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When helping becomes a way of life
by Rimaliza Opiña

Volunteer rescuers, like Fernan Ballada, are unsung heroes. They carry on with their chosen tasks even when they know that they are also putting their lives at risk . -- Bong Cayabyab

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” -- Barack Obama

There is a certain kind of fulfillment that helping brings even when rewards are not tangible; even when the effort goes unnoticed.

Their daily grind is no different from the rest of us: they go to work, answer calls, work on the computer, and spend time with their loved ones. But at the height of weather disturbances or during emergencies and calamities, while we are in the comfort of our homes and workplaces, these volunteers toil day and night to keep us safe, unmindful of the dangers that they are exposed to, just so they could help those who are in need; unmindful that they too might someday also need help.

Resident handyman

The earthquake that rocked Northern Luzon in 1990 is one of the biggest disasters that hit Baguio. Thousands died that day, but many individuals, whose heroism might not even be remembered by the people they helped, rose above the tragedy and shown that amidst turmoil always there are people willing to give a helping hand.

Forty-five-year-old Fernan Ballada is one of the pioneer search and rescue volunteers during the 1990 earthquake. He distributed food packs and other relief items and inspected eroded buildings to check on people who may have been buried under the debris. Early on, Fernan is no stranger to the stench of death, and also to tenacity of hope and survival.

During that time, Baguio was among the hardest hit key cities north of Manila. The magnitude 7.8 quake left an estimated $369-million worth of damage and a total of 2,412 people dead, mostly in Baguio.

Among the famous landmarks in Baguio toppled by the quake were the Hyatt Terraces Plaza, Nevada Hotel, Baguio Park Hotel, Baguio Hilltop Hotel and FRB Hotel. Several school infrastructures were likewise damaged.

After the city recovered from the devastation, Fernan was relentless and continued volunteer work while employed at the City Hall of Baguio. He is, in fact, one of the many pioneer volunteers in the City Disaster Coordinating Council, and played a major role in the rescue and retrieval of victims of calamities that struck the city.

Among the operations that stands out in his memory was in 2009, during the onslaught of Typhoon Pepeng, when a concrete wall along Bokawkan Road eroded and buried several houses at Cresencia Village.

He and his team dug through several inches of mud, concrete, and other debris, and after several hours, found the survivors …… and the casualties.

“I dug so hard I almost hit one of the survivors,” Fernan, said recalling that that rescue mission was bittersweet. He found all six members of that family but three of them perished.

Fernan also ended up making the coffin of the casualties. He and then city administrator and now Councilor Peter Fianza built the coffins because there was not enough wood to make the coffins. At the time, Baguio and the rest of Cordillera was isolated for several days from nearby provinces in Luzon because of collapsed brid-ges and impassable roads.

As City Hall’s resident handyman, Fernan is also credited for making spine boards distributed in some barangays for risk reduction and disaster mitigation.

Not only is he good in carpentry, Fernan also helped fixed the electrical connection of the Baguio Convention Center. His petite frame made it possible for him to stay at the building’s ceiling and fix the wires, without damaging the already fragile wood frames.

Tourism to volunteerism

For former CDCC volunteer Elvira Valdez, her degree in Tourism could not equal the satisfaction she gets from helping.

Her stint as a volunteer began in 2003 when their teacher in swimming encouraged them to undergo training at the Emergency Medical Services of the city government. In 2005, Elvira and some of her classmates enlisted with the EMS. They were required to render one week, plus 600 hours duty.

Elvira said she never planned to stay long with the EMS but after her training, she decided to stay.

The operations office which she shares with other personnel of the former CDCC, now the City Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Office may be small, but to her, that place and everything in it changed her.

“I enjoy being on field. Maybe this is my calling,” Elvira said, realizing that she has been in rescue operations for over a decade now – first as a volunteer for four years and now employed by the city government.

“During typhoons we go to the mountains, in dangerous areas to inspect. What we do may be difficult to many but my passion to reach out is always there,” Elvira said.

No turning back

Fernan and Elvira are some of the faces of current and former volunteers who embrace the risks of the job and strive on no matter what.

Fernan now leads a team of volunteers, whom he also deploys during emergencies; at the same time he is a trainer in disaster risk reduction and management.

Elvira also conducts trainings but slowed down on fieldwork to concentrate on the deployment of teams and answer your urgent phone calls.

Both said they do not have plans of slowing down.

“I will only stop when I am no longer physically able,” Fernan said. For Elvira, any personal setback she is going through right now will not stop her from doing what she can, despite the limitations.

Recognition

People who are aware of their contributions attest that both deserve more than a thank you.

A City Hall employee who happens to have worked closely with Fernan and Elvira said both deserve an award but they are often overlooked.

Out of concern and frustration, he said sometimes, he could not help but speak for his friends who choose to not make a fuss about being openly acknowledged for doing what is “right.”

During calamities, only human compassion must have kept Fernan and Elvira, along with private rescue group members and paramedics, from going in these frantic moments, for despite the imminent threat they face, they continue to display the Filipinos’ indomitable spirit of courage and tenacity.
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:: Roland Bay–an:
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:: The tale of a "special;" mom and an anti–cancer advocate
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:: Ordinary people with extraordinary deeds
:: Helping hands, healing (he)arts
:: Taking the cudgels:
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Department of Tourism – CAR
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University of Baguio
Venus Parkview Hotel

Congressman Mark O. Go
Department of Health – CAR
Kings College of the Philippines
Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company
Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan
Narda’s Handwoven Arts & Crafts Inc.
Philex Mining Corporation
Pines City Colleges
Province of Benguet
Sangguniang Panlungsod
SiTEL
SM City Baguio
Social Security System

Assumption Medical Diagnostic Center
Baguio Center Mall
Baguio Central University
Baguio Heart and Lung Diagnostic Center Inc.
Baguio Memorial Chapels Incorporated
Baguio Water District
BDO
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources – CAR
C & Triple A Supermart
Congressman Ronald M. Cosalan
Curamed Pharmacy
Data Center College of the Philippines of Baguio City Inc.
Department of Agriculture – CAR
Department of Environment and Natural Resources – CAR
Department of Trade and Industry – CAR
Department of Transportation – CAR
Easter College Incorporated
Fabulo Beauty and Image Salon
Fast East Pacific Commercial
Filipino–Japanese Friendship Association of Northern Luzon, Inc.
GMS Technology
Immigration Network Services, Inc.
La Funeraria Paz, Inc.
Maybank
Mayor Romeo K. Salda
MMS Development Training Center Corporation
Mother Earth Deli Basket
National Economic & Development Authority–CAR
NIIT
Overseas Workers Welfare Administration
Philippine Science High School – CARC
R.A. Gapuz Review Center
Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board – CAR
Solibao – Ganza Restaurant
STI
Technical Education and Skills Development Authority

 



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