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THE PRICE THEY PAID | Community journalists give up lives on the frontlines covering 'Yolanda'

The shattered studios of radio station dyVL Aksyon Radyo-Tacloban, where two workers who remained on duty to report on super typhoon 'Yolanda' died when the storm surge from the storm struck. (photo by Rommel Rutor, Aksyon Radyo-dyMS Catbalogan)
The online news portal of TV5

(EDITOR’S NOTE: While the large, Manila-based media may hog the limelight, in most places throughout the country, small community outfits, particularly radio, remain the main source of information. This is especially so during disasters and other emergencies. Thus, when super typhoon “Yolanda” slammed into Eastern Visayas, radio stations in Leyte’s capital city Tacloban remained operating to keep track of developments and relay information as it happened to their listeners. They paid a steep price. Four media workers, all from local radio, are confirmed to have died thus far. Six others, all but one also from radio, are still missing. Here are two accounts, one from a survivor, the other from a colleague from Samar, of how they perished.)

Those who died:

  • Archie Globio and Malou Realino, dyBR Tacloban
  • Ronald Vinas and Allan Medino, dyVL Aksyon Radyo-Tacloban

Still missing in Tacloban are:

  • Jasmine Bonifacio - Radyo Diwa reporter, Tacloban City 
  • Benjamin "Ben" Veridiano - GMA 7 Stringer, Barangay Kaiba-an, Tacloban City
  • Babay Jaca - DyBR-Tacloban
  • Lulu Palencia - DyBR-Tacloban
  • Jun Estoya - DyBR-Tacloban
  • Unidentified technician - DyBR-Tacloban

Late Thursday afternoon, colleagues of Sarwell Meniano, reporter of the Leyte-Samar Daily Express and correspondent of BusinessWorld reported that his sister confirmed that he and his family are safe.

(additional information from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines)

Lottie Salarda, dyBR

I am Lotlot Salarda, a radio and TV reporter based in Tacloban City, a senior law student and one of the survivors of super storm Yolanda.

Three days before the storm we had been hard at work informing people to prepare for the arrival of the very strong storm. We even went on 24-hour coverage so we could keep an eye on the approaching typhoon. We went around the towns by the sea to learn how they were preparing. The Tacloban City government implemented an ordinance calling for forced evacuation. We even had Mayor Alfred Romualdez guest on our program on PRTV 12 to discuss their preparations. I also attended a briefing on the preparations at the regional headquarters of the Philippine National Police in Palo Thursday night where I saw Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and other government officials.

Friday morning, strong winds suddenly started blowing, quickly reducing everything to zero visibility outside our station, which is located only a few steps from the sea. In just 10 seconds, the seawater had risen inside our station.

Luckily someone broke the glass door of the office and it was through there that we reached the roof. As I held on to the steel trusses we were pummeled by the strong winds and I could see the water that had wrapped itself around our city.

Two of our reporters are confirmed dead and we still have no word about three of our radio anchors. When the waters subsided, we went down and looked for our companions, but they had disappeared.

I walked on the ruins of flattened houses until I found a pair of mismatched slippers and put these on for protection. While walking, I saw the effects of the storm on houses and establishments. I met many injured people and passed bodies, young and old. But at that time, I could not feel anything. It was as if I was walking in a void. I had never seen so many dead bodies before in my life.

I walked some three kilometers through knee-deep water. But I quickly grew thirsty and I thought of going to the residence of Congressman (Martin) Romualdez. They gave me water, made me eat.

The next day, Saturday, trouble was brewing among the people. They were very hungry because even the goods they had prepared for the storm had become useless.

There were no relief goods, there was nothing. Everyone was walking to look for food in whatever way. There were no poor or rich, everyone was digging through the ruins to look for something to eat.

Sunday, I was asked to be in charge of bringing a message to the congressman’s staff in Manila about what was needed in Tacloban. I thought even if I was weary, injured, hungry, had not yet bathed, had swallowed floodwater, this was the least I could do for my people. Word needed to get out about what medicines were needed because the RTR hospital alone remained open and it was running out of medicines, so I listed down everything that we needed. I forced myself to be strong so I could carry out the task.

There were still no relief goods whatsoever had arrived three days after the storm. People were so hungry they began breaking into the groceries. I myself survived only on water.

