(If ignorance was truly bliss, I’d be in heaven by now! I’m always making mistakes (who doesn’t) and I’ve been misspelling Lyndon’s name forever. My apologies, my friend!)
Turns out that Praxy’s greatest fear throughout the aftermath wasn’t for herself. It was me, Ken. She was to spend a week trying to get word to me. “Don’t come to Salcedo!” It dominated her thoughts. She had no idea what I was doing, same as I had no idea what she was doing. She kept telling herself, “Ken is intelligent, he will know not to come here”. But, the fear is always in your head when you lose control of a situation as severe as Haiyan.
She need not have worried. Shortly after the storm and while still in the US, I’d asked Presco if he would accompany me on a search for Praxy. As the drama unfolded in Tacloban, I came to know that a rescue attempt be me would be nearly impossible. Because…I stand out. An Americano going into the area would be recognized as having money and food. And, even though the Philippine people are some of the nicest in the world, desperation brings lawlessness. I understand this. You have a starving family and a “wealthy” kano goes by on a motorcycle or a car. Which is more important to you, the kano or your hungry family?
And more, the imprisoned criminals in Tacloban and Ormoc had escaped and were murdering, looting, and raping. Adding misery wherever they went.
There were also another lawless element coming out of the mountains, NPA’s or New People’s Army. NPA’s are separatists hiding from the police and the Philippine army. They have been marginalized over the years by the army, but bands still exist. They were coming out and killing locals and stealing the first supplies coming to the stricken area at gun point. I know of several instances. One, for example, was four Red Cross vehicles with medicine and food being hijacked in northern Leyte.
I HAD to stay in Mactan. No sense in me getting injured or killed if Praxy was to survive. Actually, I would have been lucky to end up just “injured” if the wrong people found me.
So, Presco and his son Paul decided to go in. This is their story.
I’ve kept quiet about this for a good reason. Facebook. Everyone is connected to someone and word gets out. Sharing a share. Which can be shared again. It was certainly possible in my mind that bad people could get wind of the mission, secure a picture, get news to the disaster area, then waylay them on the road for what they had with them. Much too important to take even a tiny chance.
The second day I was here in Mactan, I got news from Pam (Presco’s daughter) that Presco and Paul would be here at Mactan on the third day. They were bringing a motorcycle and carrying food and medical supplies to Dr. Donna Pelicano, a niece in Tacloban. She was working constantly helping the injured and wounded, but she got word out that there was no food and little medicine. Her cry was heard, we responded.
When they arrived here, it was clear that they were serious about this. Both are retired from the Philippine army. Presco fought for many years early in his career. After 35 years he had advanced from combat to budgeting and supply before taking a well earned retirement. Paul was on the front line fighting Muslim insurgents in Mindanao for 10 years. Paul looks like someone you’d never want to get into a fight with. Tall, handsome, self assured, and strong. His current job is security at the Bethel Guest House in Dumguette. He’s not armed like most other guards. I don’t think he needs to be. He is dressed formal in a barong and works discreetly among the guests. You’d never know his past.
They had four bags. Two were small with personal clothing. One was huge and weighed close to 40 kilos. Food for Donna. The other was lighter, filled with medical supplies. It was a bit comical watching them drive up the road by the house. You could hardly imagine a more loaded motorcycle. Presco was in agony. The heavy bag had to sit on his lap and after an hour his legs were killing him. Just getting from the ferry terminal to the Mactan house was almost more than he could take.
But, we planned anyway. Failure or giving up were not options. All the ferries from Cebu to Ormoc were full. No possible transport until the following day. So, Pam, Presco, Paul, Lyndon, and I; we racked our brains. Anything to get the medicine to Donna that day, then Paul and Presco to Salcedo to search for Praxy.
-The northern ferry terminal on Cebu island was probably not an option, wiped out by Haiyan when the typhoon made a direct hit.
-I knew there was ferry from Danao to the Poro Town on the Camotes Islands, then connecting to another ferry company from Poro Town to Ormoc, Leyte. I’d seen the schedule posted when I visited the Camotes in 2005. I had no idea if this was an option and had severe doubts. Ferry schedules plus the Camotes had been near the path of Haiyan and took a sideswipe by the typhoon. But we decided to check it out anyway.
-There is another ferry from northern Bohol to southern Leyte. This was a small boat. Praxy and I considered this option when we decided to go from Asgad to Bohol and rejected it in favor of the fast catamarans. We all again rejected the idea because of the unknown quality of the ferry and a long trip through lands occupied by bandits. But, when you are desperate…
-There is yet another ferry from Cebu to Catbalogan in Western Samar. This was available, but the dates were wrong. Next one was Thursday. Besides, this option offered carrying the heavy bag for 5 extra hours and the ferry itself was a freighter and had a low speed. A last resort.
-I suggested to Paul that he check with his connections in the military and see if he could get the bag hand delivered by the Philippine Air Force. He thought about it for a while, then, BINGO! He knew someone that might help. A bigwig here in Cebu.
-Meanwhile, Paul’s wife Janet was working on yet another “outside the box” idea. She had a good friend whose husband was president of a shipping line that was going to make a run to Ormoc with (if I remember correctly, yes I did remember correctly!) fuel.
