BORACAY: SURVIVING FRANKENSTORM

Note: Photos and videos will be posted separately after I have reviewed them.

Wanted to go home Saturday as scheduled but Cebu Pacific cancelled our Kalibo-Manila flight. We were stranded for several days. Got home safely Tuesday, 1045am, thanks to a good friend of mine who helped me get 6 confirmed seats on the first Cebu Pacific flight out of Kalibo.

I woke up early Saturday morning because Ryan wanted one last swim before we left the island. To my great surprise the waves outside were Hawaii Five-O-ish; some locals were even surfing! Jovic learned from Rose at the front desk that it was Signal #2 of Typhoon Frank (International Name: Fengshen) and that boats were not allowed to travel between Boracay and Caticlan. We stayed an extra night in relative comfort — Crystal Sand still had electricity, cable tv, phone service and home-style food. Then we lost all Globe telecom signals. Despite the winds and flying furniture, Chinne, Jopet and Ryan donned unused garbage bags from Crystal Sand with cutouts for their heads and arms, and walked to D’Mall just to buy everyone Smart sims and load. Out of all our telephones, only the high end phones (Chinne’s Sony Ericsson T650i and Jopet’s Nokia N95) had reliable signals. Still, we managed to inform our families about our situation. We waited till the Coast Guard said we could take the ferry Sunday. When we did so at the first possible opportunity, the water was relatively calm. There is a smaller jetty on the eastern side of the island from where we took our boat. It is actually the shorter, direct crossing, with a beach entry.

Upon arriving, Chinne used her Diyosa powers in the midst of chaos to get us a van from Caticlan to Kalibo. We arrived to scenes of heartbreaking devastation. The river between Numancia and Kalibo had overflowed, mud was everywhere, houses and school buildings were smashed flat, trees fell on power lines, and dead farm animals were semi-buried in the debris. When we got to the airport we found that part of the roof was damaged, the runway was unusable, there was no power and therefore no communication with Manila or Caticlan. We decided to return to Caticlan. By the time we got there it was 730pm, and found the Coast Guard had banned ferry rides again. With no place to stay, we went to the nearest “hotel” and found it a depressing place. We decided to stay in the Caticlan jetty building instead. There was no light, but there were working clean flush toilets, a very clean floor, friendly staff, and its own security detail. Best of all, there was an open Andok’s opposite. We slept on the floor.

Next morning around 6am Jopet and I walked to the airport and signed up on all airline waiting lists. Wanted to buy tickets home with my credit card but remembered they were only taking cash since there was no telephone lines operating. Thank God for our Smart sims! Jopet called his brother Eric to wire us money via MLhuillier Padala because there were no ATMs or open banks in Caticlan. Ironically, when we finally had the money to buy the tickets, we were told NO ONE was selling tickets. We couldn’t even ask our relatives to buy us tickets online since there was no way of confirming the ticket locator number. And at one point, all waiting list numbers were wiped back to zero. It was an angry mob waiting to happen.

Somehow I was able to contact my friend B, who advised me that the Kalibo airport just opened and that I could use my return ticket with Cebu Pacific. To my great surprise, he was able to call me from his Sun Cellular number! All networks would lose connection after one second, but not Sun. It was the only network that could sustain a voice call! (Reminder to self: get a Sun sim for emergencies.) Through B’s request, a very nice girl from Cebu Pacific we’ll call KP later contacted us and reassured us of confirmed seats. We took the first van we could find at 6pm and got to Kalibo at 8pm. Fortunately we found a place to stay called Airport Line, a travellers’ pension house a couple of blocks away (P300 a room, with own bathroom and electric fan for 12 hours). Our bathing water was literally pumped by the pail-load. And each of us had to share their small pail with their roommate, not to mention leave a bit for flushing the toilet. Better than nothing. After not being able to take a bath or brush my teeth for 48 hours I felt like a human being again.

