LIFE AFTER TYPHOON SENDONG:
BALANCING WORK, FAMILY, AND COMMUNITY
By: Bro. Salvador M. Gerona (former Chapter Head, BCBP Iligan)
My life sharing is about the aftermath of Typhoon Sendong which nearly caused the elimination of our family from the face of the Earth. That death-defying experience has changed my outlook in life, my life’s philosophy and my attitude towards work, community and family. I see it as a paradigm shift to live as a better person with the brand new beginning of the second chance to live. 2 Timothy 2:8 states, “If we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure with Him, we shall reign with Him. If we deny Him, He will also deny us. If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself.” We must rise with the Lord which is what matters most – not the monuments of our accomplishments but the moments and heart prints we leave in people’s lives.
At the height of the flood in miry depth, I remember saying “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.” (Psalm 69:1-3). I could not imagine myself surviving and managing to face the damages of the onslaught of typhoon Sendong which placed Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro City under the state of national calamity. Somebody asked me: “Grabe ang damages nimo Buddy, how will you recover?” That question had never crossed my mind (but if it had, it would probably have increased the uncertainty and the cloud of doubt) so I just gave him a dry smile –because of the strong faith I had developed when I became a BCBP Chapter Head.
Nevertheless, allow me first to introduce myself before I continue sharing with you my experience as one of the Sendong victims.
I was born in Ticao, Masbate. My life was simple, life in the barrio of Togoron was so Jurassic: there was no television, no industrial activity, no trade and commerce, “just simple living”, and we were never affected by outages or power brown-outs because there was no electricity, in the first place. But, I was a dreamer, especially when I was a teenager and often asked myself what was the meaning of life, what must I do with my life to achieve my goals, my ambitions, my dreams, and aspirations? Armed with this inquisitive mind, as I matured in life, I searched for wisdom and truth about what life is all about – its meaning and purpose.
Philosophically, I divided my life into stages. Each stage had a 25-year period to accomplish. The first 25 years was the Learning Stage where I did my best in learning and searching all the knowledge that I could gather and accommodate in my craving mind – developing the skills for living and the professional knowledge to be a Top-of-the-line Civil Engineer – all this with a firm conviction, determination and aggressiveness. The desire for professional advancement brought me to foreign countries in Asia, Australia and Europe as an engineering consultant and prospective contractor.
Then, I proceeded to the second stage – the Earning Stage. My goal in this second stage of another 25 years was to earn a decent, honest living, wherein I programmed myself to “graduate” from poverty. I settled down in Iligan City, and established a construction business which would become one of the largest in Mindanao. Gerona Enterprises would also become engaged in shipping, heavy equipment leasing, resort and eco-park development.
But my greatest treasure is my lifetime partner, Chuequithelma Bersales of Bonifacio, Misamis Occidental, for she is my better half in the true sense of the word. We have four children: Tita, my eldest, married to former mayor of Iligan City, Atty. Franklin Quijano – they have five beautiful children; Bong married to Christine, an Internist Doctor practicing in California, U.S.A. – they have 3 boys; Jing married to Aileen an Anaesthesiologist physician –they have a boy and a girl; and Jopet, my youngest son, who is still single and a registered nurse. All of them are working with the Gerona Enterprises, either as project managers or project engineers. Moreover, all of us suffered the pangs of poverty when I started my business from a meager loan from my brother.
To balance my life – that is, between work, family and community – I hold that leading a committed life requires more than just commitment or emotional intensity in loving our Creator. I need to develop the ability to channel my energy to focus wholeheartedly in something that would please my God.
I am now in the 3rd stage of my philosophical life known as the Philanthropic Stage. This 3rd stage takes me through the 50th to 75th years of my life. At my age, now at 71, I fervently thought of retiring, “but retirement to me, is when you no longer work for your money but when your money works for you” and so I go on working. I devote time to helping others with the resources I have accumulated during my earning stage. One of the projects I developed was the construction of 250-person capacity multi-purpose building intended for social functions, a health clinic, training and classrooms for out-of-school youth, including trainer’s training for heavy equipment operators.
