NOTE: This story was written last June 26, three weeks after the resumption of classes in the Bicol Region.
Classes have been going on for three weeks already in Libon, Albay, but a number of elementary and high school students are still trying to make do with the notebooks their parents can afford.
Last Christmas Day, Libon was one of the hard-hit towns after Bicol took a beating from ‘Nina’ (international name: Nock-ten), which was described by many as the strongest typhoon since 2006’s ‘Reming’ (international name: Durian). No one was reported dead after Nina, but it turned out that many sources of livelihood were profoundly stricken and are still affected by the disaster up until today.
The ride to Barangay (village) Macabugos takes about 45 minutes via motorcycle. The road gives a seemingly endless view of the dismal status of the coconut plantations. Farmers say the trees, which now look like candles, will need five years to recover.
Richard Martos Regalario—38-year-old father of five, all of them already studying—has had at least three jobs since ‘Nina.’ He took part-time jobs in the copra-making industry, as a construction worker, and as a fisherman before becoming a tanod (village watchman)—all that while he takes responsibility as the General Parents-Teachers Association (GPTA) president in Balinsayawan Elementary School in the same village.
Like many parents in the village, one of his main concerns is that his children have yet to buy a complete set of notebooks.
“Jobs are hard to come by here these days,” Regalario said. “The fishing boats still need repair and the coconuts will not recover from the devastation any time soon. We cannot even afford to buy coconut milk to cook with our vegetables.”
Bicol cuisine is well-known for the use of coconut milk in most dishes. Regalario said that before ‘Nina,’ on bad days, he was able to buy coconut for five pesos—on good days, for free—but now, even six months after the typhoon, coconuts are worth P15 to P18.
He was forced to sell his pig to afford materials for repairing their house, but the money he acquired was not enough for full renovation.
He said that his house was not destroyed, only damaged, so help has yet to come to them. Residents whose houses were destroyed by the typhoon received immediate financial help. Regalario has to carefully limit expenses for his P800 pay as a watchman to fit for a month.
Salima Regaspi Rodrigo, 59, acts a guardian for four of her grandchildren. Even in her age, she still works as a farmer.
“After the typhoon, we really did not have anything to eat. We farmers had to rely on each other,” she recalled. “We still had to buy our food from the downtown market. We call it patukad,” she said, using a term that literally means ‘upward.’
Patukad, Rodrigo said, is when people from upland villages buy products usually found in their area and bring it all the way up to their villages.
Over the weekend, volunteers from a group called Tara Libon distributed school supplies and emergency whistles to 210 students from Macabugos High School and two elementary schools in the village in an event called Bulan-bulan.
Bulan-bulan is a Bicolano term similar to ‘saling-pusa,’ a child who is allowed to play with older playmates, but not tagged as ‘it.’ In Libon, a bulan-bulan is a kid who is not old enough to go to school, but is allowed to join the classes as an observer.
Two of Rodrigo’s grandchildren were among the recipients. They were identified as those in need and have not received any help from any government agency or from the religious group in the area.
“My grandchildren’s notebooks do not have enough leaves. I will sew the notebooks Tara Libon handed us together with the ones we bought.” She also said that in their village, students must have at least three uniforms especially during the rainy season.
“The uniforms tend to get dirty especially when it is raining, but my youngest grandchild has only one hand-me-down uniform.”
Tara Libon is the brainchild of Paul Segui, who served in the Sangguniang Kabataan in Libon from 1993 to 2003 first as a councilor, then as a chairman. Together with the members of his council then and active youth leaders in the town, they formed Igin Igin Festival ten years ago in an island sitio in Pantao village. Since then, the group has held the festival every Christmas season.
Igin Igin Festival (literally Children’s Festival) is also the inspiration for Bulan-bulan.
“I am thankful that the youth leaders and volunteers during my time as SK chairman are still united in one goal,” Segui said. “We are here to spread goodness and kindness to all 47 barangays of Libon.”
Former SK councilors helped Segui accumulate funds for Bulan-bulan after hearing from parents in far-flung barangays that they are struggling to fund school supply-shopping.
Segui, whose mother raised him and his siblings alone after the death of their father when he was a high school sophomore, said that they chose kids as beneficiaries because they understand what it is like being a kid.
“Kids appreciate even small gifts,” Segui said. “Kids in Libon now have bigger dreams. They are more intelligent and more gumptious, and there is no reason for them not to graduate from college since we already have a community college unlike then when even if kids were intelligent, if their family cannot afford to go to Naga City or Legazpi City, they are forced to marry young or to find work.”
Virginia Espinas Reynancia, the principal of Macabugos High School, said that groups like Tara Libon and the students’ parents have been their partners in rebuilding the school.
Typhoon Nina damaged the school’s classrooms and the newly build covered court, where two classes are held.
Reynancia said that the performance of the students who attend classes in the covered court is affected since they have to endure the hot weather.
Macabugos High School has a student population of 477. Macabugos has three elementary schools, one of which, residents say, can only be reached on foot.
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