Mangsee Island and the tragedy of Vinta

The onslaught of Tropical Storm Vinta on the night of December 23, 2017 wreaked unprecedented human casualty and property damage in the remote island of Mangsee in Balabac. Some 37 people, mostly fishermen, were reported to have died and over 60 are still missing, according to provincial monitoring reports.

The storm surge driven by strong winds had caused massive devastation in the island. Power lines were,  downed, important facilities such as schools and health center were not spared. Small houses were flattened to the ground. The enormity of the damage was beyond the imagination of the local residents.

The 23-hectare Mangsee Island (atoll) located in the southwest of Balabac, Palawan is the refuge for 10,000 seafaring people. Ninety-five percent (95%) of the population are Muslims, mostly ethnic Sama. Fishing and barter trading with the neighboring merchants from Kudat, Malaysia are the important economic activities in the island.

Due to limited dwelling space, shanties were found scattered off the beach surrounding the island. The densely-populated atoll is way beyond its carrying capacity thereby causing concerns among local authorities in the areas of health and sanitation, waste disposal, environmental degradation and public safety.

When TS Vinta pounded the island for a few hours two days before Christmas, the locals scampered for safety. In the aftermath of the disaster, those who survived the ordeal were confronted with the question of how to rebuild their shattered homes and lives.

Rising to the challenge, the provincial government of Palawan led by Governor Jose Chaves Alvarez wasted no time in mobilizing resources to be delivered to the island. Tabang Casimanua was launched by the PGP to mobilize donations and helping hands for the relief operations.

Family food packs, bottled water, bales of clothing and medicines were immediately ferried to the island through the air and naval assets provided by the Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Medical workers from the Provincial Health Office (PHO), the Department of Health and the Western Command were flown the day after, to provide medical care to those who need it.

The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC), upon the directive of the governor, convened immediately to address the most pressing needs of the victims.The Council collectively agreed to send in the PNP-SOCO (Scene of the Crime Operative) Team to assist in the identification of the retrieved cadavers before they are buried as per customs of the Muslims.

The RDANA (Rapid Damage Assessment and Needs Analysis) Team was dispatched to take stock of the situation and make recommendations in rebuilding efforts.

To date, relief operations spearheaded by the provincial government in partnership with the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) MIMAROPA are continuing in the island until such time when local residents are able to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and what was left of their homes and properties.

Rebuilding a community from a pile of debris takes time and many hands are needed to do the work. The bayanihan collective spirit among Filipinos and among Palaweňos will once again be put to litmus test.

(contributed article by the Provincial Information Office)

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