Over a month after Typhoon “Pablo” drowned the provinces of Compostela Valley and Davao del Norte in a deadly avalanche of stones and rocks (these days, they call the town of New Bataan as New Bato-an), the highway that whisks you up the northern reaches of the Davao Region introduces you to a severely windswept landscape: huts tumbling into heaps of crushed hopes and lives; roofs of community gyms twisting in the air as one-of-a-kind images of trauma; a mall crunched up into some kind of post-nuclear holocaust; and formerly picturesque beach resorts and spring-water pools nowhere to be found anymore, buried in hillocks of pebbly rubble.
Everywhere you go, trees lie on the wayside, unceremoniously uprooted, or look limping in a state of shock as they tilt in the direction of the ferocious wind that has long passed them by.
But it has been six weeks, and schools hang streamers on their gates that declare, “Classes really resume now.”
For the past few years, the Manat Central Elementary School in the Compostela Valley town of Nabunturan has proudly maintained its title as the regional champion in the Department of Education’s annual recognition of the “Gulayan sa Paaralan.” And why not? Its four-hectare campus has been a haven of greenery—fruit trees, flowering plants, vegetable plots, trellises of edible leaves, and patches of root crops. The back lot is even called Children’s Forest.
When Typhoon Pablo came, it felled at least a hundred trees on campus and made a wasteland of the vegetable gardens. “It’s erased,” was all principal Allan R. Guerta could say. The school ended up spending over P20,000 in sawing up the uprooted lanzones, rambutan, macopa, durian, mango, coconut, and other toppled trees into usable lumber. As for the veggies, they’re simply gone. No more chances for the national finals this school year.
“We consider ourselves blessed nonetheless because the school has been spared,” says Guerta. As the concurrent district coordinating principal for DepEd’s Manat District, he reports that seven of the 10 schools serving 20 barangay under his jurisdiction were severely affected by Pablo—school buildings were ripped and a number of students no longer have homes. Guerta discloses that he cancelled the Christmas party and gave the savings of some P40,000 to the schools most in need.
He says that following government warnings, he suspended classes in the afternoon before the typhoon struck. “But it was a sunny afternoon,” he recalls, “and since I’m from Surigao and am used to typhoons, I stayed in my office and worked overtime. I even left the school past 7 p.m. And then I woke up at dawn, and the wind was knocking on our doors. That was it.”
Jessica Mesiona, 12, Adison Matsui, 10, and Sweet Gidlyn May B. Amyer, 12—three pupils of Manat Central Elementary School—survived the ordeal, together with their families and their rondalla instruments. Don’t look now, but the Manat Rondalla will perform in a benefit concert together with the Sunrise String Orchestra, the renowned children’s strings ensemble from Thailand led by Prof. Col. Choochart Pitaksakorn, Thailand’s National Artist for Music, as part of the upcoming Musikahan sa Tagum Festival 2013.
“Let’s face it, the prospects are bleak,” says Nestor Horfilla, executive director of the festival that kicks off the cultural calendar in Mindanao. “The area of Manat mostly relies on coconuts, and 80 percent of the coconuts here were destroyed. But we want to spur everything and everyone back to life again with music. From the wrath of destruction, so to speak, to the harnessing of creative energies.”
Now on its 13th year, the Musikahan sa Tagum Festival has become a benchmark of community engagement through culture and the arts. “It is a convergence of strategic arts management, responsive and responsible local governance, proactive corporate citizenship of the business sector, dynamic participation of the education and civic sectors as well as the barangay units, and the inspired shepherding of the tourism industry,” says Alma Uy, chair of the City of Tagum Tourism Council and wife of Tagum Mayor Rey Uy.
What started as an annual platform showcasing the city’s talents in music has become one of the country’s premiere music festivals—from rondalla and brass bands and show bands to classical music and amateur and professional vocal competitions and choral performances to music theater and music conferences and music workshops. A few years ago, the city received a grant from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts to host the third international rondalla festival as a highlight of the Musikahan.
“The idea is to use the musical arts in the necessary task of healing and community-rebuilding,” says Horfilla. Bannering the call “Go Green, Restore the Valley,” the cultural action project of this year’s Musikahan aims to do to “raise public awareness on environmental conservation and adaptation to climate change; generate funding support for the victims of the catastrophic typhoon, and; engage artists and cultural workers in creative activities for the rehabilitation and restoration of the caring and sharing communities in Compostela Valley Province.”
Under the “Go Green Nurture Life” project, more than 200 volunteer performing artists are featured in a nightly series of music-and-dance concerts that will raise public awareness on environmental concerns and integrate learning contents on climate change adaptation and mitigation.
“Artists Helping Artists (AHA)” is the Musikahan’s creativity fair which will exhibit the finest works of Davao-based visual artists and of Mindanao’s indigenous cultural masters for auction or sale.
Through the “Artists Engagements in Crisis Situation,” about 40 visual and performing artists trained in “arts-for-therapy” will go to the ravaged areas and conduct creative stress-debriefing sessions, especially with children and the youth.
A “volun-tourism” project will bring interested participants on a thrilling tour of landscapes both magical and miserable, and provide opportunities to do an afternoon’s volunteer work in building new homes for the typhoon victims.
And not to forget the “Dalit Musikahan: Benefit Concerts for the Affected Communities in ComVal.” Slated on Feb. 24 simultaneously in Tagum City and Davao City, the benefit concerts will be open to the public free of charge, but donations in cash and in kind are welcome. In this regard, the Manat Rondalla from Compostela Valley will be twin-billed with the Sunrise String Orchestra from Thailand for an evening concert at the new SM in Lanang, Davao City.
“We started the school year excited about joining this year’s Musikahan competitions for the Rondalla, Chorale, and Drum and Bugle,” says Fatima L. Alatraca, Math and English teacher at the Manat Central Elementary School and coordinator of the school’s rondalla, chorale, and drum and bugle groups. “But after the typhoon, we decided to cancel our participation. But the Musikahan organizers did not accept our withdrawal from the festival but instead invited us to perform with an international group during the benefit concert. Our students are happy, and we are now rehearsing ‘Tiririt,’ ‘Paru-paru,’ and ‘Bahay-Kubo,’ among others.”
This must-see event highlights the Musikahan sa Tagum Festival, which unfolds on Feb. 18-24.
For inquiries about and support for Musikahan sa Tagum, please contact The Secretariat, Cultural Action Project for the Victims of Typhoon Pablo, Musikahan sa Tagum Festival 2013, City of Tagum Tourism Office, Pioneer Avenue, Rotary Park, Tagum City; tel. 084-2162965; fax 084-3701424; mobile 0918-3367488; e-mail email@example.com; website www.musikahansatagum.com.