Public service officers and journalists from ABS-CBN’s Regional Network Group (RNG) were among those who put their lives at risk to make sure help was delivered to those who needed it badly, and got word out about the extent of the devastation caused by the strongest typhoon to hit Mindanao.
Adroel Alcober, the head of ABS-CBN Public Service for Mindanao, beat all odds to visit and dole out relief to the worst hit, far-flung areas in the region. Despite looking forward to spending Christmas with his family and attending his college reunion in Tacloban, Leyte, Alcober instead devoted most of his December to reaching out to affected communities.
With communication lines down on the first day after Pablo made landfall in Banganga, Davao Oriental, Alcober, cameraman Erwin Mariño, volunteers from the Matina Pangi Royal Blood Rescue Group, and public service officer from Manila Butch Sayong with cameraman Allan Zulueta, left for the town on a ship to distribute relief goods.
“All houses were damaged; their roofs ripped and walls torn down. The municipal hall was devastated. There was no standard establishment left that people would run to in times like this to feel safe. You could see despair in people’s faces; they didn’t know what to do,” shared Alcober.
Days after that, he would go on to see that the heartbreaking sight in Banganga mirrored those in Boston and Cateel in Davao Oriental and New Bataan and Monkayo in Compostela Valley. People were lining up the streets and were chasing vehicles to ask for help.
On the first day of their mission, Alcober was out of contact with his family, and though he barely had any sleep, he remained focus on what had to be done. “We didn’t eat that day. We didn’t feel that we had to eat because of the people’s helpless situation. What was on our minds was to get information out so help would come,” he said.
Desperate times called for desperate measures for the enterprising Alcober, who filed reports at Internet shops with generators and sent them to the ABS-CBN Davao office.
Being resourceful was also what got ABS-CBN Davao reporters through their coverage, said Michelle Robin-Bacsal, head of ABS-CBN Davao News.
“It brought out the reporters’ creativity and ingenuity to release the material as soon as possible even without receiving any instruction from their superior. Sariling diskarte. There was a reporter and his team who travelled everyday to Boston, Cateel and Baganga, and back to Lingig, Surigao del Sur to edit his material. So if they couldn’t use satellite feed to supply their material, they would use their laptop and send it via YouSendIt to beat TV Patrol’s deadline,” she said.
Robin was in-charge of dispatching the reporters to different areas, as well as editing their news materials that would be sent to the ABS-CBN headquarters in Quezon City. Although the reporters and crew were already used to covering landslides and flashfloods,. covering typhoon Pablo’s aftermath was no easy feat for the Davao news team.
“It was our first time covering a typhoon. It was difficult in terms of proximity; we covered a lot of remote areas. We had to transport over difficult terrains. Before, we would cover a landslide in Mt. Diwalwal, but it was only concentrated in a single area,” she related.
ABS-CBN Davao supplied the first footage of the ravaged New Bataan that was shown on national media, as well as the first actual count of human casualties. Robin shared that although the reporters were prepared to do the coverage, they were overwhelmed by the scope of the devastation.
“They saw dead bodies being piled on top of each other on the streets. I think that was difficult for them because more than anything else, they are only humans. We didn’t expect it to happen but it did,” she said.
The destruction of major structures in the affected areas was also a big challenge the Davao news team had to face. “Since there were no concrete buildings where they could stay, the reporters had to cram inside the crew cab. They brought tents but it would rain every night so they would be swamped. They hardly had any sleep,” Robin said.
Alcober also added that he saw how the calamity ignited cooperation among the reporters, who went beyond their call of duty just to make sure the typhoon victims felt they were not alone.
“Our news team did not just gather the news. They also helped in the distribution of goods, and encouraged the typhoon victims to be strong and made them feel they were not left alone. The important thing was people knew they were being helped,” related Alcober.
For almost a month, ABS-CBN Davao’s journalists covered their designated areas and as a result, became immersed in the communities. Robin’s instruction to the reporters was to avoid eating delicious food around the typhoon victims. They brought relief goods with them everytime they were dispatched, and they were to consume relief goods if they had to. The reporters even spent Christmas and New Year with the families.
“I told them that more to being journalists, we were people and we needed to help. The effort paid off because the people had increased trust in ABS-CBN. They felt that the reporters weren’t just around to highlight their stories of devastation, but also to help them,” Robin said.
Alcober also remarked that even if it was extremely difficult to go to some areas, his team dropped everything to make sure the relief goods and donations reached the affected areas.
“It made us really happy that people trusted their donations with us. They were confident their help would reach those who needed it because they trust in ABS-CBN,“ he said.
A reinforced sense of responsibility and compassion united everyone. ABS-CBN Davao’s call for help was heeded by Davaoenos as more people volunteered and more donations came in. Officers from ABS-CBN other regional stations and Sagip Kapamilya offices, and Greenpeace also came to help. Local government units also participated in the relief operations, and medical missions in coordination with the Department of Health were organized.
ABS-CBN RNG head Jerry Bennett commended the regional employees who went the extra mile to help as they epitomized the essence of “Kapamilya.”
“ABS-CBN’s news and public service knows no boundaries in terms of time and space. It’s a part of the DNA of ABS-CBN employees to be of service of the Filipino people whether it is to gather news and information or provide help in times of disaster and relief. The Regional Network Group‘s role is to spread out even in the most far-flung areas nationwide to reach those in need,” he said.
RNG news and online head Charie Villa also echoed Bennett’s sentiment. She said, “The strength of ABS-CBN is its regional teams working on ground non-stop 24/7. Not just for news, but for public service as well. I’ve been with ABS-CBN for so many years, and the RNG guys brought me back to the beginning of ABS-CBN. They are true to the company’s mantra of being in the service of the Filipino people.”
“We are also very thankful to them because if not for them, if none of those donations and volunteers arrived, it would be really difficult for us,” revealed Alcober.
ABS-CBN Sagip Kapamilya is actively participating in the rehabilitation of the affected communities, conducting trauma counseling, distributing more relief goods, donating school supplies to kids, and rebuilding schools.
“We left those affected areas knowing fully well that our initial relief to them was not enough. We made it a point to go back there to bring more relief,” he said.