Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July 16, 1990 Earthquake Survivor Stories

On July 15, 2012, Manila Bulletin published a special story, 1990 Quake 'Like Whirlwind' --revisiting Baguio City after 22 years. Here is the researcher's 'original' narration with some anecdotes.  

“It’s too picturesque to forget.”
Survivor Leia Fidelis Castro, now a senior law student at the
University of Cordilleras

Using the innocent lenses of a girl at that time, a disaster happening before her very eyes left notable traces -- too powerful to dismiss.

Judging by the way she grasped her words, survivor Leia Castro, probably has the same plot as other survivors -- but any personal encounter would always tell a different story.

“Everyone’s affected, so it is not that important. What’s your account? But I have my own story.” Leia brought the team to that instance when the 1990 earthquake occurred -- the way a guiltless child from Barangay Lualhati perceived it to be. 

“Nung mga bata kami, parang wala kaming care, e. Everyone will do it for you. Ako, Grade 2 ‘nun so, seven. Mage-eight ako that year. So, wala akong paki. ‘Di mo problema ang food, di mo problema ang water. Parang, you won’t worry about where to get these things.”

“Thinking it was a case of the hurricanes I saw on TV, I innocently asked my father, ‘ano iyon, daddy, ipu-ipo?” In the midst of that disaster that rocked huge parts of Luzon, she had no idea what an earthquake was, yet.

Trying to draw the exact symbols as far as she remembers, the interpretation of an earthquake then, was a rudimentary image of a boy with a surprised look – shattering and trembling, while the surrounding was deliberately weak. Read on.

Writing ‘Her Story'
Given that she only got to see her father every two weeks, by purpose, she learned to write -- unknowingly taking herself to what she has become today, a journalist.

Twelve years ago, Leia submitted an entry to an NDCC-Phivolcs sponsored earthquake experience story writing contest. “When I was listening to the ad, alam ko na na gusto ko siyang sulatin. Hindi ko alam na mananalo ako. I just wanted to write.”

“Nung sinulat ko ‘to, I had to go in details. Remembering all the things that I excluded…yung mga hindi ko usually naikukwento, say for a five-minute discussion, ‘yun ang isinama ko rito.”

Undoubtedly, her vivid yet honest approach in writing her personal account won her first prize in the college category.

And for this writer, who only sees the 1990 killer quake in still pictures, merely knowing a survivor tale gave him an opportune time to revisit even the tiniest glimpse of what appeared to be one of the deadliest earthquakes to wobble the World.

Revisiting “July 16”
With her facial expressions heading long before she catches the right words, Leia upon her narration, already knew how to tell the story over and over again.“At some point, if someone asks you about the earthquake, alam mo na kung paano mo siya ikukwento. Sa dami ng nagtatanong.”

Leia’s mother (native Igorot) was working at the infamous Hyatt Hotel, which scored a statistics of casualty. The lot where Hyatt used to rise is now a fenced private property. Fortunately, her mother went out of the premises upon learning that the scheduled meeting was cancelled. Meanwhile, her father already felt the instinct to postpone a trip. At least, they were safe.

Ms. Toni Aguilar, Le Monet Hotel at Camp John Hay
Baguio City, July 2012
BUT it was a totally different story for Toni Aguilar, now Front Desk Supervisor at Le Monet Hotel. That tragic day became even more tragic, as that day granted her, her sibling and mother instant passes to the list of dead people – literally, their names engraved on tombs.

“Sa angkan ng mama ko, matagal kasi siyang hindi umuuwi. Parang ‘nung natapos yung lindol, nagkaroon ng parang NSO count, hindi nag-appear yung pangalan naming mag-iina ‘don. Tapos, yung parents ng magulang ko sa Bisaya, pinagawan na kami ng puntod mag-iina,” Toni shared her story in tears.

It was only in her graduating years in college that her grandparents learned they are still alive. Tombs still exist as of this writing. “July 16, parang ito yung araw kung kailan kami pinatay ng lolo’t lola ko…”

When this happens again, Toni said, “I can never be ready.”

Baguio in total isolation
Leia Castro joined the team for a trek, crossing an eco trail that unfolded unforgettable stories as we passed by. This time she did not write her experience. She narrated it -- on the scene, and moving panorama.

“Walang sasakyan. Walang kuryente. September dumating ang kuryente. