Nearly six months after super typhoon Yolanda mercilessly took away the life of his entire family, Casimero Villas has evolved from being hopeless to a man full of optimism.
Villas, a 59-year-old former police chief of Palo town in Leyte, aimlessly wandered during the early post-Yolanda days, taking over the grim task of searching through the wreckage for dead bodies of his loved ones.
Big waves drowned his wife, Nila, 49, daughter Nerissa Perote, 29, sister Evelyn, 37, son-in-law Elmar Perote, 32, and grandson Ezekiel Noah Perote, 11 months. It took him 30 days to find their bodies.
Storm surges completely destroyed his house, sweeping him to a pile of debris while strong winds howled around him, leaving him unconscious for hours.
In the aftermath of the super typhoon, a team from the legal mission helped him retrieve the dead bodies of his family, fed him, and assist in the reconstruction of his legal identities.
“The legal mission helped me recover and start moving on,” said Villas, referring to the team of legal aid advocates from the Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services, Inc. (IDEALS)
Two months after the killer storm pounded the region, Villas realized the need to recover important documents.
He lost his identification cards issued by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, Pag-Ibig Fund, Commission on Elections, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Internal Revenue and Armed Forces and Police Savings & Loan Association, Inc.; land titles, bank cards, vehicle registration, certificate of live birth.
“The team from IDEALS drafted affidavits of loss for me. They offer that service to me immediately after the storm,” said Villas, who was temporarily hired by the legal mission as purchaser for a month late last year.
The legal service provider also encouraged him to organize the San Joaquin – Cogon Fisher folks Association (SACOFA) where he was elected as president. Following his retirement from government service in 2011, Villas has been engaged in fishing activities.
The IDEALS office in Eastern Visayas headed by area coordinator Atty. Ronnan Reposar assisted the 214-member SACOFA in drafting their constitution and by-laws. The group is currently working on their registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
IDEALS conceptualized the Access to Benefits and Claims after Disaster (ABCD) recognizing that legal assistance are one of the immediate needs of typhoon survivors for them to avail basic services that require legal identifications.
But legal services transcends beyond helping Villas rebuild his shattered life, it is about capacitating him to uplift others rise up from the rubble.
Villas, who was tagged by villagers as the “man who lost everything,” believed that there must have a special purpose why God allowed him to survive in what he considered as the worst disaster in history.
“Every time I see a fisherman empowered by SACOFA, it gives me more strength to carry on,” said Villas as a faint smile crossed her lips.