) was developed to ensure accountability, transparency and efficiency of the whole humanitarian operation following the international standards of the Sphere Project (Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response).

The Claret School of Quezon City offered its Auditorium for the storage and repacking of a targeted 3,000 packs of relief goods which include 15,000 kilos of rice, food and non-food items composed of carpentry tools, kitchen utensils and hygiene set, among others. An estimate of 30 tons of relief is expected to be transported early next week by ferry or C-130 plane depending on its availability.

Donations are still being accepted. You may bring or forward your help to Sibuyan ISLE, Inc. stationed at the Claret Auditorium. Please contact 09182697059 or e-mail kalikasan101@gmail.com.

This Phase 2 of the project is being done in partnership with Christian Aid, Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan/Friends of the Earth Philippines (LRC-KsK/FoE Phils.) and the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines in coordination with the Social Action Centers and Basic Ecclesial Communities of the parishes of the Vicariate of Sibuyan.

Romblon townsfolk hail priest for rescue work

The community of Espana under Fr. Joey Valencia after the tragic storm.

SAN FERNANDO, ROMBLON – In the morning of June 21, Fr. Joey Valencia, 35, didn’t say Mass because Typhoon “Frank” was coming.

From 8 a.m. until noon that Saturday, he helped fishermen evacuate and transfer their pump boats from the shoreline to a safe ground about 100 meters away.

While hauling pump boats at about 10 a.m., the priest was hit by waves that sent him two to three meters away from where he stood.

“I would stand up and continue until I was hit for the third time. I had to stop because it was already getting too dangerous,” he said.

It was nature’s wrath unfolding before his eyes: Two to three big waves engulfing houses, waters rising up, people screaming as they scampered in fear of a “tidal wave.”

Twelve rest houses in the convent area became evacuation centers where families were transferred.

At 3 p.m., the howling wind became frightening. “We couldn’t move. Trees and iron sheets were flying, my parishioners were wailing,” the priest recalled.

The priest said he saw the rest house next to where he was staying torn into pieces.

Then, he found himself being thrown by the wind to about 10 meters from where he was standing.

He secured 15 children aged 3 months to 12 years old inside their parish church compound. The older children watched over the younger ones.

“Parents insisted on retrieving their things but I held them back because it was already dark. There was no electricity and communications signal.”

The following day, only three parishioners came to attend Mass although the rains had stopped.
Sinking ship.

Soon they heard the news about the sunken MV Princess of the Stars near their town.

Father Joey thought there could be surviving or dead passengers in nearby Isla de Gallo. True enough, he found life jackets and three bloated female bodies – one in sitio Talaba, another in sitio Ulango, and the third one in Barangay Mabolo.

“I didn’t know if they were Catholics but I immediately blessed them using the sacrament kit in my hand. Then I took their photos for identification and reporting,” he said.

On Monday, the fourth body from the sunken ship was found bloated right across the parish, which is one to two kilometers from the site of the tragedy.

The body had a rosary around its neck.

Father Joey and barangay officials decided to open the wallet tucked inside the pants.

They learned that the name of the dead person was Evangeline Alcantara, born on Nov 18, 1959.

They were not sure if she was married but a photo found inside the wallet showed her carrying a child 2 to 3 years old, the priest said.

He also saw a picture of the Our Lady of Manaoag. He then blessed the dead.

“But what touched me most was when a concerned parishioner took off his clothes and tore it into two to cover the woman’s body which was already decomposing,” the priest recalled.

His parishioners lighted up candles and offered prayers.

He called up the police and had the body taken care of.
(This article is from Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2 July, 2008, written by Madonnal Virola of the Southern Luzon Bureau. Fr. Joey Valencia is one of the consultants of Sibuyan ISLE, Inc. and leading anti-mining advocate.)

