Thursday, July 3, 2008

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.)

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