Thursday, Apr 15

In the mountains of Baggao, unsung stories of suffering

October 14, 2018 | Jonas Trinidad

Tzu Chi volunteers open Remmy Malanot’s sack of rice together. She’s barely able to do the job herself, considering that she has been blind in her left eye for three decades. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

Story Highlights

  • As Tzu Chi continues its relief activity in Baggao, Cagayan, its volunteers went around the villages to see how the locals are doing. They came across stories that might have remained unsung had they not paid the locals a visit.


Anyone who regularly travels on a bus for more than half a day can attest to the rigors of such a journey. If not the twists and turns of the only road going to and from the destination, the drawn-out hours of sitting can surely take their toll. Fortunately, remarkable experiences are more than enough to compensate for the arduous trip.

The mission to help a typhoon-stricken town pick up the pieces is no exception. Rough terrain and remoteness are no reasons for Tzu Chi volunteers to refuse the call of help from the town of Baggao, Cagayan. Like Marikina after Ondoy (Ketsana) and Tacloban after Yolanda (Haiyan), this farming town in the foothills of the Sierra Madre deserve help after all they’ve gone through with Ompong (Mangkhut).

On October 14, the last day of Tzu Chi’s relief activity in Baggao benefitted families from three barangays: Bitag Grande, Bitag Pequeno, and Mocag. Rice and blankets found their way to a total of 1,455 families, bringing the two-day total to 3,080.

The 16-hour journey from Metro Manila, however difficult, pays off in the form of moving stories. Tzu Chi volunteer Prescila Gatchalian, upon hearing the stories of two recipients, realized that the people of Baggao deserved to be helped.

“Living in the mountains, these people strive to get by every day. Because of the typhoon, they never expected these harder times. So, they’re thankful to Tzu Chi Foundation for coming here,” commented Gatchalian, a volunteer from San Mateo, Rizal.

“The journey [to the relief venue] may have been difficult, but they struggled to get to the relief operation to receive aid. This is their first time receiving relief items like this,” she added.


Living with breast cancer

From planting rice seedlings to housekeeping, 50-year-old Levie Claustro does all that she can to make a living. However, she’s severely limited by her stage-one breast cancer, and the cost of treatment far exceeds her income. She attributes her sickness to her penchant for working to the bone.

“I guess I got my illness from planting seedlings. Day and night, we plant the seedlings when it’s time to farm rice. We do this all day and night, and even throughout predawn hours,” she said.

All that earns her is only Php 200 a day.

“It’s simply not enough [for my treatment] so I also work as a housekeeper. After the farming, I would work around one’s house doing the laundry and other chores,” Claustro added.

Her only son is in charge of doing chores around their home in Barangay Mocag.


Left for blind

In Barangay Bitag Grande, a Tzu Chi volunteer comforts a teary-eyed Remmy Malanot who recalls the start of her hardship. After a stray grain of rice hit her left eye, her vision started degrading. Selling almost everything her family owned and asking help from family members, Malanot ultimately couldn’t afford treatment.

She has been blind in her left for 30 years.

“I want my children to go to school. Two of them even decided not to have families of their own so they could help me,” said Malanot.

She has nothing but tears for a fate she thought could’ve been averted. At the same time, she has nothing but gratitude for Tzu Chi for giving her aid amidst hard times.

“I’m grateful for [Tzu Chi’s] help and wish that they continue to help us,” she said.

  • The second day of Tzu Chi’s relief activity in Baggao sees families from three barangays—Bitag Grande, Bitag Pequeno, and Mocag—receive their relief package. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The residents join Tzu Chi volunteers in praying that such a disaster never happens again, as well as for peace in the world. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Despite the heavy load, this recipient walks away with her best smile. Many are happy that Tzu Chi volunteers have traveled all the way to remote Baggao to bring aid. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Remmy Malanot receives her two ten-kilo sacks of rice on top of other relief items. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Tzu Chi volunteer Nene Uy (right) comforts 50-year-old Levie Claustro (right) who suffers from stage-one breast cancer. Because of her condition, she struggles to perform the most basic chores, much less her livelihood. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The volunteers open the bag of rice as Claustro gets a few cups in time for lunch. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Outside the Malanot home, Tzu Chi volunteers take a moment to catch their breaths. The rough ride from the highway and the long climb leads them to a house that virtually faces the Sierra Madre Mountains themselves. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The last of the beneficiaries line up to receive their aid. The relief ended in the afternoon. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】