Ijayson Inquig, a senior network engineer at Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart). (Photo from Smart)

Ijayson Inquig, a senior network engineer at Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart), was looking forward to returning home to Puerto Princesa City for Christmas and celebrating his birthday with his family when super typhoon Odette disrupted his plans in the middle of December last year.

But Inquig, 28, will never forget the day residents of Dumaran town’s Barangay Santa Teresita were reconnected to the rest of the country, 11 days after super typhoon Odette cut them off. It was also his birthday on that day.

On December 17, while Odette pounded the province, Inquig remained in Roxas, about 130 kilometers north of the provincial capital, to monitor communication points in the municipality as well as those in the towns of San Vicente, Dumaran, and Araceli.

He said it was the worst typhoon he had experienced in the province, “The wind was really strong. The building was shaking. I thought the roof would give out.” By 8 p.m. much of Palawan was cut off from the rest of the country as Odette knocked down power utilities and communication networks.

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Inquig set out the following morning to inspect the damage. He intended to travel to Sta. Monica in Puerto Princesa in order to upload software that would restore communication services in the area.

“Devastation was everywhere. The roads were flooded, and debris were all over,” Inquig explained. He was only able to reach Barangay Tinitian due to the seriously damaged Langogan bridge, which was impassable to vehicles.

Without access to Puerto Princesa, Inquig focused on surveying fiber cables that ran around 60 kilometers from Langogan to Roxas and relaying his findings to PLDT technicians stationed in the municipality of Taytay, some 70 kilometers north of Roxas.

Inquig then prioritized fixing Smart’s relay station in Langogan as restoring this backbone could vastly improve affected wireless services all over the province. When the site was up, Inquig then trained his sights on the municipality of Dumaran including communities on an island it shares with the municipality of Araceli.

A day after Christmas, together with the company’s emergency response team, Inquig hiked up to the relay station in Barangay Santa Teresita to assess the damage. It would take another day and another hike back to the site before they could start with repairs. While they were able to restore the link to Dumaran Island, they had to wait for another day for the technical team from Puerto Princesa to reach the relay station in Barangay Ilian and align the equipment with the one in Santa Teresita. On December 28, a communication link was established between these sites, finally reconnecting Dumaran with the rest of Palawan.

“My family was texting me on the eve of my birthday asking me if I could come home. But I told them, I couldn’t,” recalled Inquig. “With Smart being the sole mobile services provider in Santa Teresita, reconnecting residents in the area was more important. I’m sure their relatives had been anxious to hear from them.”

Inquig may have missed celebrating his birthday with his family but he said that his latest birthday is, perhaps, the most special one just yet.

“People were really grateful when we reestablished the link in Barangay Santa Teresita. They were very happy that they could finally call their loved ones. It was indeed a very special birthday gift,” he said.

Inquig and the rest of PLDT and Smart’s frontline network technical teams have been working tirelessly to restore services in other severely impacted areas not only in Palawan but across Visayas and Mindanao as well.

PLDT and Smart aim to create a #SafeandSmart Philippines by championing initiatives that promote a culture of preparedness, provide an immediate response through network resilience, continuous availability of communication services, and relief assistance to communities affected by disasters, and aid in recovery.

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