by Maya Angelique B. Jajalla
For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
Manolo Magalso can never fly a kite with his son again. He can never walk his daughter to the altar when her wedding day comes. He can never hear his youngest child’s first words. Manolo can never kiss his wife again. He can never grow old with them.
When a 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit Visayas last February 6, 2012 and buried Manolo’s home, Manolo Magalso – a 34-year old farmer from La Libertad, Negros Oriental – felt one thing: “Mura ko’g nahugno atong higayuna.” (It seemed my world crumbled at that moment.)
Before the earthquake
Manolo dreamed a simple dream. He just wanted to wake-up every day with his family, provide them with food, shelter and clothing, and send his children to school. He leaves his home at dawn and work on the long stretch of rice field just meters away from his house.
This native from Bloke Dos, Barangay Solongon has three children: Eight-year old John Mark, six-year old Jaira Mae and eightmonth old Charity Joy. His wife, 32- year old Lorna Magalso, completes his simple but happy family. They live in a payag (small hut) below a hill near the umahan (rice fields).
“Maayo ang dagan, maayo ang dagan sa among pagpuyo. Tapos, kalit ra kaayo silang nawala tungod atong higayuna.” (Our life was running well. But my family went away so suddenly just because of one tragic event.)
February 6, 2012
Just like any other day, Manolo left for work before the sun rose. “Nagsayo ko ug adto sa umahan para mas daghan ko ug ma-trabaho.” (I went early to the fields so that I can finish more work.)
It was a sunny day. His eldest son stayed at home because they had no classes, while his eldest daughter went to school and then came back home for lunch. Manolo’s wife was taking care of their baby. By 11:49 a.m., his entire family was all inside their payag. He was still working on the field, unmindful that the earth that he was tilling was the same one that would bury his family alive.
The ground shook. The carabaos ran. The rocks trembled. Manolo will never forget what he saw and heard next.
The strange sound of moving soil made Manolo look into the direction of his house. Within seconds, he saw a part of the hill fall, covering what once was called home. “Nakita gid nako ang pag-tipak sa bungtod unya nihilis padung sa among balay.” (I saw the hill fall apart and covered my home.)
Manolo ran. He ran as fast as he could. He dug using his bare hands. He dug using huge rocks. He called for his wife’s name. He called for his children’s name. But they could not hear him.
“Wala ko nag-dahum nga mahitabo ‘to siya…Kalit ra kaayo nga panghitabo-a. Seconds ra siguro ‘to, dili madali ug dagan…dugay ko ka-uli…wala ko sa balay adtong panahona. Wa ko katabang nila, wala ko kaluwas.” (I did not expect it. Everything happened so fast. I was not able to help them. I did not save them.)
The aftershocks made it more diffcult for Manolo to dig. When night time came, there were still no rescuers, no sign of his family.
“Pag-abot nako didto, wala na sila. Na-tablaw ko ug bulong, wala na sila. Ni-abot nalang ang gabii, wa pa sila nagpa-kita. Wala na akong pamilya.” (When I arrived at the site, they were gone. I sought for them so hard, but they were gone. I called for them. When night time came, they still didn’t show themselves. My family is gone.)
Aftershocks and aftermaths
Rescuers came a day after the quake happened. But they could not dig the huge pile of rocky hill that covered Manolo’s neighbourhood. The strong aftershocks threatened the lives of heroes who wanted to help recover more bodies.
There were those who survived. There were those who came out alive. There were those whose dead bodies were recovered. And there were those who, until now, have not yet been found. Manolo never saw his family again.
February 9, 2013
A man sat on a blue motorcycle parked outside a pale gray tent. He was listening to the song “Here I am to Worship” playing on his phone. His face painted the deepest meaning of sadness. But his eyes glistened something else too: hope.
Manolo now lives inside a tent in Barangay Solongon’s basketball court with his 81-year old mother. A tombstone with his family’s names now lies atop the hill which covered his neighbourhood.
“Atong higayuna, wala gid ko nakaquestion [sa plano sa Ginoo]. Nabasahan man gud nako sa Balaang Kasulatan nga Siya man ang tag-iya sa atong kinabuhi…Siya man ang mag-desisyon sa tanan…nagpasalamat ko sa Ginoo kay Siya man ang naglig-on kanako.” (I did not question God’s plan. In the scriptures, it says that He is the owner and source of life. He decides everything…I thank Him for giving me strength.)
When surviving alone may seem like a curse, the future holds God’s promising purpose. For when a man hopes and believes in the promise of God’s salvation, what the eyes see as a curse, the heart sees as a blessing in disguise.
“Mangita ko ug trabaho para mupadayon gihapon ang kinabuhi…di lang gyud ta mawad-an ug pagla-um. Sampit lang gyud ta sa Ginoo para ligonon ta Niya. Salig lang gid ta Niya. Iya maning plano tanan.” (I will find a job. Life must go on, we should not lose hope. Let’s call on the Lord who strengthens us. Let’s put our trust in Him. Everything unfolds according to His plans.)
Inside that gray tent in La Libertad, Manolo celebrated Christmas and remembered his wife and children’s birthdays for the past year. His is a home without a house.
The wedding photo that he was able to recover now hangs on the “wall” of his tent. The smiling faces of his children remain alive inside the gallery of his phone.
But the only way for Manolo to go now is forward. Looking back is inevitable. But the door to the past has already been sealed. And like the “Footprints on the Sand”, he believes that Christ is carrying Him throughout his journey
On February 6, 2012, Manolo failed to dig the most important treasures of his life. Theirs were caskets nailed by the hands of nature. But since then, he has been digging for hope and happy memories – this time, inside his heart.
Last year, Mother Earth’s cradle lulled Manolo Magalso and the people of La Libertad and Guihulngan City to sleep. It has been a year of nightmares. They may not be able to fully wake-up yet. But with Manolo’s strong faith in the promise of God’s hope and future, he now lingers on sweet dreams.
(Editor’s note: The Weekly Sillimanian is one with the country in commemorating the first year anniversary of the Negros Oriental earthquake. This article is dedicated to the departed souls, missing bodies and the struggling survivors of the worst earthquake in Negros Oriental history. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.)