Today or tomorrow, depending on flight arrangements from Taoyuan Airport in Taiwan to Tuguegarao in Cagayan, and from there to Abulug in the northern part of the province, the remains of Melody Albano Castro will be brought to her home.
Melody is the 28-year-old caregiver who was one of the tragic victims of the massive earthquake that hit Hualien in the eastern seaboard of Taiwan, the only Filipino casualty at that. She returns to Abulug some eight or nine days since her body was discovered, having been pinned down by a cabinet at the height of the close-to-midnight tremor that shook Hualien and caused liquefaction of the ground upon which the building stood.
She was the sole breadwinner in a family where her husband was paralyzed in a vehicular accident some four years back, leaving a six-year old daughter orphaned. Her father is a marginal farmer in Abulug. Her death was thus such a tragic loss for her loved ones.
We at the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei, along with the labor and welfare officers who rushed to Hualien the morning after the midnight quake, were all hoping against hope that she would yet be found alive. On the morning of Day Two, our hopes were boosted when several occupants of the building were rescued alive, albeit injured and traumatized. The Hualien and Taiwan government as well as volunteer groups worked feverishly, hampered by strong aftershocks that caused the affected buildings to tilt precariously more.
Melody’s lifeless body was found at half past five in the afternoon, some 41 hours after the 6.4 intensity earthquake. By six that evening, our staff made phone contact with her father in Cagayan to relay the sad news.
While the life of a person, a poor Filipina OFW at that can never be measured in terms of whatever benefits her family would receive, we are thankful for the immediate assurances coming from the Department of Labor and Employment under Secretary Bebot Bello and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration under Administrator Hans Cacdac that despite Melody’s inability to renew her OWWA membership, her family would get all the benefits the law could provide. The DFA also assured us that repatriation costs would be borne by them. The employer and the recruitment agency, as well as the Pilipino Manpower Association in Taiwan solicitously assisted. The mayor of Hualien and the Ministry of Labor, as well as business groups in Taiwan and the Philippines, immediately responded in gestures of humanitarian and charitable concern.
Particularly touching was the offer of amount by a businessman-friend who wants to remain anonymous which he phoned in to me while I was in Cebu awaiting the President’s arrival to inaugurate a “Malasakit” center at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Hospital.
But then again, nothing could really compensate the loss of a human life in a sudden and unexpected act of Mother Nature. We are relieved that the kind of cruelty experienced by our OFW in Kuwait which got the President so justifiably incensed did not happen to our kababayans in friendly Taiwan.
I have always been overly fond of Cebu. At an early age, the passenger vessels we would take for Butuan would dock here to unload passengers and huge volumes of cargo. The furlough would allow us to savor the good food in downtown Cebu which were within walking distance from the pier.
Cebu has good feng shui, my half-Chinese mother would always say. Even during the worst economic crises of the country, it survived with little damage. Its people are industrious and friendly. They know what value-for-money means. They are not spendthrifts but they are not too frugal, either.
I have seen it grow through the years, from the sixties to the present. From the downtown pantalan to the reclamation, to the growth of its “uptown” which eventually became downtown when the former airport in Lahug was privatized and became a mixed-use area, while sadly, it’s old and historic Cebu around Colon, the oldest street in the Philippines, turned seedy and decayed. I have witnessed how neighboring Mandaue and Lapu-lapu, and even Talisay and Consolacion burgeoned into thriving economies.
But success has brought problems, and the most maddening to an occasional visitor is the traffic situation. The trip from the airport to Lahug on Sunday evening was pretty quick, but the trip from uptown Cebu to Mactan International Airport took close to an hour. Sure it was raining, but even on sun-drenched days, I have been through similar if not worse traffic.
It’s just that the roads built through time were not wide enough for the vehicular volume and the population explosion. A staff member of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas told me that he is no longer bothered by the traffic on Edsa each time he comes to NCR. Years ago he could not stand our metropolis; experiencing similar gridlock now in the narrow streets of Metro-Cebu has desensitized him to the traffic in Metro Manila.
Mega-Cebu needs a new rail mass-transport system quickly. The President, whose paternal forebears are from Cebu, should see to its fruition during his term.
You cannot widen the roads. You can only do so much more expensive reclamation upon which to put up a peripheral road network. The soon-to-be-built South Reclamation to Cordoba road will ease the volume of pass-through-Cebu traffic from Talisay and southwards direct to the airport, but it clearly is not enough.
Cebu is choking with vehicles both private and commuter. A World Bank-approved Bus Rapid Transit system will only compound the traffic, because it would dedicate two lanes for exclusive use of the BRT. Doing mental calculations of the passenger volume vis-à-vis the bus capacities and the time and motion intervals required would show it is not at all workable. It would be a sheer waste of money, loanable through a sovereign guarantee of the national government.
I passed by Escario St. from Lahug to the Vicente Sotto Memorial Hospital. It is a four-lane road which would effectively become single lane contraptions coming and going. What if a vehicle is stalled on one lane? That would tie up traffic in knots because the dedicated BRT lanes cannot be utilized.
When I passed Escario the other day, several fire trucks were rushing to some fire somewhere. How would that be if you only had a lane upon which to pass? Or think of emergency situations, ambulances perhaps.
If we can do a subway system to connect QC through Mandaluyong and Makati to Taguig and the southern bus terminal, thence to the airport, why not a similar subway system for Cebu?
If Boracay, which the President has labeled a cesspool, is choking from over-construction and wastewater pollution, Cebu, also a premier tourist destination and business hub, is now choking from sheer population density and unplanned carrying capacity.