News & Updates

On Their Knees

Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio
January 22, 2022

A Hero's Journey: Likhaan Stories Series

In 2013, Abegail Joy Cabansan was a young girl of ten, studying at the Literon Elementary School and living with her family in Barangay Literon, Calbiga, a fourth-class municipality in Samar. Her mother was a housewife, taking care of Abegail and her siblings, watching their small sari-sari store, and doing quotidian tasks like cooking for the family and cleaning their small nipa or thatched-roof house. Her father was a farmer, tending to his crops—palay and root crops such as camote—which were their family’s primary source of income.

Abegail now • Photo from Abegail Cabansan

On November 8, 2013, the skies—previously cloudless and powder-blue in a seemingly limitless horizon—suddenly turned menacingly black. Of a sudden, torrential rains began to fall. This turned out to be super-typhoon Yolanda, known internationally as Haiyan. It struck mercilessly with strong, gale-force winds at 150 miles (or 241 kms.) per hour, according to international news reports.  

Abegail and her parents and siblings heard what sounded like the howling of a thousand wild dogs. With fear assaulting their hearts, their family gathered together to pray. They got on their knees, beseeching the heavens for the typhoon to spare them.  “Amay namon, ada ka ha kalangitan . . . Maghinaya ka Maria, napupuno ka han grasya . . .”

Abegail relates, “Of course, our family was no stranger to typhoons and tropical storms because our province is in the path of what is known as the typhoon belt. But this was a particularly violent one. Nakakatakot talaga.” 

Abegail's Family • Photo from A. Cabansan

 It turned out to be one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded. “The typhoon destroyed all the rice fields and coconut farms. I thought we were going to die! I was just so thankful that our lives were spared, that we were all safe, along with our neighbors and friends in our community. This was what was most important to me.” 

In the year 2020, the world experienced a worldwide pandemic that spared no one—the coronavirus that attacked the lungs without mercy, causing breathlessness, leading to death. It was forbidden to gather in groups, social distancing had to be practiced, and everyone had to wear a mask            

Now a teen, Abegail joined the Literon Eco-Youth club because she, like others, is a social creature. To her surprise and delight, she was elected its president. The youth club was guided by Reana Cuevas of ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation, Inc. (ALKFI), whom Abegail considered to be the “teacher. As site specialist for integration and area development, Reana facilitated a series of meetings with Abegail and her youth club, which finally came into being in December 2020. Because people were not allowed to travel from place to place, their initial meetings were just among themselves. To communicate with members of the youth club and to let them know her objectives, Reana sent them a video of herself speaking to them. At first, many were skeptical. They didn’t think anything would result from their joining the youth club and meeting with Reana and Jun Figueroa, who was also a site specialist with ALKFI.

Abegail during the Junior Integrated Resiliency Program Sessions

However, when the goals of their youth club were explained to them, their fears and doubts were somewhat assuaged. These goals were:  

1.     To empower the youth 

2.     To be open to one another by communicating their feelings candidly to the extent of   sharing grievances as though they were brothers and sisters 

3.     Finally, to feel nothing is impossible if they helped one another 

Abegail continues with her narration: 

“Our project is called Luntian Dahan. It is a shop where we produce and sell potted plants, ornamentals, herbs, and other local agricultural products. During our series of meetings with Reana and Jun, they personally reassured us of their support, making sure our goals of unity were clear to us all. Sadly, it could not be avoided that there would be conflicts brought about by some members’ fears and doubts. There were contradictory wishes as to what they wanted to achieve.  

Literon Eco-Youth Club Community Activity

“As the leader or president of the Literon Eco-Youth Club, I thought that, even if some things could be easily achieved, if others were to contradict my goals and put roadblocks to my moves, these would result in failure. No matter how easy a certain action could be, if no one would join me, our goals would be frustrated. I asked myself, would we still want to continue? Because after everything, after all our striving to establish our project and make it work, there will come a time when everyone will want to stop because they think that nothing can come out of our efforts. Every time we gave our best, it felt like it was not yet good enough. Still, I continued to believe that we could do this together with the help and guidance of our parents and mentors. 