Gratitude to the Donors and Supporters

The Sibuyan Island Sentinels League for Environment, Inc. (Sibuyan ISLE) would like to thank the following:

Paltok Sibuyan Community
St. Scholastica’s College
Order of St. Benedict Sisters
Claret School of Quezon City
Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines

Claretian Congregation
Missionary Society of the Philippines
EcoWaste Coalition
Greenpeace Southeast Asia
Green Convergence
Miriam College Environmental Studies Institute
Cervini Hall, Ateneo de Manila University

Manila Observatory, Ateneo de Manila University
Montenegro Shipping Lines
M/V Anavel
Sibuyan Express Forwarding
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Radio Veritas
Agence Francaise Press
3rd JPICC-AMRSP Solidarity Mission Team
Ms. Chat Jocson-Pinalas
Fr. Junvic Diolata, SSS
Sr. Estrella Castalone, FMA
Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB
Fr. Jessie Mercado, SSS
Bp. Broderick Pabillo, DD
International Organization for Migration
Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan/Friends of the Earth Philippines
Christian Aid

Fot the cooperation of Sibuyan Island priests: Fr. Tony Festin, Fr. Nes Gadon, Fr. Persh Faeldog, Fr. Joey Valencia, Fr. Bong Magbata, Fr, Jong Recto and Fr. Lois Ortner, SVD. and the unselfish service of their respective parish councils, Basic Ecclesial Communities, Social Action Centers and the religious nuns led by Sr. Lucy Caballero, ADD; and the invaluable help of the barangay captains of Espana, Sugod, Danao and Marigondon with Jane of Cantagda.

Relief Operation Phase 1

The Task Force Sibuyan Relief Operation – SAM-CARE distributed a total of 7.5 tons of standard relief packages to the 500 priority families on June 28, 2008, rapidly assessed from June 23 to June 27 by the Social Action Centers and Basic Ecclesial Community groups of the Vicariate of Sibuyan. Priority impact site is Mabini village in San Fernando town.

Sibuyan Island After the Tragedy

Clockwise: Cajidiocan coastal houses are gravely devastated; the once fishing community of Brgy. Mabini of San Fernando is totally washed-out; damaged elementary school of Brgy. Mabini; a totally damaged house in Magdiwang.

Sibuyanons Fear Unexpected Hunger

Due to the unexpected massive disaster of typhoon Frank, majority of houses along the coastal areas of Sibuyan Island were washed-out and damaged. In San Fernando town alone, an estimate of 1,900 households were affected.

Further, the possible contamination of endosulfan, other chemicals and fuel from the sunken M/V Princess of the stars endanger the life and livelihood of the island people. Sibuyanons depend mainly on the abundance of the sea through fishing and the agriculture industry had been vasty damaged.

Although the government has been focusing on the M/V Princess of the Stars tragedy, the fate of the island-people remains unnoticed and those who are totally affected have been for days neglected. The local government especially of San Fernando was right in saying that the people are victims, too, that they need food, shelter and clothing.

A school in a village called Mabini was totally damaged and still being used as an evacuation center and until now, no classes are conducted.

The biggest fear however is the hunger that the ramifications of the combined tragedies of the typhoon especially the chemical contaminations.

Hence, the Sibuyan Island Sentinels League for Environment, Inc. (Sibuyan ISLE), the only environmental organization on the island, strongly urge the national government, Sulpicio Lines, Del Monte, Bayer, among others to pursue a quick and efficient strategies and mechanisms to safeguard the lives of the people and preserve the rich biodiversity and abundance of our seas.

To quickly respond to the needs of the people, Sibuyan ISLE, Inc. in partnership with London-based Christian Aid, delivered 7.5 tons of relief goods to first 500 families who were gravely affected by the typhoon. Dubbed as SAM-Calamity Response (SAM-CARE) , the goods were distributed last Saturday (June 28, 2008) through the Social Action Centers and Basic Ecclesial Communities group of the parishes of the Vicariate of Sibuyan. Next week, more than 30 tons of relief goods shall be distributed to a targeted 708 totally washed-out households and more or less 2,000 affected families.

The SAM-CARE Task Force Sibuyan Relief Operation uses the international standard of conducting humanitarian relief activities through the Sphere Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response. The quick response relief operation started on June 23, 2008. The main objective is to reach out to the poorest of the poor. The criteria in choosing the beneficiaries are as follow:

- Poorest of the poor who have been affected by the floods and mudslides/waves.
- Households suffering severe loss;
- Landless, marginal farmers and day labourers affected by the floods
- Preferential treatment will be given to the following in the selection process:
- Female-headed households
- Women and widows
- Children – girls in particular
- Elderly
- People with disabilities
- Indigenous and tribal people
- People living with HIV/AIDS.

The Beneficiaries/ Reference People (RP) will be selected from the Emergency Rapid Assessment Surveys through the Christian Aid Rapid Response Assessment Team (CARRAT).

The three municipal councils--San Fernando, Magdiwang and Cajidiocan-- of Sibuyan Island had already issued resolutions declaring their respective towns as states of calamity.