Guintacan was saved by the very charm that almost destroyed it. The small island lies a few hours sail north west of Cebu, roughly in the centre of the Philippines archipelago. It is an isolated community of around 6,000 people that sustains itself through fishing and farming. Its beaches are the stuff of daydreams.
But Guintacan was just too far for military helicopters to bother with, too small, hilly and wooded for the C-130 Hercules aircraft to consider landing on. Only HMS Daring reached it, and only by chance. The Royal Navy Destroyer, tasked by the British government to help with the relief effort, passed by en route to Cebu city to load up with aid supplies. Whilst doing so she surveyed 1600 miles of coastline using her Lynx helicopter on-board.
They identified Guintacan as in need of help by the way the islanders signalled to the helicopter as it flew over: a two handed wave of desperation rather than the one hand of intrigue.
And so Daring set about going to help – bringing with her aid, medics and us, a Sky News team of two – myself and cameraman Richie Mockler. The only journalists on-board and only allowed on once everything else had rightly taken priority. We were the first outsiders to land on Guintacan Island since Typhoon Haiyan punched its way through ten days previously.
What we found was quite extraordinary. The elected village captains – known as ‘Punong Barangays’ and all of whom are women on Guintacan – had drawn up lists of the dead and the living.
The former had been sent to whichever government ministry in Manila was compiling such grim statistics; the latter was a personal record for the island, annotated to include the details of those injured or suffering from illness.