Woman in Denial: “Waay kamo hot water? Abi ko hotel ini?” (What kind of hotel is this, you don’t even have hot water!)
Mai-mai: “Waay gani tubi, ma hot water ka pa?” (We don’t even have running water, and you expect it to be hot?)

The next morning at Kalibo airport there was another angry mob waiting to happen when the Caticlan passengers thought they wouldn’t be able to go home, since initially the Kalibo passengers got priority. Through a bit of people power it was finally arranged that those who got in line first got served, regardless of ticket route. It was the only way to start and keep the process going. Our confirmation via KP got us seats in the first of two planes that morning. I took some human interest videos — there was a woman crying when she checked in and saw the plane landing, the one we were going to ride home on. When she started crying nearly everyone got teary-eyed. As boarding was announced everybody cheered. We had bonded with each other since Sunday in the long lines at the airport, and even exchanged numbers.

I feel bad for the Cebu Pacific staff who had to face all the anger… they had also suffered from the typhoon and were unable to make decisions fast enough to satisfy the passengers. Most of the difficulty arose from lack of electronic communication, local managerial decision-making, and emergency preparedness-related customer service training. We truly appreciated this pretty tisay girl with the brown hair and headband who asked us as we approached the counter, “Kumusta na kayo, are you ok?” Truly, the first thing they needed to do in a situation like this was to show concern. One male employee got angry at a passenger as though it was the passenger’s fault they didn’t have the right ticket. But you see, it’s that lack of training or managerial supervision or service accountability that makes employees give excuses for lack of action instead of actually planning for and taking action. This giving of excuses just held everything up. They were not a team with a leader. They were a handful of tired, worried individuals, of which some were sheep or headless chickens shitting bricks. But Pretty Tisay Girl went on board before departure, to check if everyone on her list was accounted for, and even though we weren’t able to get her name, we certainly remembered her face. She had a smile for all of us before she left. What a winner.

Yeah, bad things happen to people who mean well. If according to the Cebu Pacific slogan: It’s Time Every Juan Flies, then Every Juan Must Also Be Able To Fly Home. I know the Gokongweis run Sun Cellular, they should turn this crisis into an opportunity to better serve Every Juan. If their ticketing employees had Sun work numbers, enough load, and enough electricity to juice up their phones, imagine how much faster confirming seats from Manila would have been! Every Juan among us was literally down to their last P200. That would have gotten us food, but not a place to stay yet another night, even if we had pooled all our resources. We were already on food and water discipline because the likelihood of finding a decent toilet was way low.

To my surprise, Sen. Mar Roxas was on our flight. He got the contact numbers of people who took videos of the destruction and of the difficulties at the airport. I think he went there to survey the damage, help plan for reconstruction and to deliver a message of reassurance.

I guess it will take time for Aklan to rebuild. As for me and my friends, it was an adventure. We returned home feeling like we had won The Amazing Race! We feel truly blessed to have survived and returned home to our families.

Chinne and Donna R, voices of the Frankenstorm Survivors, your Diyosa Powers rock! Thanks for fighting for passenger rights and keeping the group bonded. We’ll see each other soon for a reunion. Jovic, your managing the Caticlan and Kalibo lines inside the Kalibo airport was unexpected and amazing. Yen and husband, thanks for documenting the difficulties we encountered. Hopefully those concerned will make use of it to improve customer handling and disaster management.

B, you were literally my last resort. My phone batt was on its last bar when I contacted you. Thanks for being such a good friend 🙂

To my friend Clariza whom I woke up so early in the morning to help me with Seair information, you were a ray of sunshine.

To KP of Cebu Pacific, your concern and action struck the right note with us. Diyosa ka rin.

And to my inaanak Raffi, take everything you have seen on our trip and learn from it. Don’t forget how the bad parts can become opportunities for bringing out the best in people. Don’t even forget that smelly bloated dead cow those men carted away from the muck in Numancia. It reminds us how glad we are to be alive. Remember, you HAVE to be alive to enjoy playing Team Fortress 2. Hahaha 🙂

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