And then, on December 17, 2011, Sendong struck Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities, affecting 69,696 families, 384,431 people, and 1,495 casualties. It was the worse natural calamity in the world in year 2011. The traumatic experience I had in facing the near-death situation became the turning point of my outlook in life – a paradigm shift in my philosophy of living. In retrospect, Sendong awakened my concept of personal freedom and happiness that had always been available, albeit unknowingly. I had programmed myself to live a philosophical life by stages. By the time I would reach the 4th stage which I call Melancholy Stage, I would be 75 to 100 years old. This stage I had planned to spend reminiscing, recollecting, evaluating, and recalling what I had done with my life.
Truly, I would never have found the answer for my search about the meaning of life, if it had not been for Sendong. After Sendong, I learned the secret of living graciously everyday and not by stages of a quarter of century. One of my first and very significant realizations at that point was that I must be a catalyst for change.
The Night Sendong Struck
My wife and I were in bed when our son Bong woke us up, and had everyone in the household and neighbourhood run to the company office building on the national highway, half a kilometer away from our house. There would be 196 people on the rooftop, trapped at that critical moment when the ravaging flood water swept through, destroying everything in its path. I looked at death face to face as imminent. A whole house floated by along the highway, past our office building, and shouts could be heard – “TABAANG!” asking for help. I felt paralyzed. For the first time in my 45 years as an engineer-contractor building bridges, dams, wharves, roads and almost every kind of infrastructure in our country, I felt helpless. Worse, my youngest son Jopet asked me, ‘Dad, what must we do?’ Apparently he wanted to be comforted, relying on my experience and capability as a “jack of all trades,” an experienced engineer. I could only say, ‘there’s nothing we can do, son.’
I could hear murmuring prayers from almost everyone. Meanwhile, the flood current was getting stronger, rising so fast and the rain continued like it was being poured from a bucket. We could hear the sounds of sighing voices moaning in the surrounding areas enveloped in darkness, this has remained with me even at this time of writing. Unit leader Bro. Ernie and Sis. Nieves attested to our predicament when they conducted “Debriefing” on the actual situation and marveled at how strong our faith is in our family. My heartfelt thanks to the BCBP Iligan Chapter who painstakingly cared for all Sendong victims, together with financial assistance from MANCOM.
My son asked me the same question an hour later, and this time, I said, ‘Let’s trust our Creator’. What a unique feeling of relief rushed through me, as I entrusted my life and my family to the hands of God. In 1 Peter 1:3-9, we are told “there is a cause for joy thus, even though you may for a time have to suffer many trials…Thus, until your faith be tested, like gold in fire, you have not yet seen Jesus Christ, and yet you love Him, even without seeing Him, you believe in Him and experience a heavenly joy beyond all wonder for you are reaching the goal of your faith, the salvation of your soul.” And in Mark 11:24 we read: “Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received, and it will be yours.” Everyone prayed and the rain stopped. Everyone was so thankful and teary-eyed with the joy of a new life. They congratulated one another especially us. Actually, we were just living up to our name as “GERO-NA, SALVADOR pa.”
I had anticipated that with the great devastation caused by the killer flood that everything we had worked for all these years, my heavy equipment units, cars, properties would be lost and whatever was spared from the damages of the flood would be a ‘bonus’. This kind of mind set had prepared me to see the great destruction with only again a dry smile. I surveyed the wrecked landscape as I walked through the debris amid the stench of decaying bodies. The City Government of Iligan had reported P9 billion worth of damages. There were 22 pieces of heavy equipment buried in the mud and washed away along the Mandulog River from other sand and gravel quarry operators but surprisingly not even one piece of our heavy equipment had been carried by the flood current. Praise God!
I am learning to search for the seed of good in every adversity, and as I master that principle, my faith has even increased. I have noticed that I own a precious shield that guards me well through all the darkest valleys I must traverse. As you and I know if we look straight up into the heavens, stars may still be seen from the bottom of a deep narrow well, when they can’t be discerned from the mountain top. So, because of Sendong, I’ve learned those things in adversity that I would have never discovered in the good times. I now know that there is always a seed of good in every adversity as we are told in Romans 8:28. Bro/Sis, find it and prosper.