(This is part two of my Post-Odette story, about my trip to Cebu City on Dec. 18, two days after the Super-Typhoon hit. )
I left Moalboal at 8 on Saturday, the day of the Azkals vs Myanmar match and I thought, if cell coverage would be back, I’d be lucky to catch updates of the game at home. It was already 4 p.m. when I got to the city as the highway was barely passable in some areas. In Barili, I got stuck for almost three hours.
What made it worse was the lack of information and coordination. An hour into the wait, one of the guys who I assume was part of the clearing operation told us the road would be possible soon. A few minutes later, another guy told us we’d be lucky if we’d get to pass through before 6.
None of them were wearing uniforms so I assume both were volunteers. Guys in MDRMO shirts are usually ignored but man, I wished to see one that time. Guys in other stretches of the highways were clearly “volunteers” of the different sort, one with an empty cup at hand and a ready smile on their faces as they direct the one-way flow of traffic in what was once a two-way highway.
They reminded me of the volunteers back in the city the late 90s, when they’d point to the drivers the potholes they’ve fixed and point to their cups for their donation.
“At least they’re doing something,” one driver once told me as he threw a coin.
That’s what I thought also as I threw a coin. At least someone was doing something because on that stretch of highway no one in uniform was; no cops, soldiers or guys from the LGUs. I thought that perhaps after making sure the highway was possible, they had to rush home and fix their own homes.
In Minglanilla and Talisay I saw long queue but didn’t pay much attention. I turned the radio on and learned from the first time, from a rather annoying and know-it-all commentator that they were for ATMs and gas. The commentator was irksome because he was blaming Pagasa for failing to make the Cebuanos understand the dangers of Odette, saying they used vague words in their weather reports. Newsflash, Mr. Commenator. It’s your job to relay information to the public, that’s why you’re called the mass media.
After reaching our office, which had no power, I learned that not only were people lining up for ATMs and gas, they were also lining up for water. That’s when I thought, “Uh-oh, I might not be going home tonight.”
I got lucky though and spent less than an hour lining up in LandBank P. del Rosario as all five machines were functioning. I wasn’t so lucky lining up for gas later.
In Shell at Gen. Maxilom, the line was two blocks long, I stayed for 10 minutes and thought, I’d better eat as I didn’t have lunch. So, I went looking for a fastfood joint or even a carenderia. I found none and decided to go back to the office. I passed by a barbecue joint and after parking at the office, bought dinner. After eating and saying my second goodbyes to colleagues, I lined up at Shell, I was about a block away away from the station and a few minutes later, a guy tapped on my window and asked if it was the line for Shell.
“I said yes.”
When I looked at the rearview mirror, I realized why he wanted to make sure, while I was down to three bars and was idling while waiting, he was pushing his car. An hour later, a cop was knocking on windows and telling the drivers waiting that Shell was closing at 8. It was 7:30 p.m. and I was about 100 meters away. I asked the cop if I could still make it and he simply said, “I don’t know.”
Lining up in another station, I got turned away after an hour. So I searched for another, all the while saying in my mind, “Lord, just let me gas up and go home, I promise I will not…” But evil me interrupted my thought and reminded me, “Didn’t you make the same prayer for a second goal against Thailand?”
My prayer unsaid and unanswered, I returned to the office at 9 p.m. and told the surprised guard whom I told twice I’d be going home that I’d be staying for the night. After a couple of cold ones with a colleague—no power in the city but trust a sportswriter where to find cold ones–we returned to the office to help put the paper to bed and I learned for the first time that we beat Myanmar, 3-2, thanks to a Bienvinedo Maranon hat trick.
I had forgotten the match I so looked forward to seeing to forget a forgettable campaign.
I woke up at 5 a.m. took a bath and had two cups of coffee. I remembered when I settled down to sleep in the car, our friendly office guard advised me to just sleep lining up in the gas station.
But I thought, I spent an hour lining up before I got turned away and that was in the evening. Maybe if I line up at 6 a.m, I’d get to gas up at 8 a.m. at the latest, be able to go to the mall, withdraw again and buy some supplies. Again, I was wrong.
I went to Shell mango and to my horror, the line has reached almost two kilometers before I gave up finding the end. It was the same in two other stations before I reached Petron in B. Rodriguez and found out the end of the queue was only at Chong Hua.
It was 6:30 a.m.
