Recurring typhoons, periodic eruptions, seasonal flooding, and other hazards are part of ordinary Bikolano life. They are unavoidable. The Bicol peninsula is host to two active volcanoes: Bulusan in Sorsogon and the picturesque but deadly Mayon in Albay. Flashfloods usually follow typhoons. In some areas, lahar and mudflow, landslides, and other natural and even man-made hazards pose constant threat to the population. But Bikolanos have grown inured by these hazards and disasters. Aside from the typhoons and volcanic eruptions, Bikol is the fourth poorest region in the country from a long-standing record of being second only to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Bikolanos have been exposed to many forms of deprivation, oppression, exploitation, and suffering, which contributed to their resiliency and resignation in facing untoward events.
However, it cannot be discounted that majority of Bikolanos are still vulnerable to disasters and their capacity to cope with calamities remain low as what demonstrated during and after typhoons. “Milenyo” and “Reming” are the two typhoons that hit Bikol and has exposed the weakness of the Bikolanos. The resultant massive destruction and loss of lives challenged the people and leaders to reflect deep and moved them to act in order to uplift the lives of victims-from miserable losers into triumphant survivors.
The serious and daunting task at present is to rehabilitate and restore the Region into its former beauty and greatness. In this aspect, Aquinas University of Legazpi has been taking the challenge by actively involving in the transformative efforts in Bikol.
After “Reming” left the University and communities in Bikol in shambles, AQ promptly launched the Tabang sa Tugang (TaSaTû) Relief Operations. TaSaTû is anchored in the AQ Community Service Training Program (CSTP). It is now in the process of implementing a continuing program on disaster preparedness, emergency response, and relief and rehabilitation involving not only AQ administrators, personnel, and students but also organizations and residents in its service communities.
Modestly, TaSaTû’s operation after “Reming” ably complimented the government’s relief efforts. It was able to reach out to unserved and undeserved communities. The AQ Relief and Rehabilitation Center understands that the communities receiving sufficient relief assistance are those that are in evacuation centers. Those who stayed out of the centers are usually ignored because the public and relief attention are focused on evacuation centers.
TaSaTû would then see to it that underserved communities will be the necessary beneficiaries of the University’s relief operation guided by its vision and mission. A consequence of TaSaTû will be the sustained and intensified involvement of the University in regional development.
Now, AQ is preparing the grounds for its short- and long-term programmed plans for the rehabilitation of its campus and Albay in general. With these plans, AQ hopes to contribute something to reduce the Albayano and Bikolano people’s vulnerability to calamities and at the same time enhance their capacity and preparedness to face them.
TaSaTû brought the AQ community through different encounters an in the process learned valuable lessons. AQ volunteers have with them the true mark of the Aquinian manifested in their initiatives and sound judgment when confronted with difficult situations. The staff, students, and community workers came from different disciplines, orientation, and personal and family status yet they were one in the goal of humbly serving the victims and united in carrying with them the spirits of those who perished in the calamity. The volunteers journeyed together and shared their stories and those of the grieving communities. In these encounters, AQ volunteers were able to realize that they have the innate capabilite and creativity in community service. They only needed trust and venue for growth. The encounters with the communities opened eyes of the AQ community to concrete realities.