Losing Their Homes, But Not Their Hopes

Stories of loss, hope and recovery of Typhoon Mangkhut survivors in the Philippines

Text by Kaye Viray
Photos and Videos by Julie Batula
Aerial footage by JC Borlongan

“They didn’t make it. Your two sons are gone.”

That is how her neighbours broke the ‘the worst news any mother can hear’ to Helen (70).

“My two sons just wanted to help. But instead, they died rescuing others,” she shares, her voice shaking and her eyes welling with tears.

On 15 September 2018, Typhoon Mangkhut, the strongest that has ever hit the Philippines since Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, made landfall in Benguet, a highland province in northern Philippines.

Helen and her family had felt fortunate to have survived the landslides that killed 12 people and left four people missing in their neighbourhood alone.

What happened the next day completely changed her world.

Helen’s sons, Michael (33) and Hector (47) were experienced backhoe (excavating equipment) operators who decided to help rescue people buried in the mud and rocks brought by the landslides in their area.

Unfortunately, the soil where they were operating the heavy equipment was still soft due to days of heavy downpour, causing it to totally collapse. Michael and Hector were among the rescuers and volunteers who tragically lost their lives in this incident.  

A beneficiary of IOM’s rental subsidy assistance, Helen says the money will help her a lot in rebuilding a new home far away from her previous one, which is in a landslide prone area.

TYPHOON MANGKHUT AFTERMATH

Typhoon Mangkhut (locally named Ompong) made landfall in the northern region of the Philippines early on 15 September as a category five super-typhoon. The typhoon caused multiple landslides and flooding, ripped the roofs of homes and buildings, and destroyed agricultural land. Many remote areas were inaccessible.

Baguio and Benguet, known tourist destinations for their beautiful sceneries, cooler temperatures and delectable strawberries and other produce, were not spared.

An estimated 4.6 million people were living in areas affected by the typhoon. A couple of days after Mangkhut made landfall, 192,840 people were sheltering in 1,899 evacuation centres.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council confirmed over 70 deaths and more than 130 injured. According to an OCHA report, over 210,000 homes had been reported as damaged, of which seven per cent (more than 14,000) were completely destroyed.

LOSING THEIR HOMES, BUT NOT THEIR HOPES

Under the pine trees  in Tuba, Province of Benguet, our team met Juliet (69) looking far into the horizon. She appeared calm and eager to share her story.

“The day of the typhoon was nothing like this beautiful day. I wish it is always like this,” she utters.

“I was three seconds from death. I stood up from my bed and then suddenly, a big rock fell on it, followed by a slew of mud. I didn’t think twice and ran out of my house to save myself,” Juliet reveals how the typhoon destroyed her home.

“My husband died many years ago while he was at work at a mining site. Since then, I raised my five sons alone. Now, they have families of their own and I’m proud that they grew up to be responsible men,” she says with such visible pride.

Although it is now several months since the typhoon struck, Juliet still gets frightened whenever there is some rainfall.

“Since that day, even the slightest rain and wind scare me. Now, even if it’s just drizzling outside, I immediately pack my stuff and go to the evacuation centre or to one of my sons’ house.”

Juliet is one of the recipients of IOM’s rental assistance for Typhoon Mangkhut-affected families. She plans to use the financial support to move out of her current home that she now deems unsafe.

“I can, for sure, rebuild my house. But no amount of reconstruction will make me feel safe there anymore. What happened was enough for me to really accept the fact that I need to go somewhere else. I will instead use IOM’s help to improve the house of one of my sons in Baguio City, whose family is happy to take me in. There, I will not be alone, I will feel safer and I will sleep better at night,” she smiles.

With her sons in their home in Baguio City. 

“The typhoon completely destroyed and washed away our house. Now, we are living in this vehicle,” Pedrito says as he stands next to an old van on the side of the road. This van is what he now calls his new home.


“It was a Friday when the heavy rains started. We were all scared, that’s why my family and I decided that we would not sleep the whole day in case something bad happens. Friday passed and everything seemed to be fine.”

“Unfortunately, on Saturday morning, when we finally decided to sleep, a sudden rush of water swept through our house. The landslide was worse than we thought and we all ran to save ourselves,” he says, pointing at what looks like a dried-up river bed. In fact, this is an eerie reminder of when the typhoon swept away their home. The spot Pedrito was pointing at was apparently where their house used to stand.

“When you look at it now, you won’t even think that houses used to be here. It looks so sad,” he shares wistfully. “But we had a lot of memories here. That is why we decided to park our broken van next to it and live here for now.”

Next to the van was a dog that Pedrito was so excited to introduce. “This dog is part of our family now. He was lost during the typhoon. He was almost washed away by the landslides too, but he fought for his life and saved himself. We named him Saver because of that.”

Pedrito stands in front of the area where their house used to be. The typhoon caused a landslide that swept through their home. 

“I am very grateful for the cash assistance we received from IOM. Now, we use some of the money to buy goods that we then sell at the tourist spots in Baguio, and the rest to pay rent where my kids, grandchildren and parents are staying,” Pedrito says, trying to hold back tears.

IOM TYPHOON RESPONSE

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), funded by European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), is responding to the immediate needs of the most vulnerable population affected by Typhoon Ompong/Mangkhut and the following Typhoon Yutu/Rosita across Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and Cagayan Valley (Region II).

An IOM staff helps Juliet go through the process of collecting the financial assistance from IOM. 

In coordination with other ECHO-funded initiatives, IOM is providing transitional and recovery shelter solutions, including rental subsidy and informed repair and self-recovery operations to over 1,700 families or households who no longer have a safe home after the devastating storms and a flurry of landslides.

Also, due to the complex nature of facilitating sustainable livelihoods/coping strategies in the Province of Benguet, IOM Headquarters has released USD 20,000 from the UK Department for International Development’s (DFID) Core Support for Humanitarian Response Capacity Enhancement in Northern Luzon. 

In line with determining the most empowering, beneficiary-driven approach to resilience in the typhoon-affected communities, IOM will pilot multi-purpose cash distribution in a small target population and provide technical support for alternative livelihoods and the development of coping strategies to mitigate risk.

Based on their recovery progress and isolated location, IOM has targeted the ECHO beneficiaries in Tuba Camp 3. The 29 households in this area largely reside in the operation areas of a private mining company. Due to the large influx of workers, many of these households struggle to find regular work and reside in areas highly susceptible to landslides.

LOOKING AHEAD TO THE FUTURE

When the IOM team asked Helen, Juliet and Pedrito on separate occasions how they would like their future to pan out, they all surprisingly said the same thing. With hopeful smiles, they all wished for their complete families to live peacefully in a safe, happy place.