Wa moy gamit mga buanga mo.Guy waiting in line to CTTO admonishing double-parked cars
At 7:30 a.m. The line moved about 100 meters when someone told us that the pump has conked out. At 8 a.m., an update came from someone who heard it from the Petron lady supervisor, it wasn’t the pump but the generator and the advice was, you can wait or you can go.
We decided to wait. The line moved faster as some decided not to wait and about 9, we learned the good news, the pump was working. I thought, maybe I’d get my turn at 10 and be on my way.
That wasn’t so as I learned, worse a couple of assholes cut in the line just ahead of us. After two hours of lining up we were all familiar of the cars and the drivers in the qeueu.
“That’s not the guy who was ahead of me, and that’s not the guy who’s behind me,” said one of the guys from two towns over who lined up just an hour ahead of me. He said he wanted to argue with them but thought it wasn’t worth his time.
I wanted to and prepped myself for a lecture about waiting in line. But as I approached the offender’s car, I saw he had an MD sticker. I looked at the driver but he definitely didn’t look like an MD.
But having doctor friends who’ve worked hard in the pandemic—no, they don’t cut lines and no, they don’t ask for special treatment, they just ask to be treated the way they should be—i thought that maybe this doc or this doc’s driver needs to be somewhere and needs the gas to be there.
I also realized that as the only guy with a “Let Leni Lead” sticker on his car, it wouldn’t do good to start an argument.
About an hour later, an argument, or rather heckling that I would have love to start—the Let Leni Lead sticker be damned—started without me playing a role. The CTTO, Cebu City’s traffic police that was absent in the chaos of the streets the day before, decided to make their presence felt. With such a lone queue, it was inevitable that those who’d transact business had to double park, fortunately, both costumers and merchandisers were understanding.
CTTO wasn’t and warned those who were double parking. Those lining up made their sentiments known.
“Go man the intersections.”
“You’re just wasting gas.”
The conversation shifted too.
“These useless government offices should just lend their generators to gasoline stations.”
“And to water refilling stations too.”
“Useless and clueless as usual. They don’t bother the cops who illegally park at the regional police office regularly and now that there’s a crisis, they’re harrassing us?”
The object of ire wasn’t only the absence of the government response, but to greedy businessman too, big and small.
From P15, the 20-liter purified water went as high as P60, while a radio commentator said it went high as P130. The same 20-liter bottle, this time with gasoline, were also peddled in the streets, sometimes in front of gas stations, at P100 per liter.
People channeling their inner-Pharmally and getting away with it.
Shortly after 12, I finally was able to gas up and I realized, the last time I spent six hours in line led to a career in sportswriting. I was 18 and an engineering sophomore at the University of San Carlos. After more than half-a-day lining up for the enrollment, me and a friend ended up with more vacant hours than subjects. A few weeks later, I visited my brother at The Freeman and somehow I ended up rewriting a sports PR and was told by then sports editor Nimrod Quinones to come back the next day.
I went back to the office and learned my “hellish wait” was nothing compared to what the others endured. I waited six hours for gas, the residents near the office waited hours for water. While I had lunch in a carenderia with ample stock of 250-ml water bottles, a car stopped and asked the driver asked if they could purchase a box. The owner said it was reserved for customers, limited to one each. I looked at the car, he had kids and I could see the agony on his face. He asked if he could buy just five bottles.
I decided to look for an ATM and found none that was working. The long queues outside of supermarkets and malls also discouraged me from going in. Per advise from Superbalita sports editor Erwin Lirazan, I looked for solar lights in Colon. I saw one being peddled for P350, one that could charge your phone, but I said no.
I saw the same lamp being sold at P250 and I bought two after another guy bought two. Later, I learned they were busted and when I opened them up, the rechargable batteries were already leaking. No wonder those two sellers were sweating and wouldn’t looked me in the eye when I asked to test them.
“We just got them, these were charged so we can’t test them,” those thieves told me.
I got another solar lamp for P800, one smaller than Erwin’s that he bought for P300 a month prior but thankfully it worked.
I decided to go home and thankfully, the drive back to Moalboal was only a little over three hours as the road was relatively clearer compared to a day before. As I got to park at 711 Moalboal—to check for ice, silly me—a motorcycle cop escorting a VIP van was shooing cars to the side.
I gave the van the middle finger salute. If you want to know how the people are suffering, ditch your escort.