Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Typhoon Ondoy test PAF’s Sergeant Lomigo

http://www.paf.mil.ph/news.html
Written by PIO

Monday, 28 September 2009 05:54


While Typhoon Ondoy was pounding Metro Manila last September 26, Sgt. Sol Marco B. Lomigo was at Villamor Air Base in Pasay City preparing his “pet” for the inevitable action up ahead. Sarge Lomigo’s pet is a reliable M-35 military truck, specifically the 5-tonner version that will soon be tested against 2.5-tonne M-35s in Provident Village – the gated Marikina community that went under water after Ondoy poured a month’s volume of rain in just six hours on that fateful Saturday.

An eight-year veteran truck driver of the Philippine Air Force’s 419th Transport Support Group, Lomigo had been through a lot of hauling operations. From transporting munitions to PAF combat units directly engaged in combat to towing generator sets for Air Force Engineers or gingerly driving with explosives for PAF EOD units, name it and the soft-spoken, bronze-skinned Sarge Lomigo could have done it. His unit, after all, provides transport support to PAF units in need. But the mission on that fourth Saturday of September was different and something worth remembering, he soon learned.

While the city was on a standstill after Ondoy submerged all low lying areas and city roads, Lomigo got his marching orders directly from the commanding general of the Philippine Air Force himself, Lt. General Oscar H Rabena, who was personally overseeing that Saturday’s disaster response operations of the PAF. Coursed through the office of the Assistant Chief of Air Staff for Operations (A-3), Lomigo was directed to proceed to Marikina’s Provident Village to lend support to government and volunteer rescuers. He was also armed with a special mission to find and rescue an identified person from rampaging floodwaters.

At exactly 9:00 PM, Lomigo’s five-tonner roared out of Villamor’s main gate, turning right in Sales Road under the new Skyway towards Fort Bonifacio. In his company are Airman Second Class Edwin L Cetron and Airman Sherwin B de los Reyes, newbies who joined military service, respectively, 14 and two months earlier. The junior soldiers showed their inexperience in similar operations by wearing combat boots while Lomigo, the veteran, was shod in rubber sandals to compliment his combat uniform. For easier maneuverability, he reasoned.

Driving down the deserted Lawton Avenue in Fort Bonifacio until he exited to C5 near Market Market was a cruise, the intermittent rain notwithstanding. C5’s northbound lane was traffic-free until he descended the flyover in Ugong, Pasig where stalled vehicles as far as his eyes can see stood in front of him.

After extricating his lumbering truck from the trap, he drove it through waist deep floodwaters as soon as he crossed Julia Vargas just before Tiendesita’s. He has now the feel of the truck’s power, plodding through a deepening flood as he progressed towards Libis, and was in fact eventually able to catch up with the PNP SAF convoy that overtook him earlier in Ugong as he was about to turn right towards the Philippine Army Engineering Brigade camp in a Libis road to also leads to Marikina’s Riverbank.

Sensing slower progress should he stick it out using the same route, he turned back and headed towards Camp Aguinaldo, turned right in Katipunan, descending in the Aurora Boulevard service ramp and turned right towards Marikina City where he again meet the PNP SAF convoy. He was soon joined by other M-35’s from the AFP NCR Command, Philippine Army and Presidential Security Group. One of the M-35s, it turned out, was bearing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, MMDA Chair Bayani Fernando, his wife, Marikina Mayor Marides Fernando, and PNP SAF’s General Santiago. Soon, as the trucks were wading through a neck-deep flood along Andres Bonifacio Avenue near the Marikina Riverbank entrance, all M-35s except Sarge Lomigo’s stalled as vehicles upon vehicles lay trapped and submerged, some with drowned victims inside the vehicles.

He tried pushing the heavier truck to the limit, amidst the cold wind draft that accompanied Ondoy’s rain. Soon, sheer road inaccessibility forced the tougher, heavier version of the M-35 military to stop. Otherwise, he could have trampled on hapless cars that lay submerged on the flooded road.

Ever the soldier, Lomigo lead other two – A2C Cetron and AM de los Reyes, the three of them basically representing the entire Philippine Air Force in the multi-agency effort that night in Provident Village – in locating their precious target by hitching a rubber boat ride aboard a Philippine Navy rescue team. Inside Provident Village, the strong current from canalized flood was too strong it swept parked cars. Yet they were able to find their target, shivering on top of a house’s roof, which they eventually rescued and transferred to a safer place.

Meanwhile, while the team was maneuvering back towards the PAF’s M-35, residents of Provident Village sought the help of the three in retrieving a drowned househelp in one of the village’s submerged bungalows. After a few minutes A2C Cetron and AM de los Reyes emerged with the victim and quickly turned over the drowned 19-year old to the Army contingent.

On their way out, they gave a truck load of flood victims a ride towards higher grounds near Katipunan Avenue.

Reaching back Villamor Air Base at 9:00 AM Sunday morning, the heroic trio proclaimed victory with a realization that they’re drenched, hungry and in need of sleep. “Yet happy that we were able to have rescued some individuals,” added Sgt. Lomigo.

They, with mud clearly all over their combat uniforms, claimed that they were not worried about their soiled uniform nor about getting wet in the process. In fact, their uniforms may have been physically soiled but it was the kind of dirt that they can proudly claim to their children as having earned them satisfaction as soldiers and protectors of the hapless citizens, with A2C Cetron sheepishly showing off a glance of his once white briefs turned khaki by flood waters.

Sarge Lomigo, the motorhead, recalled with pride that Typhoon Ondoy was the toughest operation he did, claiming it was also an opportunity to really test his pet 5-tonne version of the M-35 military truck.

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