When it comes to political dynasties, Surigao City is not an exception. For decades, it has always been this-or-that surname, a fierce battle between two influential families that pledge to champion the welfare of every Surigaonon. However, their promise to uplift the lives of their constituents and change the face of Surigao has long been overdue. Surigaonons have seemingly lost their hope and accepted that only little to no change will take place in the next years in the hands of these families. But the 2022 elections may go down in the history of Surigao, as realizations after Supertyphoon Odette woke many from their deep slumber.
Asking around friends and especially the elders in the city, it was evident that Surigaonons are dreaming of more responsive and pro-active governance; one that ensures every citizen is seen and heard and gets the life that they deserve. Their wish list includes more establishments to create job opportunities, furnished local roads, improvement in the drainage system and proper waste segregation and the most important of all—a concrete disaster management plan.
Indeed, Surigao, being a hotspot of natural calamities such as earthquakes and typhoons, is in need of an overhaul in its calamity preparation and response. Last February 2017, the province was jolted by a massive 6.7 earthquake that damaged over 10,000 homes, affecting more than 50,000 families. The visible extent of the damage in the city alone should have prompted the officials to quickly allocate aid for the victims, but most Surigaonons received the grant only months after the earthquake. By that time, reparations were mostly underway or already finished. It was, again, resilience and independence that made Surigaonons go through such horror. Meanwhile, the 2019 elections came and catapulted the same names into the coveted seats. What should have been an opportunity to recalibrate Surigao into a more disaster-adaptive city was put to waste. The next years were just a cycle of pag-igo (pagtama ng sakuna), pagtindog (pagbangon mula sa sakuna), and padayon (pagpapatuloy sa kabila ng mga naganap).
Unfortunately, it took a disaster three times the damage, intensity, and fear for Surigaonons to finally realize that they deserve more from their public servants. On the 16th of December 2021, Supertyphoon Odette ravaged the province leaving 23,378 houses leveled to the ground, 19,424 damaged, and over 50,000 distressed. While these are inevitable occurrences that can be brought about by any catastrophe, there should never be an excuse for those in charge to deliver immediate relief responses to the victims. The officials were petrified due to the aftermath of the typhoon when the damage should have been anticipated in the first place. Thus, the distribution of packs only began four days after the onset of Odette in barangays near the city. For far-flung areas, assistance was extended after a week or two resulting in hunger and dehydration. For the most part, Surigaonons lived mainly through private charities and donations. This revealed the inadequacies of governance in Surigao City and intensified the desire of Surigaonons to spark a change in its political scene. Enough is enough for Surigaonons who have already eluded two near-death experiences.
Months later, Surigaonons were seen rallying in the streets in hopes of getting out of the loophole that has long prevented their beloved city from progressing. Holding their heads high, they are willing to bet on new names and venture for a clearer and brighter future. While many are nervous about this massive change, these empowered Surigaonons are willing to gamble for this once-in-a-lifetime chance. This is what they call the ‘first step’ towards turning back from the traditional politics that has been reigning in the city—driving out the families, nationally and locally, that have entrenched Surigaonons again and again.
For Surigaonons, the election on May 9 is a do-or-die situation. Expecting much stronger calamities in the future due to the climate crisis, we are in utmost desperation to hear from the soon-to-be elected officials about their DRRM plan and the economic improvement of the City of Island Adventures.
Written by Ken Bien Mar L. Caballes. Caballes is the former National President of the National Federation of Supreme Student Government. He is now a Biology student and an active student-leader and volunteer for climate action in the Philippines.
This piece is part of a series of articles by youth leaders of Heroes Hub Youth Fellowship. It seeks to advocate for the youth’s vision and concerns towards a rights-based governance agenda in the May 2022 elections and beyond.