Tropical depression Urduja is the latest storm to hit the Philippines. In its wake, it left towns that have been devastated by winds, heavy rain, flooding, and landslides. Bridges have been swept away and ports shut down because of strong waves that can easily capsize even large ferries. One of these ports that have been closed down by the storm is the one located in the small coastal town of Matnog in Sorsogon.
Matnog is the primary crossing point for travelers on their way by land and sea from Manila going to the Visayan provinces of Samar and Leyte. In 2013, when Typhoon Yolanda made landfall in the Philippines, a large part of the aid that was sent to affected areas passed through the crumbling pier in Matnog Port.
For the past 4 days that tropical depression Urduja has been battering the eastern coastline of the Philippines, authorities have shut down the Matnog port, stranding up to 7,000 passengers who are still sitting in buses, cars, and trucks on the highway leading to the port. By this time, many of the people who are stranded there have already ran out of food, water, money. Most of their mobile phones are either out of power or have no more telephone credits to make calls or send text messages. (READ: DSWD: Over 220,000 affected due to Urduja)
For 4 days, Bike Scouts volunteer Winston Regarde has been documenting and helping as many people as he can with the meager resources available to him.
Storie of generosity
On Sunday, December 16, Winston spent his last P200 to buy food for the people on the bus that he took to get to Matnog. Owners of a nearby local club from Sorsogon also distributed food to the stranded passengers, helping them tide over for at least another day.
BAYANIHAN SPIRIT. Bus conductor Julito Gaviola cooks for his stranded passengers at Matnog port in Sorsogon. All photos by Winston Regarde
The residents of Matnog as well have been very generous, opening up their homes to people who need a shower or a safe place to sleep for the night in a heart-warming display of the Filipino spirit of bayanihan – no questions asked, no payments, just pure and honest generosity.
There have been other stories too that truly restores confidence in humanity, such as the unexpected help that came from the rescue units of Sorsogon province. They arrived late at night at an out-of-the-way bus stop to rescue passengers who had run out of money, food, and water as they tried to wait out the storm for 3 days. It was really a save that came in the nick of time when the people on the buses had not eaten and was thirsty for a day and were losing hope that anybody would come to their aid.
On a bus in Matnog, there was one particular story that stands out for being a shining example of how a simple act of good can make a really big difference. It’s a story about a bus conductor named Julito Gaviola.
Normally, people don’t really notice bus conductors, they just hand out tickets and collect bus fare. On this particular bus trip, though, nature intervened and passengers got to know their conductor a little better when Julito, in spite of being stranded himself with very little personal money, decided to share his own provision of rice with his passengers who had no more money for food or water after three days of sitting and sleeping outside the Port of Matnog.
As a bus conductor, Julito isn’t professionally obligated to share his rice and the bread that he bought with his own money with the passengers on his bus, but he did – and in that moment Julito became a hero that nobody expected. He became a hero for all of us.
AMID THE STORM. Winston with Julito Gaviola (Gray shirt) pose with other stranded passengers. Photo by Winston Regarde
Through all of this, the stories about the people and the storm was being documented and dispatched by a volunteer of Bike Scouts Philippines named Winston Regarde.
Winston is a quiet person. He rides an old steel bicycle that constantly breaks down because of its age and the volume of use due to Winston’s response volunteer work for the Bike Scouts and for his own community in Montalban, Rizal.
Bike Scouts Philippines is an initiative whose members work as volunteer bicycle messengers in places that are severely affected by natural disasters. It started in 2013, when Bike Scouts teams deployed to Tacloban, around Leyte, and Samar to help evacuees and isolated communities get in touch with relatives and aid agencies that provided them assistance. All of the work was done using bicycles for over 4 months. (WATCH: Bike Scouts PH, the unsung heroes of Yolanda)
Winston had sent in 4 days worth of dispatches to the Bike Scouts Volunteer Network and Project Agos when a request was sent to him to help find a Filipino Paralympic athlete named Roland Sabido who had represented the Philippines at the recent ASEAN Paralympics and helped win two bronze medals for the Philippines. He was alone and stranded somewhere in Matnog.
The work of Bike Scouts Philippines and its volunteer network is to provide people affected by natural disasters with an alternative means of reaching out when regular lines of communication become unavailable, or they are isolated by the effects of natural disasters. In true Bike Scouts fashion, Winston set out to find Roland to assure the athlete’s relatives and friends that he is okay.
By this time, Winston himself had already run out of money and basic supplies, having spent his last money to help others. With no access to a bicycle and no money for a tricycle ride he ran the distance from the port to the diversion road that was crammed with buses and people waiting for the port to open.
JOB DONE. Winston finds Roland Sabido among the stranded passengers in Matnog, Sorsogon. Photo by Winston Regarde
It wasn’t easy looking for one person in a place crowded with thousands of people. Under the heat of the sun and with a constant reminder of his own hunger, thirst and a lack of certainty on his mind, Winston set out to do the work of a Bike Scout volunteer – to find people in the midst of a disaster or a crisis and help them reach out to the people who care and worry for them.
All of this happened in a far-away place just this morning where thousands are stranded. He could have just given up and informed the people waiting for word from halfway around the world that it was too difficult, or that he was too hungry and thirsty to walk the length of waiting buses that stretch over 5 kilometers long.
Instead, he walked the mile to send a short message on Sunday morning, saying “job done.” – Rappler.com