Lessons from the Field: The Sendong Experience

Nonfiction by | April 19, 2015

It has only just been three months, yet SURSECO-I has seemed to have moved on after the throes of tempestuous winds knocked down virtually all of its distribution line in its coverage area. All of the four decades as a distribution utility seems to have sprung back to life. Sendong left behind more than the broken and damaged poles and entwined service wires. There were uprooted Falcata trees in almost every road, and more houses fallen to the ground. Just along Brgy. Bigaan, Hinatuan, a once proud bungalow caved in, its posts unable to wrestle the harsh winds.

Even more, there were angry people shouting complains at SURSECO-I vehicles. Things had gone bleak. Perhaps it would have gone bleaker had the sun not shone—however just for a day. One by one, people went picking up parts of their lives strewn all over the road side.

On the 19th, a gust of wind rattled a few sitios of SURSECO-I. By evening, almost everyone had expected another round of Sendong. Yet, what came along was the first wave of the rescuers from one of the sister electric cooperatives.

It was Kuya Lando Ferrer, Shift Officer from the Agusan del Norte Electric Cooperative, Inc. (ANECO), who led the first of these rescuers. Yet the night trip almost lost these brave men.

“We arrived at 10 pm in SURSECO-I Mangagoy Office,” he chuckled over the telephone interview. “But we could have gone straight to Davao, had it not been for one of the linemen who noticed we were heading to Davao Light.”

The ANECO Crew in one of the clearing activities.

In hindsight, the arrival of this crew from ANECO was an additional ting-ting to the Christmas melody playing faintly in the airwaves. Despite the cold December wind, a joyous, almost inaudible melody kept playing someplace else—perhaps, it’s the wind singing for the good times.

Or perhaps it’s the comforting snores of these travelers, resting for a full day’s work the next day.

“Oh, the experience is not much different from the other task force I have attended,” Kuya Domeng Semorlan shared. He is ANECO’s Leadman. “The work was difficult but we’re used to it.”

Kuya Lando and his men were the ones who fixed the lines in the area in Dugmanon, Hinatuan. Trekking through terrains of more fallen Falcata trees, mesh of electrical wires, and remnants of what could have been a bus, the crew found themselves in the middle of a jamboree where head scouts almost begged for the return of electricity.

“It tore my heart,” Kuya Lando confided. “And there is only so much we could do to restore SURSECO-I’s line.”

“We found 5 more poles brought down by Sendong.” Kuya Domeng proudly quipped. “We had restored them as promised.” If this were not a telephone interview, one would have seen the way Kuya Domeng smiled as he narrated the experience. His small frame could not hide the pride in his voice. This is a seasoned man used to the harrowing winds, and hard work on the field. Even Kuya Domeng’s shock of white hair attests his commitment in helping SURSECO-I.

Like his Leadman, Kuya Lando, too, has become a seasoned worker. His 31 years in ANECO filled him with valuable experiences—these have also brought him with his crew in SURSECO-I. His firm voice and his deeply seated laugh lines on the corner of his mouth and his eyes affirm that he is as much a leader as he is a prime mover of the Rural Electrification Program.

The restoration for the lines in the coverage area of SURSECO-I had seemed like an endless ‘impossible’ task. It would only just been days before Christmas, and there was not much yuletide music to get by the season. And there was no power, then.

The arrival of the ANECO crew stirred the residents in Bislig City.

Days after, crews from the Davao Oriental Electric Cooperative, Inc. (DORECO), the Davao del Sur Electric Cooperative, Inc. (DASURECO), the Surigao del Sur II Electric Cooperative, Inc. (SURSECO-II), the Surigao del Norte Electric Cooperative, Inc. (SURNECO) and the Davao del Norte Electric Cooperative, Inc. (DANECO) made it into the Headquarters of SURSECO-I in San Fernando, Bislig City. These men in yellow-suit, hard hat, and sun-kissed skin roused what is usually the barriotic scenes in the municipalities of Tagbina, Hinatuan, Lingig and Barobo.

These men have been called the Task Force Sendong.

The sun had only shone a few hours in the morning, and by midday, the clouds had yet again gathered enough water to pour down.

