FAITH IN STO. NIÑO. Roman Catholic faithful visit the old Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu church to offer prayers, in this file photo. Cebuanos put their unwavering faith in the Sto. Niño to withstand the trials brought by the twin calamities – the Covid-19 pandemic and Typhoon Odette. (PNA photo by John Rey Saavedra)

CEBU CITY – Typhoon Odette may have destroyed the gains in terms of economy and well-being of the Cebuanos amid the ongoing fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), but their deep devotion to the Sto. Niño and their tenacity to face all forms of adversities have motivated them to move forward and be more resilient against crises.

“Tough times never last, tough people do,” Mayor Michael Rama, quoting book author Robert Schuller, said in his New Year’s message on Tuesday as he enumerated the city's gains in terms of economy and health amid the pandemic.

Rama said the city has celebrated victories against the pandemic after it successfully contained the surge in Covid-19 in October 2021.

He said many establishments, such as malls, restaurants, and industries, have reopened after almost two years without activities amid strict quarantine restrictions.

However, “Odette” ravaged the city, along with other localities in parts of the Visayas and Mindanao in December last year, leaving many homes damaged, thousands of electric poles felled, and transformers and lines destroyed that rendered most areas in Metro Cebu without power and households without water.

However, the aftermath of the typhoon displayed the uniqueness of the Cebuanos in facing hardships.

Many netizens here turned to social media to crowd-source a good hotel to stay in due to the absence of electricity in their homes, while some posted queries on where they could buy generator sets to power their laptops and cellphones so they could continue with their works and businesses.

Rama recalled he had to issue a policy regulating the disposal of gasoline and diesel in the city, as motorists queued up for fuel from the first day after the typhoon until New Year’s Eve. With enough supply from the depots and terminals, motorists are no longer queuing up at gas stations.

He cited the unwavering faith of the Cebuanos in the Holy Child Jesus in addressing the misfortunes that have come to their lives, which provided them hope to march on amid the pandemic, especially with the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Despite the threat of the virus, Rama said the Sinulog Festival must go on to honor the Señor Sto. Niño who protects the Cebuanos in facing all odds.

With persevering courage, the Cebuanos are determined to overcome the trials and show the indomitable spirit that they can prevail over Covid-19 and the effects of the typhoon, he said.

Defense vs. coronavirus

Rama underscored vaccination as the best defense against the coronavirus, as well as the top source of resiliency against the harm that the pandemic may pose on the people’s overall health condition and amid the Omicron variant.

Despite the challenges faced by health workers in six main vaccination centers and nine “pop-up” inoculation sites due to intermittent Internet signal and electricity, he said the city government made sure it resumes providing Covid-19 jabs to residents.

Dr. Jeffrey Ibones, head of the City Health Department, told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in an interview that the vaccinators have gone back to the inoculation sites despite concerns over getting a good Internet connection that is needed to access vaccine registration data.

To reach the desired population protection, the city is ramping up its vaccination effort at the Robinsons Galleria, Robinsons Cybergate, SM City Cebu, SM Seaside Cebu, Ayala Center Cebu, and University of Cebu - Banilad.

To entice more residents to complete the inoculation for the city to have more fully-vaccinated residents each day, Rama said eight pop-up sites are also catering to individuals seeking to have their second dose.

These pop-up sites can be found in the Iconique, Cebu City Hall near the Legislative Building entrance, Kalunasan-Opra Elementary School, Talamban Elementary School gymnasium, Pasil gymnasium, Shopwise in Basak-San Nicolas, Lahug Elementary School, and Pit-os Elementary School. A ninth pop-up site at the Cebu City Hall near the Magellan’s Cross is serving to give first doses.

Power for economy

With the ongoing restoration of power in major industrial and commercial districts in Cebu City, the mayor is positive that the economic growth, which was stalled for more than two weeks due to “Odette”, would pick up.

The malls, department stores, and supermarkets started to open to patrons before New Year’s Eve and some service, food, and essential establishments reopened just this week.

The delivery business, which also stopped during the typhoon, has slowly started to pick up, servicing their partner merchants and online shoppers starting this week.

