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‘Baby Israel’: New life amid death and destruction

Super Typhoon Yolanda is remembered for how it ripped through the central Philippines in November 2013, leaving widespread death and destruction in its wake. 

But for one family in Bogo City, Cebu, the typhoon is a reminder that a miracle happened while the world was falling apart around them. 

On November 15, 2013, seven days after the typhoon struck, 41-year-old Emylou Garin Antigua suffered stomach cramps that resembled labor pains. She was eight months pregnant and a survivor of one of the strongest typhoons to hit the Philippines. The typhoon had cut off power lines. The food supply was scarce. Roads were blocked by fallen trees. 

It was one of the worst nightmares for an expecting mother.

Nahadlok ko kay eight months pa lang ko, unsay mahitabo sa ako anang adlaw? Asa ko padung? (I was scared because I was just eight months pregnant. What would happen to me? Where would I go?),” recalls Emylou.

She tried to ignore the cramps, hoping it would just go away. But then came the blood spots. 

Emylou and her husband rushed to the Severo Verallo Memorial Medical Center in Bogo City, where they were met by doctors and nurses dressed in military uniforms.

That time, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had taken over the typhoon-ravaged hospital in Bogo City. The Israeli government has deployed the IDF Rescue Mission to the Philippines to assist the typhoon victims. 

Emylou remembers being carried by an Israeli soldier inside the hospital. 

“Di ko kalimot, gikugos ko sa usa ka military. Gisulod na lang ko nila didto sa Verallo Hospital (I will never forget that a soldier carried me. He brought me inside the hospital),” she says.

The medical team from Israel was composed of 150 doctors and disaster management staff. They set up a field hospital in Bogo City, some 82 kilometers away from Cebu City and one of the badly hit  areas in northern Cebu. 

The IDF brought with them 100 tons of humanitarian and medical supplies. They set up a field hospital outside the Verallo Hospital that served as an advanced multi-departmental medical facility to provide medical care for Yolanda victims. 

The all-Israeli medical team from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) poses with Baby Israel on November 15, 2013. Israel was the first baby born at the field hospital set up by the IDF in Bogo City, Cebu. (Photo courtesy of Emylou Antigua)
‘Push, Mommy’

It was an all-Israeli medical team that assisted in Emylou’s delivery. 

“Lima sila, puli puli. Pagkupot nila sa akoa, wala na gyud ko gipakupot sa lain (There were five of them and they took turns assisting me. They didn’t allow others to handle me after that),” she says.

Surrounded by doctors and nurses who spoke in a different language and were dressed in military uniform, Emylou recalls being nervous at first. 

Nakuyawan ko nganong nagsul-ob man ni sila ug para gyera. Naay gyera? (I was nervous because they were wearing military uniforms. I remember thinking, is there a war?),” shares Emylou. 

But the doctors would constantly reassure her, telling her she was in good hands and how it would be all over soon. “Ako mahinumduman nga ingnon ko nila (I remember them reassuring me) ‘Okay, Mommy, breathe. Push, Mommy, push,” says Emylou. 

After nearly five hours of labor, she gave birth to a baby boy at 10:59 AM. 

Emylou and her husband named him Israel in gratitude to the Israeli medical team, whom she said helped make her labor easy. 

Israel was the first baby to be born at the Verallo hospital in the aftermath of the superstorm.

“I’m thankful to the Israelis, kay kung wala sila, for sure wala pod koy Israel karon (If not for the Israelis, for sure I wouldn’t have Israel now),” says Emylou. 

Yellow baby

Emylou and baby Israel were discharged after a week from the Verallo Hospital. But after three days at home, Emylou had to bring Israel back to the Israeli doctors when he turned yellow.

The Israeli doctors told Emylou the baby needed hospital care, which they did not have the facilities for at the makeshift hospital. So, they brought the mother and the baby to Cebu Doctors Hospital in Cebu City, where Emylou said they took care of everything. 

“The Israelis told the doctors at Cebu Doctor’s Hospital that should they have a hard time treating Israel, they will bring him to Israel with them for further treatment,” says Emylou.

“I will never forget how they cared for me,” she adds.

Born at 10:59 a.m. on November 15, 2023, Baby Israel was named after the all-Israeli medical team that delivered him. (Photo courtesy of Emylou Antigua)
Emylou Antigua placing a medal around Israel, a consistent honor student at the City of Bogo Science and Arts Academy. (Photo courtesy of Emylou Antigua)
Science and computers

Israel will turn ten years old on November 15, 2023. He is currently a Grade 4 student at the City of Bogo Science and Arts Academy, where he is consistently at the top of his class. 

Emylou describes him as an intelligent boy who is into science, computers, and robotics. “Bright kaayong bataa (He’s such an intelligent boy.) He’s always with the highest honor,” she says. 

Israel prefers spending time at home on his iPad and doing experiments, although Emylou is now trying to get him to be more active. 

“Among mga silingan maglisod ug tigdula niya kay mag English pod lagi. English speaking gyud siya (Our neighbors’ kids have a hard time playing with him because he always speaks English,)” shares Emylou. 

Israel has not decided yet what he would like to become: pilot, engineer, or scientist. “Daghan kaayo sya ug ambisyon. Dili pa gyud sya (ka decide) kung unsa iya gusto (He has not decided yet what he wants to be),” says Emylou.

10th birthday

For his tenth birthday this year, the family had not planned anything big for the celebration, as they were banking on the offer of the Israeli government to bring them to New York for the 10th anniversary of the IDF Rescue Mission in the Philippines. 

Emylou said a team from the IDF earlier sought them out in Bogo City and asked if they were willing to go to New York to be part of the anniversary celebration. 

However, Emylou said it did not push through after the Israel-Hamas war broke out. 

Israel said he would like to hold his birthday party at his school instead. 

It will be a simple celebration, says Emylou, whose husband suffered a stroke in January 2020. 

Their food stand at the Bogo City port was also forced to shut down during the pandemic. Since then, it has been a one-income household for Emylou’s family. 

“The important thing is that Israel is alive and well. He is a gift to me,” says Emylou. 

Israel Antigua is holding his Certificate of Recognition as an honor student. His mother described him as an intelligent boy who is into science, computers, and robotics. (Photo courtesy of Emylou Antigua)

Now 50 years old and working for the Bogo City government, Emylou said Typhoon Yolanda and Israel’s birth have made her a better person. 

Sukad nakaanak ko niya, I’m a stronger person, unlike before. Since Yolanda, I have more faith in God. My faith has become stronger. Iya man ning gihatag kay kaya nako, ug kabalo ko nga dili ko niya pasagdan (God gave me these trials because I can handle it. I know He will take care of me),” she says. (RMN/PIA7

About the Author

Rachelle Nessia

Assistant Regional Head

Region 7

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