“We encountered rain on our way here,” recounted Kuya Ed Dabalos, Foreman of DANECO. “Our vehicle broke down.”

“[And] we coursed through the route going to SURSECO-II,” Tatay Ed Lago recalled of their misadventure. “In our assigned area, there were roadways without bridges, and very badly hit lines.”

Engr. Jorven Villafranca, the Team Leader of SURNECO chuckled as he related their encounter, “There were bees going amok at our presence, our boom-truck broke in the middle of nowhere, and terrains I have never imagined exists!”

Engr. Jorven Villafranca and his crew from SURNECO

All the same, these men had taken into their shoulders the tasks of restoring not just the lines of this Cooperative—but also the faith of the member-consumers that against Sendong, or any other typhoons, SURSECO-I will remain strong, together with its sister electric cooperatives.

“Yes, there is hardship,” Kuya Romeo Palaca from DORECO described. Against the cold, tiled floor in the Boardroom where his other team stayed, Kuya Romeo only had smiles for the interview. “But, there is also happiness as we work on the field.” There were more lines on his mouth, showing that even if the work is difficult, he still finds time to enjoy and laugh at every experience he has had.

“The staff has welcomed us the warmest. Even the General Manager has been so good with us,” the Task Force had commonly observed. “And the food—crabs and shrimps are really a delicacy in this place.”

For everyone, coming to the SURSECO-I Headquarters had been a first. Yet the ‘grabe-ness’ of what these men had experienced is second to none.

“The terrains were the worst! We slipped and stumbled, and yet we had found our work enjoyable,” Kuya Jayrome Gutierrez and Quimariel Bansiloy, both from DANECO, shared.

The Christmas holiday had provided a one-day rest for the Task Force as most had gone home for their families.

Except for ‘Nong Enteng Lopez and his crew.

He is the Foreman/Team Leader of the DORECO crew, and for Christmas 2011, they had decided to spend it in the SURSECO-I Boardroom.

“It is only just a day, but SURSECO-I badly needs our help,” ‘Nong Enteng gesticulated his hands on air as if emphasizing the urgency of the event. “It was agreed among us to stay here. So we spent the Christmas here.”

The always beaming Kuya Efren Tuballa had sung for the interview the anthem of what service meant for DORECO, “This is a marching song, and it has defined us here.”

On the go ang DORECO
Champeon sa panerbisyo
Empleyado abtik kayo…”

What was good with Sendong is that it was able to strengthen the bind between Electric Cooperatives. Days before the New Year, power had been restored in almost all of the coverage area. The same crew returned to finish the work. In their usual yellow-suit, hard hat and sun-kissed skin, the Task Force Sendong strummed Christmas melodies into the barangays of SURSECO-I. Even their comforting snores had added to the ting-ting of the yuletide season.

The times had taken a good turn. Christmas has meant to be a season of gift giving. It has meant to keep the family together. It has meant Christ’s birth and humanity’s salvation.

For SURSECO-I, Christmas has meant to be a season when characters are tested. The Task Force Sendong has stood firm in helping SURSECO-I and its coverage area. When everything else had been soaked in the rain and even trees could no longer keep one from getting wet, these men forayed into the downpour. When terrains had gone slippery to rocky to strange to bridgeless, Kuya Lando, ‘Nong Enteng, and all the Task Force Sendong had kept moving to find ground for the poles. When the boom truck broke down, and there was no fuel left, and the bees could not keep on their side of the forest, these brave men would have restored the power eventually.

Sendong, after all, may have something good amidst the bad. And SURSECO-I has risen above what has come to pass to it. SURSECO-I has moved on after the throes of tempestuous winds knocked down almost all its lines. All of the four decades as a distribution utility has sprung back to life.

More so, it owes much to the men in yellow suit, hard hat, and sun-kissed skin under the gloomy December sky.

Teresa May A. Mundiz has a degree in Creative Writing from UP Mindanao. She is currently teaching Humanities and Literature in Ateneo de Davao University. She writes whenever the ‘urge’ comes. This was written in March 2012 for SURSECO-I.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.