December has always been traditionally considered a month for wet and stormy weather by the local people here in Lianga. But as as 2011 drew to a close barely two weeks ago, we here had to admit that we did not expect the last month to be more stormy, in more ways than one, than we had bargained for.
First, Typhoon Sendong (international name Washii) caught us by surprise when it made landfall late afternoon on Dec. 16 near Hinatuan town on Surigao del Sur's southern tip. Hinatuan is just over an hour's drive from Lianga and the typhoon, packing winds of at least 60 kph near its center, struck our area hard just as dusk was gathering. Power lines snapped and electric posts toppled over plunging much of the whole province into darkness.
Many coastal houses especially those built with light materials sustained damage and at least one motorized boat was reported missing at sea. Last minute voluntary evacuation, however, by many local people living in coastal areas vulnerable to storm surges and heavy seas did prevent the great toll in human lives and massive damage to properties that the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan would suffer later in that night.
Most Lianga residents were spared the worst of the gale force winds and flooding that ravaged many areas in Mindanao along the typhoon's track that veered north and west of Surigao del Sur. For most of the local folks, the storm only inflicted the inconvenience of going through almost a day and a half without electricity, clean water and mobile telecommunications as all mobile cellphone service were cut off almost immediately during the initial onslaught of the storm.
It was only later, when the local people were able to get news of the massive humanitarian disaster unfolding in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan that they realized how lucky they were to be spared the same tragic fate and how purely random factors and the fickleness of Mother Nature had let them off rather easily while their fellow countrymen elsewhere had to bear the full brunt of Sendong's fury.
On another storm, this time of the peace and order kind and not of the meteorological classification, the New People's Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has become rather restive as the year was drawing to a close, launched a series of offensive actions here in Lianga and elsewhere in the province. The NPA, which the government and the leadership of the armed forces has recently belittled as an ideologically obsolete and militarily spent force which is on the verge of final defeat, has been itching to disprove that assessment and drive home the point that they intend to remain a potent force to reckon for the foreseeable future at least in this part of the country,
On Dec, 15, at about 8:40 am, a group of NPA rebels dressed in military uniforms and on-board a white van managed to gain entry into the annex of the Surigao del Sur provincial jail here in Lianga. They quickly overpowered the jail guards and carted away a rifle, a shotgun and a collection of handguns plus the cellphones and personal items of some of the guards.
An hour earlier, elements of the army's 75th Batallion figured in a 40 minute firefight with another group of NPA insurgents in Barangay San Pedro just south of the Lianga town proper. The military reported no casualties on their side but claimed that they managed to recover an M-16 rifle from the encounter site. There is speculation that the group was a so called "blocking force" which had been assigned to ambush police and military reinforcements that might be sent to aide the jail guards at the provincial jail annex in Lianga.
Then the next day on Friday, Dec. 16, the rebels struck again when they attacked a seven man team of soldiers manning an outpost in Barangay Mabuhay in Tandag City, the provincial capital of Surigao del Sur. The heavily armed guerrillas on-board a commandeered truck overpowered the outpost and killed five of the defenders. The government lost possession of at least ten high-powered rifles, a grenade launcher and valuable radio equipment. This particular attack is ironic in the sense that it took place on the first day of the effectivity of the 18 day unilateral Christmas truce declared by the government in its war with the communist revolutionary movement.
Hinatuan, which had borne the initial fury of Typhoon Sendong, was not spared by the NPA when last two days later a landmine attack on a military truck on the way to market in Barangay Bincongan resulted in the death of an elderly woman and wounded five soldiers. The series of NPA attacks in the province has led Col. Arnulfo Macelo Burgos Jr., chief of the Armed Forces Public Affairs Office, to denounce what he referred to as atrocities being committed by rebel forces against soldiers and civilians.
As the government and the military went into damage control mode and tried to explain away how its local security forces had been caught unprepared for the series of rebel actions, it became clear that the communist revolutionary movement did not feel itself bound to reciprocate the Aquino government's then unilateral ceasefire declaration for the Christmas holidays and had simply taken advantage of laxity and complacency among local military and police units who might have thought the opposite.
If there is one lesson that the storms of December will have to teach us it is simply the plain and obvious truth that disasters and calamities, whether natural or man-made in origin, always happen when we least expect them to. They also happen because we have become, more often than not, soft, complacent and unheeding of the repeated signs and warnings of the impending dangers that are coming.
We are also reminded again, in the aftermath of misfortune, sorrow, loss, unimaginable destruction and the specter of sudden and violent death, that life, cruel and capricious it may sometimes be, does go on. The cycle of life just like the cycle of the seasons continues on, deaf and blind to the scenes of man's tragedy and misery. The dead may have no choice but rest where they lay but the survivors have to pick themselves up, salvage what remains of the pieces of their old lives and start living again.