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Lantern reminds Yolanda survivors they can rise again

Survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” decorate a giant lantern among the debris from destroyed houses at Magallanes District in Tacloban City on Christmas Eve, in time for Wednesday’s celebration of the birth of Jesus in their ruined communities. Yolanda’s winds flattened the gritty neighborhood, then swept up everything else with giant waves on November 8. AFP

Publication Date : 25-12-2013


It’s hardly Christmas in the storm-ravaged Tacloban city, but its people are trying hard to capture the spirit of the season.

At Barangay 48 in Magallanes District, residents told the Inquirer that they’d try to get by with whatever food they have for the traditional Christmas Eve repast.

The highlight of the day would be the lighting of a 2-metre-tall Christmas lantern that twin brothers Ronron and Ronrey Magdua had built for 10 days.

The 19-year-old twins used the money they saved from the cash-for-work programme of the Tzu Chi Foundation, an international humanitarian organisation based in Taiwan.

It cost them some 2,000 pesos in all to put together the red, white, and blue Christmas lantern. Its yellow sun and three stars complete the Philippine flag lantern.

“We just want to remind people that we can rise again,” Ronron told the Inquirer, when asked why he and his brother based the lantern on the flag and set it up on Esperas Street. Esperas comes from the Spanish word “esperar,” which means to hope.

Ronron said his Christmas hope for his fellow Taclobanons is to accept the tragedy wrought by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” on November 8 and move on.

Their neighbours were hardly preparing for the traditional “noche buena.”

A group of men having beer at a sari-sari store said they would make do with whatever’s left of the food packs they received three days ago. On the eve of Christmas, there was not much to do except to reminisce - the days before the storm to that angry November day.

Magallanes, a coastal village, lost 53 residents. Some remain missing. Nine bodies were recovered just last week.

Rations hard to come by
The rains pelted the city yesterday, but the Magdua brothers continued putting the finishing touches on their lantern which they put up amid the rubble in their village. They were set to light up the lantern at 6pm and were told the media would be covering the event.

Where the brothers put up the lantern was a house that was washed away. Did they ask permission from the owners of the place?

“There’s no one to ask permission from,” Ronrey said.

The owners, an elderly couple named Jose and Remedios Sagdullas, were killed in the storm. Their bodies had been recovered and were placed in a mass grave.

Magallanes was practically wiped out, with only a few houses standing. Last Christmas was as festive as it could be in this district.

“Residents had a party on the basketball court,” said Wenifredo Rivas, a City Hall employee.

Rivas could only describe the past Christmases they had as “happy.” There were carolers in the streets and neighbors got together.

With the court gone, the residents would be having Christmas dinner in their homes.

Laughing all the way
“There’s nothing. We’ll make do with what’s left of the relief goods. They’re hard to come by now,” said Cesar Acuna, Rivas’ neighbour.

There used to be karaoke singing starting at dusk. But Rivas said without electricity, how could they get a karaoke machine to work?

In Palo Cathedral, 11 kilometres away, a handful of church volunteers were putting together flower arrangements for a Christmas Eve Mass made special by the presence of the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Guiseppe Pinto. The roof of the centuries-old church was blown off by the winds described by Msgr. Bernardo Panteri as “deafening.”

“We’ll have a simple celebration. You noticed there’s not much decor around town,” Panteri said.

But the spirit of Christmas definitely remains, he said. In this predominantly Catholic country, no one has blamed God for the tragedy, Panteri added.

“The people’s faith remains strong. They believe something better will come out of this,” he said.

Church volunteer Charity Malquistro said everyone were just trying to be merry.

But how amid this destruction, under a roofless cathedral?

Without skipping a beat, Malquistro said: “By laughing all the way!”


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