By Ellson Quismorio
TACLOBAN CITY, Leyte–There is one Yolanda memorial that stands out for its uniqueness, quirkiness, and expanded symbolism for what took place here on that fateful November day. It also happens to be named after a woman.
“M/V Eva Jocelyn” is the name of a large cargo vessel that was swept ashore in the coastal barangay of Anibong amid the huge storm surge triggered by the deadly super typhoon exactly five years ago Thursday.
It technically never left its place, as the bow of the ship has been transformed by the city government into a tourist spot where one can reenact Kate Winslet’s iconic pose in the “Titanic” movie, among other things.
Now a symbol of what could be called “Yolanda tourism” in Tacloban, the bow has been prettied up for this purpose since the time it became a landmark.
Specifically, there’s now a steel barricade around the body has been repainted blue and brown from the original blue and red, the name “M/V Eva Jocelyn” has been picked out in white paint, the deck has been fully tiled, and a Philippine flag has been hoisted on it.
Below the deck is a small office which four security guards take turns manning.
“On November 8, 2013 at 7 a.m. M/V Eva Jocelyn, which was anchored in the city harbor, ran aground and killed residents of Barangay Anibong. It was pushed by a 7-meter high storm surge caused by winds in excess of 370km/h brought by Super Typhoon Yolanda,” read the marker on this eye-catching memorial that’s popular with locals and foreigners alike.
Seventy-seven-year-old Porferio Husayan, one of the guards assigned to watch over Eva Jocelyn, recalls her arrival in Anibong like it happened only yesterday. A resident of the barangay, Husayan said M/V Eva Jocelyn and several other large vessels crushed houses along the coastline and killed several people.
“Diyan may anim agad na patay, dito dalawa (There were six bodies there, two
over here),” the septuagenarian said, pointing to the ground near the bow.
“Parang isang iglap lang, sandali lang. Dumilim ang buong mundo…pagliwanag nakita na lang namin yung mga barko nandyan na. Pito lahat. Isang oras lang pagitan niyan, 7 at 8 [a.m.]. Pagdating ng 9 a.m. humupa na,” said Husayan, who usually brings his wife during his shift.
(It happened so fast. The whole world plunged in darkness…when there was light, we suddenly saw the vessels. There were seven of them. That happened only between 7 and 8 a.m. By 9 a.m. the rain stopped.)
Asked what happened to the rest of M/V Eva Jocelyn, Husayan said the other parts were taken to Cebu and disposed of there.
More than 6,000 people perished because of Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), which also caused catastrophic destruction of property and livelihood in the Visayas. Hardest hit was Leyte’s capital of Tacloban, where an estimated 2,000 people died.
While other Yolanda memorial sites in the province like the mass graves in Barangay Fatima here or in nearby Palo hit you in the gut for the sheer loss of life, M/V Eva Jocelyn leaves visitors in awe over the sheer muscle of nature as displayed through the superstorm.
“Lahat ng bahay na yan nasira. Yung daan puno nang basura, hindi madaanan (All of those houses were destroyed. The road was impassable due to the debris),” Husayan said.
Christian Tolibas is among the natives who was lucky enough to not be in Tacloban when Yolanda struck. “Nasa Maynila ako noon (I was in Manila then),” the 37-year-old said.
“Pero base sa nakita ko sa Tacloban bago bumagyo, at sa nakikita ko ngayon pagkatapos ng limang taon, parang nakabangon na nga ang Tacloban (But based on what I saw in Tacloban before the storm, and what I see now after five years, I think Tacloban has already risen),” Tolibas reckoned.
“Ang mabigat lang na nangyari ay yung may mga kakilala ka na namatay (The tragic thing that happened is that there are people you knew who died),” he added.
The number of hotels and inns that have sprung up in the years after the storm suggests that business has been booming, and that Tacloban is worth coming back to.
“[We] pay tribute to our indomitable spirit and the resilience of our people,” Leyte 1st district Rep. Yedda Marie Kittilstvedt-Romualdez said during Thursday’s anniversary rites. The lady solon, wife of Lakas-CMD president Martin Romualdez, oversaw Tacloban’s rise from the depths of despair the past two years.
“Today is a day of hope. The hope that we always had and will always have, as we move on, as we move forward,” said Rep. Romualdez, who is eyeing a House seat under Tingog Sinirangan in the 2019 midterm polls.
Tricycle driver Gerardo Vacal, who makes a living fetching and giving tours to arriving visitors at the Daniel Z. Romualdez airport, says he usually suggests a quick trip to Anibong so they may get a glimpse of M/V Eva Jocelyn.
“They love to have their pictures taken there,” he said, highlighting another tourist-y quality of the bow that other memorials here don’t have.
Just don’t forget to say a little prayer after you do your Winslet pose.