Preschooler dies in Surigao earthquake that hit hardest on poor
BY DANILO ADORADOR III
FOR her March “moving up” ceremony, 6-year old Jenelyn “Kikay” Ebale had only two wishes: a new dress and some coloring stuff for her “class”— she played teacher on the weekends to children from the neighborhood. Her mother, Susanna tolerated the ruckus in their thatched roof home because it gave their youngest child and the only girl of six siblings great joy.
Kikay dreamed of becoming a teacher, and that the first thing she would do when she becomes one is get us a nice house,” said Susanna, 44, flipping through her daughter’s workbooks as tears ran down her cheeks.
She described Kikay as precocious and “kiat” (quirky). She loved animals and had a gift for making people laugh.
Kikay was one of eight casualties in the magnitude 6.7 earthquake that jolted Surigao City at 10:00 p.m. on February 10. The tremor injured more than 200 people, damaged more than 300 buildings and houses, rendered several roads and bridges impassable, and cut power and water for over a week.
[WATCH: Surigao miners first to respond in the aftermath of the magnitude 6.7 earthquake that hit Surigao del Norte]
The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable nations in the world to natural hazards that includes typhoons, floods, landslides, drought and earthquakes, according to a World Bank study.
Worse, poor families like Kikay’s are more exposed to the dangers of natural calamities and are likely to bear the brunt of their effects, according to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).
These risks are heightened by the reality that poor Filipino families mostly live in crowded, unsafe villages that lack urban planning. Commonly called “squatter”, these areas are usually excluded from the government’s regular hazard assessments because they are situated in private lands, said Roger de Dios, director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Caraga Region.
Kikay’s family live in one such village, where large branches of trees are left hanging by the roadside.
Angie Chato, the village leader, said the Community Local Environment and Natural Resources Office (CLENRO) did not act on her request to have the towering branches removed.
Kikay was knocked unconscious when one of those tree branches fell and hit Kikay on her head during the violent tremor, said her father, 43-year old Roger Ebale.
When she was rushed to a government hospital, Kikay’s parents were shocked and furious that their daughter could not get immediate treatment because local hospitals lacked basic diagnostic equipment.
“We were told to go to Davao City, which is a good 12-hour ride by land, but when we requested an ambulance to take us there, we were told that there was none available,” said Roger.
Roger said they approached the city’s emergency response unit for an ambulance but was told that one of its only two medical vehicles broke down, and the other was being used to transport other earthquake victims.
“It was the most depressing and horrifying 24 hours of my life. “
“It was the most depressing and horrifying 24 hours of my life. We were in a race to save our daughter, and yet circumstances kept on frustrating us,” he said.
But it was too late.
Kikay had died on the way to a modern government hospital in Davao City where her parents had hoped she could get a lease on life.
Inside the ambulance, Susanna said she held Kikay’s hands all the time and noticed her drawing her last breath at around 4 a.m. It was February 12, two days since they took her to the hospital.
“I think she would have made it if she received immediate medical attention. She had been suffering for two days,” she pointed out.
A PAUPER’S FUNERAL
While in Davao Kikay’s family missed financial assistance opportunities from the government.
When President Rodrigo Duterte visited the city two days after the February 10 earthquake to hand out cash to the victims and their families, the Ebales missed that. They were in Davao City mourning the loss of their daughter.
When they sought assistance from the City Social Welfare Office to bury their dead, Kikay’s parents were turned away because the agency was still validating the identities of all earthquake victims. They felt frustrated because it had been almost a week after the tremor had hit.
[RELATED VIDEO: Earthquake survivors forced to live in unsafe homes]
Wilma Destajo, head of City Social Welfare Office, admitted the agency lacked manpower to track and identify disaster victims immediately.
She said victims with verified claims can receive P5,000 in burial assistance.
“No proper data, no cash assistance can be handed out to anyone. That’s how government works,” Destajo said.
But the Ebales can’t wait no longer. They would have to bury their dead.
With their last centavo spent, it was a modest funeral procession to the cemetery for Kikay.
Her father, who used his carpentry skill to make a small coffin for her, borrowed a tricycle to send his daughter to her final resting place.
She was buried on a gloomy Saturday morning, eight days after the tremor that would forever change the life of the Ebales family.
“Tragedies like this are hard when you are poor. It’s harder when you can’t even give your youngest child and only daughter a decent burial,” Kikay’s mother cried.