Rising from the rubble is tough, heartbreaking, grueling

Marlen V. Ronquillo

Marlen V. Ronquillo

Our small lives will rise to the occasion. We will help relieve the anguish of the quake-stricken areas in the Central Visayas. In ways big and small, there will be a response to a great tragedy. Those of us who can’t offer any material thing will double up on our prayers. Indifference to the shock and grief of a region is not an option.
I am speaking from a specific context. The “we” refers to us, the people of the Pinatubo areas. We have been through such grief and shock more than two decades ago after the most explosive volcanic eruption in living memory savaged our areas with one big bang—and five years of deadly and sustained lahar flows. Some of the Pinatubo deaths are still in unmarked graves and letting go and forgetting is easier talked about than done.

When you have experienced the terror of nature at its most unforgiving and deathly rage, you fully understand what is going right now in Bohol and Cebu and the other areas hit by the 7.2 quake.

On June 15, 1991, I was wrapping up the broiler harvest of a small chicken farm – built from bank and personal loans and the one and only economic lifeline—when Pinatubo awoke from 600 years of deep sleep and erupted with a fury unknown. The records said that “more than five billion cubic meters of ash and pyroclastic debris came out of its fiery bowels, and the eruption columns were 18 kilometers wide at the base and 30 kilometers above the vent.”

What do you think would happen to a puny farm of coco lumber frame, bamboo slats and GI sheets just 30 kilometers off the volcano’s vent? When the ash fall accumulated to thickness of more than a foot, everything collapsed. The farm that took half a lifetime to build was gone. In the gray and dark afternoon, my entire body covered with ash except for the spots washed down by the tears, I let out a huge cry of anguish. The ash-laden rains and the thunderous roar from the ash-blanketed skies just drowned out the cry.
God of the heavens, why have you forsaken us?

I was sure that tens of thousands of us asked the heavens the same question on that day Pinatubo erupted. I am sure when the earth moved underneath in the Central Visayas a few days back, killing people, toppling down century-old churches, homes and public and private buildings, many asked the same question. They have to let out a cry of pain and anguish and that can’t be bottled up inside. You have to ask that question before you can even move on and try, if you can, to rebuild from the rubble.

Of the devastated areas, rebuilding would be the toughest in Bohol, not only because it was the epicenter of the quake, but because its economic great leap forward had been built on tourism. This is an economic sector that generates business for as long as visitors have destinations for self-gratification and personal pleasure.

Bohol had all these, from century-old churches to pristine beaches to nature trails and adventure parks, then the famed Chocolate Hills. From a sleepy province, it has emerged as a tourism powerhouse and a political leadership dedicated to tailoring its policies to further promote the sector has assured sustained dynamism and innovation. The service sectors, from the hotels to the car rentals, thrived into another bullish economic sub-set.

When nature upended these offerings, like what the 7.2 quake did to turn the province into ruins , there is nothing that even the most determined private and public sectors can do. Tourists do the inevitable— cancel bookings, cut short their trips and go to other tourism options while Bohol tries to rise from the wreckage.

The restoration of the ancient churches will be the toughest aspect of the rebuilding work. Granted that money will be found (the country will never run out of immensely wealthy people who will shell out whatever it would take to restore the ruined churches), another problem would be who will undertake the restoration work. This task requires the most sensitive of design, engineering and craftsmanship. And from where will they draw the original plans?

Cebu is not a mono economy like Bohol and—after the aftershocks—things will easily return to normal. What the quake proved in Cebu was the resiliency of the modern high-rises to powerful temblors. But still, the damage to public infrastructure and facilities will pose a strain on the budgetary allocation to the province.

If there is any consolation to the quake-ravaged areas, it is the fact that unlike the Pinatubo areas which had to wait for the lahar flows to totally cease (that took five years), they can start the rebuilding process after the last of the aftershocks, and that would be in a couple of days. They can work on specific time lines, unlike the long wait in the Pinatubo areas for the lahar to cease flowing.

But still, the rebuilding process would be long and grueling. It is a work for the most patient and the most determined.


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