If you’re a frequent traveler and Tacloban City in Leyte is one of the cities in the country you visit regularly, you certainly could be thinking whether it should remain on your list.
Why shouldn’t it?
After all, it has been four years since Yolanda nearly wiped the city off the map with 6,300 people recorded to have died and more have yet to be found up until last week’s commemoration of the typhoon’s noxious effect on the city.
Last week, with other members of the press, we landed on the rebuilt and expanded Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport, which days after Typhoon Yolanda the members of the Liberal Party (then the ruling party in the national government) suggested it be transferred to the neighboring town whose mayor was, of course, a party mate. The Taclobanons are glad the suggestion died a natural death as the party lost control of the national government when Rodrigo Roa Duterte, then mayor of Davao City, won the elections and became the President of the Philippines.
The road from the airport to the city’s central business district no longer gave us the feeling of sorrow as we saw on both sides houses then devastated by the typhoon are now standing proudly and seem to welcome us saying “we’ve moved on.”
Tacloban City scheduled three days of memorial activities, from Tuesday till Thursday, in remembering the thousands who perished when super typhoon “Yolanda” struck four years ago.
“We wanted the memorial to be meaningful and heartfelt,” said Mayor Cristina Gonzales-Romualdez, whose husband Alfred was mayor then and who is now regarded by fellow Taclobanons as the hero of Yolanda, which of course the mayor dismisses with a shy smile. “No, I am not the hero,” he said during a speech after a Thanksgiving Mass before Taclobanons at the renovated Astrodome that served as shelter to many residents during the typhoon. “We are all heroes as we have risen together from the destruction of the typhoon and are moving on to tell the whole world that we’re strong and we have the will to survive.”
It was the second Thanksgiving Mass of the four-year commemoration. The first one was at Anibong where the front hull of a cargo vessel, MV Eva Jocelyn, that was sideswept to the shore of Anibong, a barangay of fisherfolk, was transformed into a memorial with a mini lagoon where mini candles lit was floated after the mass and the speeches by the former Mayor and his wife, the incumbent.
MV Eva Jocelyn is now a tourist destination. “It is now the Anibong Memorial Landmark that will serve as a reminder to future generations how the city recovered from the ruins,” said Mayor Cristina Gonzales-Romualdez.
On Wednesday, Nov. 8, a commemorative walk from the Tacloban City Hall to the city convention center was held early morning after which a thanksgiving Mass at the Astrodome was celebrated. A program featuring music by the I Love Tacloban Band and Wency Cornejo interspersed the speeches of the ex-Mayor, the incumbent Mayor, and President Duterte’s representative, Undersecretary Wendel Avisado, presidential assistant on Yolanda Rehabilitation.
After the activities, we stole a couple of hours to take a look at the city and how it is four years after. And much to our delight, the central business district is alive and busy with people from other parts of the province fueling the city’s fast recovery. And we were kind of looking for something that would remind us of Yolanda and we saw very little, like several abandoned buildings and houses.
At nearby Palo, The Oriental Leyte, which was washed away by Yolanda is again alive and ready to receive guests. The lobby is well decorated with Christmas trimmings, and the staff, mostly Leyteños, welcome anyone who wants to take look with a warm smile.
Taclobanons hope they wouldn’t have to face another Yolanda in the future, but if they did, they are ready, say the Romualdezes.