I decided to go to the airport on the chance of hitching a ride on a flight to Manila because I still had no word about my relatives outside Tacloban. I had nowhere to go. We were stranded for almost three days at the damaged CAAP building where the medical team of the Air Force had set up a station to treat people. I had my wounds treated there by the team led by Dr. Antonio Tamayo. I also saw the tent of volunteers from St. Luke’s Medical Center. I salute the medical staff of the Air Force who continue to tirelessly serve Leytenos even if their medicines and equipment are running low. The CAAP building became a temporary hospital for those about to give birth and the badly wounded.

It was sad looking at the young and the elderly sleeping as heavy rain fell on them. I decided to give up my post to an old woman who was having difficulties. My heart bled at what I was witnessing. I wanted to volunteer but I did not know how and I did not have the strength because I was very, very hungry. The soldiers there shared whatever food and water they had with us.

Three times I was left behind by military C130 flights because there were more people who needed to be airlifted to hospitals.

One Air Force officer saw that I was giving my slot up to others. It was chaotic because everyone wanted to go to Manila or Cebu because of hunger and because they had lost their homes, like me. I noticed that the Air Force officer was losing control over the queue and prioritizing the patients needing to be flown out. I volunteered to help and to organize the people. I asked them to cooperate and maintain discipline because I understood their situation. I explained to them the order from Villamor Airbase that a patient could be accompanied only by one watcher. I sorted out who was a patient and who was not.

When I handed the list to the Air Force leader, they finally gave me a chance to fly out to Manila. I flew from Tacloban to Cebu then to Villamor Airbase. I was given water, biscuits and medicines at the emergency room of the hospital. Dr. Tamayo had given me his slippers even if he knew these were too big for me, just so I would not be injured while walking. He also gave me P200 and asked if I was sure I had somewhere to go in Manila.

Until now, I still cannot believe what has happened.

WE REALLY NEED YOUR HELP! SANA ITIGIL NA ANG PAMUMULITIKA SA MGA SINASABING RELIEF GOODS! MAG-AANIM NA ARAW NG WALANG MAKAIN ANG MGA BIKTIMA SA AMING REHIYON (Please stop playing politics with the relief goods)! PLEASE I'M BEGGING YOU ALL! ‘Yung mga bata nagkakasakit na! GINAWA KO LAHAT PARA MAKALABAS NG TACLOBAN PARA MANAWAGAN SA INYONG LAHAT. SANA NAMAN MAKARATING ANG SINASABING TULONG NG GOBYERNO DAHIL HINDI NAMIN NARAMDAMAN ‘YUN!!!!!!! Kahapon narinig ko sa pila ng sasakay sa C130 may sumigaw na, "WALA PONG NATIONAL GOVERNMENT DITO KAYA MAGSIAYOS PO MUNA TAYO (The children are getting sick! I did all I can to get out of Tacloban so I could appeal to all of you. I hope the aid the government is talking about reaches us because we cannot feel it! Yesterday, while lining up to board the C130, I heard someone shout, ‘We have no national government here so please we should try to maintain some order’)."

dyVL Aksyon Radyo

(Rommel Rutor, production supervisor of dyMS Aksyon Radyo-Catbalogan walked seven hours from his hometown to Tacloban the day after Yolanda struck, both to report on the situation there after all communication was lost and to check on colleagues in the shattered Leyte capital, and has been returning there ever since. This is his account of what colleagues told him happened at dyVL Aksyon Radyo-Tacloban.)

Reporter Ronald Vinas and tehnician Allan Medino were still on duty, broadcasting information on Yolanda's onslaught, when the storm surge hit the radio station. Vinas and Medino were trapped inside the anchor's booth by the raging water and debris.

(Station manager) Madam Babes Custodio was wounded by the debris carried by the raging water but managed to swim outside and to safety with the help of Tony, a station staff.

Only Allan Medino's body has been recovered while Vinas’ body and those of two children, dependents of station staff who had taken them there in the hope of seeking safe shelter from the storm, are yet to be retrieved from the pile of debris covering the station compound.

Despite the devastation, dyVL continues to broadcast from a temporary studio set up at the Tacloban astrodome.

Dalmacio and Alma Grafil, who publish the Leyte Samar Daily Express, were wounded and rushed to St. Paul’s Hospital after the surge ravaged their home at PHHC village. The community paper’s office was also flooded, all its equipment damaged. At least 21 persons died in the village.

Jolito Adona and Silvano Abarquez of dyVL Aksyon Radyo-Tacloban recount how the storm surge generated by super typhoon 'Yolanda' smashed into their station, killing two colleagues and the children of two other radio staff. (Video by Rommel Rutor, dyMS Aksyon Radyo-Catbalogan)

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