BATANGAS, Philippines – All Jocelyn Salvia hoped for was to go home with her family to Talisay, Batangas, once Taal Volcano calms down. Their house is still there but Elmer, her husband, is gone.
He had just returned to their evacuation home in Sto Tomas City, Batangas, at around noon on Tuesday, January 21, when he complained of a headache. He came from their house in Talisay – a town on lockdown because of the volcano – to clear it of ash.
Elmer was about to take a nap when his phone rang. He was needed at the nearby gymnasium to sort out some relief goods. Elmer was his village's chief tanod or patrol, and even as evacuees, he saw to it that his neighbors had everything they needed.
And so he got up and got the job done. When he got home afterwards, he asked Jocelyn for a drink of water. Moments later, he rushed to the sink and vomited. Jocelyn suspected it was a bout of hypertension, and she rushed to the store down the street to get her husband a can of pineapple juice.
When she got back, she saw Elmer splayed on their beddings on the floor. Suppressing panic, she rushed to get help. She summoned their neighbors and the police at a nearby evacuation center to take Elmer to the nearest hospital.
Doctors at St Frances Cabrini Medical Center were forthright about Elmer's condition. He had fallen into a coma. A vein had ruptured in his brain, and the blood had spread. If he survived, he would have been a vegetable.
Jocelyn and her brother-in-law Elwin Salvia insisted on fighting for Elmer's life. Because there was no room at the hospital's intensive care unit, Elmer had to be taken to another hospital in Batangas City, about 48 kilometers away. It took hours before an ambulance became available, and it was close to midnight when they finally arrived with Elmer at the United Doctors of St Camillus de Lellis Hospital.
He died in the wee hours of Wednesday, January 22.
At least 3 other evacuees have died in the days following Taal Volcano's first massive emission of ash, though it is unclear whether their deaths were directly related to the phenomenon.
"Noon po 'yung lumipat po kami, siguro po ang asawa ko ay sa sobra na pong stressed, nag-aalala kung kailan kami ulit magsisimula pagbalik namin sa Talisay, siguro napagod din po siya nu'n sa panghihingi ng relief goods, 'yung paroo't parini," Jocelyn said as she told Rappler the story.
(When we moved, perhaps my husband got too stressed, worrying about when we'd return and start over in Talisay, maybe he got exhausted then from asking around for relief goods, the coming and going.)
The Salvias have been renting a single room in Sto Tomas City at a rate of P6,000 each month. Because Elmer's and Elwin's mother is frail, having survived a stroke 4 times, they could not risk living in evacuation centers.
With no telling when Taal Volcano would let them return to their lakeside hometowns, the family has little choice but to put up with all their hardship. With Elmer gone, their future seems even bleaker.
And then there are the bills incurred from Elmer's sudden sickness and death. The family still owes the Cabrini Hospital P47,000. For the coffin and funeral services, they owe Funeraria Velma P140,000.
Rappler spoke with the management of Cabrini Hospital, a private institution. Medical Director Malen Gellido said that although they cannot waive the fee, they won't not force the bereaved to pay if they really could not afford to. However, it's their job to keep reminding the family of the balance.
Funeraria Velma, on the other hand, agreed to give the Salvias a discount. The owner's wife, Gloria Luna Mangahis, explained that because Elmer was very tall, the only available coffin he could fit in was a premium one. Nevertheless, the family will only have to pay what they can, Mangahis said, which they can discuss after Elmer's burial.
They're neighbors in Talisay after all, Mangahis added.
It's the least they could do for Jocelyn and her family, who were still grieving the death of their eldest daughter in 2018 – and then Elmer passed away.
Jocelyn still has a son to send to college, and two grandchildren from her daughter who died of lupus.
How is she ever going to rebuild their lives in their home in Talisay? In the first place, can they ever go back? Taal Volcano still threatens to blow any minute, possibly unleashing a bigger catastrophe than what anyone has seen so far.
But hopefully, there will be a reprieve for the Salvias. – Rappler.com
Those who wish to give assistance to the Salvias may contact Jocelyn at +639303753230.
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.