Three years to the day after Super Typhoon Yolanda reduced Tacloban City to rubble, new Mayor Cristina ‘Kring-Kring’ Gonzalez- Romualdez hasn’t quite come to terms with the tragedy that nearly cost her and her family their lives
Kring-Kring’s recurring nightmare
CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - October 30, 2016 - 12:00am

The other night as in many other nights, newly-elected Tacloban City Mayor Cristina “Kring-Kring” Gonzalez-Romualdez woke up in cold sweat from a recurring nightmare which plays again and again like horror movie in her mind, with thousands of dead bodies in every nook and cranny of her beloved city turned into a wasteland by Philippine history’s deadliest lady, Supertyphoon Yolanda.

Kring-Kring would check if her husband, former Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez, were fast asleep beside her, safe and sound, and then go back to sleep subconsciously wishing that the nightmare would go away. First thing Kring-Kring would do in the morning is peep into the room of their daughters, Sofia, 17, and Diane, 13, and heave a sigh of relief upon seeing them in sweet slumber.

On her third and last term as a topnotch city councilor when Yolanda paid Tacloban a lethal visit in Nov. 8, 2013, Kring-Kring walked with Alfred on the long, painful road to recovery, seeing first to the needs of the survivors before their own. A few days ago, accompanied by Sofia, Kring-Kring talked to Conversations about Yolanda that almost took her and her family’s lives. We met mother and daughter at the coffee shop of the four-month-old Conrad Hotel that commands a breathtaking panoramic view of Manila Bay from all angles. The night before, Sofia recorded her first single for Viva Records with which she is the newest contract artist.

What’s your recollection of that tragic night?

Kring-Kring: Alfred and I were prepared for the worst. We made sure that the residents were cared for; many of them were at evacuation centers. We knew that Yolanda would be a supertyphoon, we expected strong winds but not a storm surge. At 11 o’clock the night before, I moved the family to the guest house farther back from our main house which was right in front of the sea. Alfred had a lot of extra life vests and speedboat.

What about you, Sofia?

Sofia: I wasn’t really traumatized. I didn’t sleep the whole night, I couldn’t sleep because I felt that something was wrong. The typhoon hit hard early in the morning, around 7 o’clock. I was scared. I didn’t want to die. I know how to swim but mom made sure that we were wearing the salva vida (life vest).

Kring-Kring: The storm surge brought water that covered the whole guest house. It was something we didn’t expect. Lampas-tao talaga. The wind was blowing so hard that the roof was shaking. We were afraid that it would fall on us and kill us, so we rushed outside. We hid inside the car, thinking that if the roof fell, at least we would be protected inside the car. Our driver told us that we better leave the house. The driver got the life vests at isinuot namin. At that moment, pagkasuot nila ng life vests, the water surged in. As the water got higher and higher, we got out of the car. We started to float and we held on to the posts at kung anu-ano pang nasa gilid ng wall.

Where was Alfred all the while?
Kring-Kring: He was roving around the city, checking on the residents. Our household staff who sought shelter at the guest house, fell on the hood of the other car in front of the car we were in, so that car blocked us from being swept by the surging water. Then we all held on to one another as we got stuck in that area.

Sofia: We stayed there for more than two hours. When the water subsided, I remember that we walked and walked to safe grounds where we found a place to sleep in that night.

Kring-Kring: When we reached the Coca-Cola office, we chanced upon a military car and it brought us downtown. There was no way that anybody could rescue us, not even the policemen, because everybody was struggling against the flood. All I could do was pray and pray. I put my faith on the Lord na lang. At that moment, walang tutulong sa’yo, si Lord na lang. We were floating with debris, may mga daga at kung anu-ano pa, but we didn’t care. We thought only of survival. I was wearing slippers that I found along the way.

The moving-on process must have been long and hard.

Kring-Kring: The experience kept on replaying in my mind for months. We went through several debriefing with our doctor-friend from Manila and that helped. But still, I kept having nightmares every now and then. Our main house was totally destroyed, but the guest house only partially.

How did that tragedy change the way you look at life?

Kring-Kring: Well, that life is so short, that we are so fragile, that anything can happen anytime not only in Tacloban but anywhere. So whatever chance you have, show your love to your loved ones, your family, while you still can. And trust The Lord.

How many casualties were there ba?

Kring-Kring: I don’t know the exact number. Basta marami. Marami pang missing.

How is Tacloban now?

Kring-Kring: Okey naman ang recovery. Maayos na ang city. Before Yolanda, we had around 40 hotels. Now, we have more than 60, all new. (According to reports, more than a century ago, Tacloban was hit by a strong typhoon with storm surge and it wiped the city out.)

Let’s talk about brighter things…When was the first time you heard Sofia sing?

Kring-Kring: Actually, before pa, she was always singing. I didn’t really want her to join showbiz so soon because we wanted her to finish college. She has always been very musical. She asked us to bring her a guitar and keyboard. Kanta nang kanta. She even composes songs. She’s really musically-inclined. (With me and Tempo’s Ronald Constantino during the interview was Aster Amoyo, also a Waray and Kring-Kring’s best friend. Aster recalled that last June during Sangyaw Music Festival as highlight of the city’s Sto. Niño fiesta, she and several invited movie writers heard Sofia sing. “Nagulat kami lahat, napaka-shy pero ang husay-husay kumanta,” recalled Aster who, right there and then, “discovered” Sofia and brought her to the attention of Viva big boss Vic del Rosario Jr. who promptly signed up Sofia.)

(To Sofia) What songs did you sing?

Sofia: I sang three songs…Toxic by Whitney Houston, Skin Love by Bon Iver and Someone Like You by Adele.

(To Sofia) When was the first time you learned that your mom was a popular actress?

Sofia: I was very young; maybe three years old. My mom brought me to a show and I thought it was weird…you know, how come everybody knew my mom?

(To Sofia) And when did you realize that you could sing?

Sofia: I’ve been singing since I was small, but only at home. It was only four years ago that I sang in front of an audience with my family and friends. They kept telling me, “Oh, you sing very well; you are really good!” (Sofia is a high school sophomore on home schooling; she used to study at the International School Manila [ISM]. She plans to take up Sound Engineering in college, taking after her grandfather, former actor and Congressman Jose Mari Gonzalez, who used to own and manage Cinema Studio, the country’s biggest recording studio.)

(To Sofia) Who are your musical influences?

Sofia: A lot, mostly foreign artists like Ariana Grande, 1975, Panic in the Disco, and several bands. Among local artists, I like Yeng Constantino. Like her, I also compose songs.

(To Kring-Kring) Any pieces of advice to Sofia?

Kring-Kring: Be nice to everybody, be humble, stay focused.

(E-mail reactions at entphilstar@yahoo.com. You may also send your questions to askrickylo@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.) Photos by VER PAULINO

 

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