These developments have been attributed to efforts of the linemen from the Visayan Electric Co. (Veco), and the augmentation team from their allied companies in Luzon and Mindanao in reconnecting power line segments to the feeders that serve both household and business customers.

As of Thursday noon, Veco reported that it has been able to reenergize 186,468 out of the 474,182 affected customers within its franchise area.

“Energized areas are from the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Talisay, and Naga and from the municipalities of San Fernando, Minglanilla, Consolacion, and Liloan,” its advisory said.

Regional Development Council (RDC) chair Kenneth Cobonpue said the maximum daily power demand in these reenergized areas has reached 269.97 megawatts (MW), which is already 54.53 percent of Veco’s usual pre-Covid total power demand level of 495.12 MW.

“Likewise, Cebeco II reported that they have already reenergized 95 percent of its franchise area, providing power supply to 160,425 households/customers of their total customer base of 168,974 households/customers (in Cebu province),” he said.

Water is life

Among the major challenges in Cebu City and the rest of the localities in Cebu province after the typhoon was the shortage of water for drinking and other household use. This was attributed to the downed power lines that forced the pumping stations to stop operating due to the absence of electricity.

Household owners who were able to purchase generator sets were able to operate their privately-owned deep wells, but homeowners who were reliant on water refilling stations had to queue up just to get potable water.

However, the Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD), in a recent advisory, said water is back in more than 100 barangays within its service area, including the 80 villages in the capital city.

The reconnection was done after 20 days since the onslaught of “Odette”. According to the MCWD, they have restored 75 percent of their water supply.

“At least 111 barangays now have running water although this is not yet available 24 hours,” the advisory said.

The water district said it is now producing 180,000 cubic meters of water per day from 90 wells and private suppliers.

With the 138 production wells and bulk suppliers, the water firm produces 240,000 cubic meters of water per day during normal operation.

“In order to serve those in areas where supply is yet to be restored, MCWD continues to bring water using delivery trucks. MCWD owns six water tankers and it is renting 12 units to augment its capacity after the typhoon hit Cebu,” it said.

The water district continues to deploy the 18 units of water tankers across the service area.

Aid for the tourism industry

In Cebu province, the most-affected sector because of the pandemic was the tourism sector, as many restaurants, tourism sites, hotels, and resorts were closed due to halt in travel worldwide and due to efforts here to contain the deadly virus.

Apart from the tourism industry, the Provincial Capitol and residents of mountain and coastal villages whose livelihood depended on farming and fishing were also affected by the pandemic.

Governor Gwendolyn Garcia initiated a move to address the looming collapse of the tourism industry by creating the Enhanced Countryside Development (ECD) program to assist farmers and fisherfolk.

With the help of the three government depositaries, the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), and the Philippine Veteran’s Bank (PVB), Garcia provided the farmers and fisherfolk, and later, the micro, small and medium enterprises, access to capital to re-finance the revival of their livelihood.

The province began counting on the gains until the province experienced a surge in Covid-19 cases in October. However, the cases plateaued by December despite the easing of protocols and restrictions, owing to the massive vaccination in towns and component cities.

However, “Odette” forced some resorts to shut down due to the damage done to their buildings and roofs, with some left without power.

Garcia said even if the tourism industry was destroyed twice, there should be a reason to go on, citing the obstinacy of the Cebuanos to recover from the negative impact brought by the pandemic and the typhoon.

The governor expanded the assistance through the ECD by including in the loan package to be provided by the LBP, DBP, and PVB the resort owners whose cottages and rooms were destroyed by the typhoon.

“Your businesses, these are private services, I don’t know how to explain to COA (Commission on Audit) if I will provide you assistance when there are still so many who needed aid to repair their damaged houses. But what I can do is to include you in the ECD program,” she said in a recent meeting with resort and tourist spot operators in Cebu.

The three government banks and the Capitol are now accepting applications for loans from farmers, fisherfolk, and resort and tourist spot operators. The processing of applications began on Wednesday until January 20.

Through the assistance provided by the provincial government and the three financial institutions, Garcia expressed hope that Cebu’s tourism economy could bounce back and do more in 2022, with hopes that the pandemic would soon be over. (PNA)