Revisiting October 27, 2022, in the wake of Severe Tropical Storm (STS) Paeng’s unexpected fury, the memories have left a deep and lasting impact on the Bangsamoro people.
The Bangsamoro region, particularly Maguindanao, had witnessed Paeng’s wrath even before it made landfall. Torrential rain had already wreaked havoc in Mindanao, affecting thousands of residents, damaging properties, and claiming dozens of lives.
Caught by surprise
The people of Maguindanao have always been accustomed to floods and storms, but Paeng caught them by surprise, leaving an indelible mark on the region.
Maguindanao’s very name, derived from terms “Maginged” (people) and “Danaw” (lake or flood plain), signifies the recurring floodplain landscape caused by overflowing rivers such as the Ligawasan Marsh and the Pulangi River.
But despite this familiarity with floods, what happened next was unprecedented. The then-Tropical Storm Paeng was initially expected to bring only “light rains and thunderstorms” on October 27, as forecasted by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).
In an interview with Charlene Jamero, Chief Meteorologist of PAGASA, she reflected on the peculiarity: “Naging Severe Tropical Storm si Paeng pero pero hindi tayo apektado dito sa Mindanao,” noting that Paeng’s landfall should be in Catanduanes.
[Paeng became a Severe Tropical Storm, but we were not affected here in Mindanao.]
However, the rain began Thursday night, October 27, at 9:15 PM and continued relentlessly until early Friday morning.
“Tuloy-tuloy ang buhos. Walang hangin, ulan lang talaga,” she recounted.
[The rain continued relentlessly, with no wind, just continuous rain.]
What truly baffled the experts was the staggering 132.2 millimeters of rainfall recorded in just 24 hours. Normally, this amount of rain could be expected over 15 days to a month, as per “moderate rainfall classification.”
As she put it, “132.2 millimeters na pwedeng kuning sa 15 days hanggang isang buwan. Pero kinuha lang within 24 hours.”
[A total of 132.2 millimeters of rain fell, an amount that can typically accumulate over 15 days to a month, but it happened within just 24 hours.]
Jamero attributed this extreme weather to the Philippines’ frequent encounters with storms and cyclones—17 to 20 times a year—a pattern exacerbated by climate change.
The situation was dire. Cotabato City,
Datu Odin Sinsuat, Datu Blah Sinsuat, and Upi, all in Maguindanao del Norte, and other low-lying areas were inundated, and it was the first time it had been hit this hard.
Brgy. Kusiong in Datu Odin Sinsuat is said to be Paeng’s hardest-hit area or the “ground zero” after a vast muddy mound covered the site due to flash floods and landslides which buried people and houses.
Illegal logging, another contributing factor, had exacerbated the impact of the storm.
Coastal residents, who were previously relocated by the local government unit to higher ground, did not escape the deluge.
By the time the storm had passed, STS Paeng had left a trail of devastation affecting over thousands of individuals, with casualties, injuries, and significant damage to infrastructure and agriculture.
Bangsamoro Government’s quick response
As Paeng loomed, the Bangsamoro Government took proactive measures, activating emergency protocols and closely monitoring riverbanks for signs of flooding. However, the magnitude of the disaster took everyone by surprise.
As the situation unfolded, the Bangsamoro Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (BDRRMC) leaped into action. They escalated the alert level and initiated flood monitoring.
When Cotabato City, Maguindanao, and the Special Geographic Area (SGA) were hit by flooding and landslides on October 27-28, the BDRRMC went Code Red and began a humanitarian response effort.
Evacuation sites were opened in schools, and essential supplies were distributed to affected residents.
On October 29, Bangsamoro Chief Minister Ahod Ebrahim declared a state of calamity for the region, underlining the importance of cooperation and early evacuation.
Multiple ministries within BARMM actively participated in relief efforts, from education and social services to labor and health. Search and rescue operations were conducted in severely impacted regions, and the government focused on early recovery planning.
BARMM’s recovery plan
The Bangsamoro Government will be launching a recovery and rehabilitation plan for the period of 2023-2028 to address the aftermath of STS Paeng.
In his message, Chief Minister Ebrahim emphasized the importance of building a disaster-resilient region and expressed gratitude to various entities involved in the recovery efforts.
“This comprehensive plan, which incorporates the learnings that we obtained from STS Paeng and other recent emergencies arising from both natural and human-induced hazards, will ensure a more holistic approach to disaster risk reduction and management in the region,” Ebrahim said.
The plan is being developed by the BDRRMC and implemented by the Bangsamoro Planning and Development Authority (BPDA) and aims to achieve full recovery by 2028. It includes the construction of new houses for over 1,000 families whose homes were totally damaged by STS Paeng.
As we looked back on that fateful October day, the Bangsamoro people had learned a hard lesson about the capricious nature of tropical storms.
We are now more aware of the need for preparation and early response, as well as the imperative to address environmental issues like illegal logging that exacerbated the disaster’s impact. (Aisah Abas/BIO)