Pam relayed information to and from Dumaguette as we struggled with the options. Poring over maps. Weighing the possibilities.
Finally, nothing to do but check. Lyndon and Paul set out on the motorcycle after an early lunch. Lyndon, with his intimate knowledge of Cebu and Mactan would be the guide. Presco and I could only sit and wait.
We spent a pleasant afternoon on the porch renewing our friendship and talking about family matters. I found that he was fighting some of his chickens in December and I decided I wanted to go with him. He told me amusing stories, I shared amusing stories with him. Between calls and texts as everyone around us continued with their efforts.
At 4, Lyndon and Paul returned. Paul was exhausted and discouraged, he had nothing but bad news.
-Northern ferry terminal was indeed destroyed.
-Paul and Lyndon rode an hour each way to Danao to find…The ferry to Poro Town was full and the other ferry was questionable if it was operating. Not an option.
-We again decided that the Bohol-Leyte ferry was not an option, either.
-The ferry to Catbologan had space OK, but it was a 1 1/2 day trip.
-The high ranking friend was not in his office and was unavailable.
-The fuel supply ship to Ormoc was not going for two days. It had to get to Cebu, then load.
Failure. At least for now.
Sometime on this hectic day, I had made a simple speech. The gist of it was…Sometimes to get something done the quickest and the best, you have to wait and be patient. This is one of those instances.
It was possible to buy tickets in advance for the Cebu to Tacloban ferry at 8:30pm the following day. This is our best option, let’s do it. Time for Presco and Paul to rest up and prepare for the journey. It was going to be arduous, stressful, and perhaps dangerous. All agreed.
Then, finally, great news! There would be a military truck and a jeepney going direct over the mountain from Ormoc to Tacloban the morning after the ferry arrived. Not only would there be military protection, Presco would not have to carry that awful heavy bag on his legs. And, this route cuts 2 hours from the safer, round about costal route. Drop Donna’s bag, and continue on to Eastern Samar to look for Praxy.
It had now been 12 days since we had heard from her and we were all on edge with concern. She was a huge priority after we had found out Donna was OK.
The rescue mission was now planned and ready to be executed.
Paul was exhausted from driving took an afternoon nap and rest of us relaxed as best we could. Lyndon and Jean cooked up a wonderful meal and we sat around and drank beer afterwards. Four friends enjoying a quiet evening. Trying to forget our worries.
The next morning, Paul and Lyndon left at 6:30am for the ferry terminal to purchase tickets. They were back by noon and they were successful. Yay!
Details, details, details. We now had the final plan. Get everything together. Paul lined everything up on a bench seat, again becoming the leader of a squad entering harms way. He checked everything, ID, license, paperwork, money, then, I watched him freeze and his face go white. He had set the ferry tickets down on the table next to me and now he thought he had lost them on the road while riding back from the terminal. I realized almost instantly what he was looking for and called it to his attention, those tickets were still on the table 5 feet away. His relief was comical; we all FINALLY had good laugh. Finally, something to truly laugh about after all the stress, to relieve some of the tension. We swapped humorous stories about doing that EXACT same thing. This had a happy ending.
I offered everything I had to help them. They had doubts about my water filter until I brought it out. They had never seen a miniature filter the size of a large hotdog bun that could filter 750 liters of water if you were careful with it. Both microbes and chemicals. They were mightily impressed. In spite of the heavy load, it went right in. I gave them 10,000 pesos (now you see why I wasn’t going to write about this until they were safely home), my super antibiotics for Praxy is she was sick or injured, and 20 pictures of Praxy for (ulp!) identification.
Gasoline would be frightfully expensive, I knew the going rate was around 120 peso per liter, about $12 USD. I was concerned about their clothes, but they laughed. They were ex-military and knew they would have to blend in. Old, patched clothes and flip-flops were going to be donned while they were on the ferry to replace the nice pants and tennis shoes. I mentioned the motorcycle. It was nondescript, but the license was from Negros, not Leyte. Come to find out, the plates are identical color throughout the Philippines. We bought extra gas. Did everything we could think of. I went to the internet and came back with the news.
PRAXY WAS ALIVE AND OK. We were ecstatic. Scott (Praxy’s son) and I had discussed it and decided that it was OK with both of us if Paul and Presco returned after going to Tacloban. Paul and Presco discussed it briefly, but their minds were set. Presco was going to find his baby sister. PERIOD! Paul was adamant as well, Praxy had babysat him when he was four years old and he loves Praxy dearly. I understood, but both Scott and I wanted them to know that we figured that Praxy would find her way out just fine. No pressure from either of us. She was, and always has been, a survivor.
I hired a cab to take Presco, Lyndon, the luggage, and myself to the ferry terminal. There was the usual confusion trying to get to the correct terminal. Infrastructure is crazy in this country! And, the extra fuel was refused. I wasn’t surprised, but it allowed us to top off the motorcycle at the dock. Lyndon and I brought back less than a liter.
We sent them off with our hopes and prayers. Two brave men launching into the (at this time) unknown. They were not as concerned as I was. They figured they could pull it off. I believed them but still…
I got a message from them in Tacloban saying they were OK and had delivered the items safely to Donna. They then disappeared into the carnage.
I waited, prayed, and paced…