Hope turns to tragedy in quake aftermath
By Erik de Castro
It was a normal Tuesday morning for me that fateful day when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the central Philippines. I was covering a Muslim Eid Al-Adha religious festival at a Manila park, after nearly a week of floods coverage brought about by Typhoon Nari. As I was driving away from the park, I received a text message from a Reuters reporter about the quake. I felt the adrenalin rush as I mentally ran through my checklist of disaster gear while hitting the accelerator to reach home quickly. After getting my manager’s approval to cover the earthquake aftermath, I rushed to the airport to catch the next flight to Cebu city. I was lucky to get on a flight minutes before the plane’s door closed. After more than an hour, I arrived in Cebu and quickly contacted a driver and rented a van to go around the city. I was checking out damaged structures near the Cebu airport when I heard from a local radio station that hospital patients were being evacuated from a quake-damaged hospital.
When I reached Cebu City medical center, I saw the adjacent basketball court filled with hospital beds and patients. I immediately took pictures of a general view of the area. As I fired my shutter, I noticed some medical personnel surrounding a baby lying on top of a small table converted into a makeshift operating table at the far end of the covered court. I moved closer and took a few pictures only as I was worried I might interrupt their work to save the baby.
I moved to other areas to continue taking photos of the evacuated patients, but I made a mental note to come back later and inquire about the status of the baby and to get more details for my caption. When I returned to that spot after about two hours, I saw a man, who turned out to be the baby’s father, pumping oxygen manually in to the baby’s mouth. He told me the baby, their first born, is a boy. He gladly told me the baby’s chances of survival were good because he was now breathing. I felt a strange joy in my heart after taking a few photos of the baby and the father. After a few minutes, I was asked by medical workers to leave the area.
I left Cebu at dawn the following day to Bohol province, to cover the epicenter of the earthquake. I later found out from our pictures desk that there were many inquiries from clients about the status of the “quake baby”. I thought of returning to the makeshift Cebu hospital before flying back to Manila and felt a small gush of excitement as I looked forward to making images of a healthy baby born after a strong earthquake.
After arriving in Cebu early on Friday, I immediately rushed to the makeshift hospital. I couldn’t believe it when hospital workers told me the baby died later that same Tuesday night.
I immediately recognized the father as I approached a small house from an alley on the outskirts of Cebu city. It was late afternoon and I had just a few hours before my flight back to Manila. When the parents, Reynaldo and Josephine, confirmed to me that their baby died due to difficulty breathing and because of birth complications. I felt a tightness in my chest and throat. They also told me they named their baby boy, Garon, after a famous local college basketball player. They asked if I wanted to come with them to a cemetery to visit their baby’s grave.
When we reached the cemetery, I saw a small grave, freshly covered with a mound of earth. Josephine asked cemetery workers why there was no cross yet on her baby’s grave, and the workers immediately produced a previously used cross. I saw the sadness of the couple as they prayed and lit candles beside the grave. After a few minutes, I said my goodbyes to Josephine and Reynaldo to catch my flight, but not before whispering “Goodbye Garon,” to the “quake baby” who made this coverage so much more personal to me.