Bella Malubay’s story is similar to Abegail’s. Like Abegail’s, Bella’s father is a farmer, planting palay and root crops. Her mother sells arroz caldo (hot rice porridge) every morning in her sari-sari store. Her regular customers, or suki, are market stall owners and market goers. 

Bella Malubay • Photo from L. Rafales

Bella said the day before Yolanda struck was a clear day, with the sun shining, so that, even as they prepared for Yolanda after they were warned about the typhoon’s coming, she could never have imagined the disaster the following day would bring. When they began to feel strong, gusty winds, Bella and her family felt fear strike their hearts. They had heard about the storm surge that had hit Tacloban, Leyte, where many people died. Bella and her family, too, got on their knees to pray that the typhoon would finally leave and fade away. 

In the aftermath of Yolanda, Bella said that people were panic-buying. There was a scarcity of food and they had hardly anything to eat on their tables. Hunger stalked their barangay. But, thanks to the Filipino virtue of pagtutulungan (helping one another) or bulig-bulig in the Waray language, the residents of Literon were able to overcome their difficulties and survive. They were grateful as well to their mayor, vice-mayor, councilors, barangay officials, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council.

In 2017, ALKFI came to meet with them and offered them a project—the development of Barangay Literon as an eco-tourism site. Initially, some had doubts about the ALKFI proposal because, as they had often experienced, people would commit to help but then the help would never be forthcoming. They thought the proposal, therefore, was just like the rest and would in the end not push through. Reana had to show them her team’s sincerity by getting them organized, giving them moral support, and imbuing them with a team spirit in her talks with them.  

First Community Meeting

Bella recounts:

“It was in the year 2019 that I became the manager of our ecotourism project. By then, I had overcome my earlier feelings of insecurity that I had had since I was a child due to my lack of education. I became more confident, and didn’t care about what others said. I no longer felt nervous talking to the town mayor, to representatives of ALKFI and the Department of Tourism. I could now do so with ease. 

Bella Malubay at Kaunan ha Lulugayan

“One of my responsibilities was leading guests to view the gushing, crystal-clear waters of the Lulugayan Falls in Calbiga. The falls are considered a ‘hidden treasure awaiting visitors to Calbiga.’ There is a trail that connects to a hanging bridge leading to a nearby restaurant that serves organic food. It is thrilling to watch the falls from a view deck at the restaurant, where one can have pictures taken with this gift of nature as background. Truly, Mother Nature, through these falls, had given us a means of livelihood, as tour guides, restaurant staff, and with a store to boot!

Lulugayan Falls; Photo from DOT RO8

Lulugayan Falls Downstream-Calbiga River • Photo from DOT RO8

“ALKFI made us more conscious of nature and its gifts. I observed that trees had helped reduce the deadly effects of Yolanda. Therefore, we made sure that from now on no trees would be cut down. We prevented people from cutting down trees for firewood. And we learned to properly dispose of our garbage, especially plastic materials, by not throwing trash carelessly about. We became guardians of nature and have, in fact, received awards for our efforts in conserving the environment.” 

Pintakasi | Community Clean-up

Bella had joined the Literon Lulugayan Falls and Ecovillage Service Cooperative (LLESCO) in order to be able to help advance her family and the community. Organized in 2019, the co-op has over eighty members, composed principally of residents of Literon and its environs. Being members of the co-op has also helped her and her family and friends acquire the virtues of patience and humility because they had to adapt to their co-members’ personality traits—some, haughty and self-centered; others, serious and quiet—as well as their likes and dislikes. It has also taught her to be more generous by sharing what she had learned from the co-op with others. Her allies throughout this experience were her own self and her family as well as everyone in her co-op. Her enemy was none other than fear—she was not sure that their togetherness would last, but she certainly hoped that it would, and that their helpfulness towards one another would continue.

LLESCO Community; Photo from LLESCO

Bella exclaims, “My community and my province have become progressive along with myself and my family!” 

Bella’s dream is for her daughter to finish school so that they could help the family and themselves. She hopes that, through hard work and perseverance, they can progress in life and have enough money to help the family and the community. Abegail, for her part, dreams of also one day having a family of her own and holds the same wish that Bella has for the children she may have in the future.

Ate Bella

The stories of Abegail and Bella show the resilience of the human spirit, proving true what a poet once said: “We shall build again, no matter how many skies have fallen.”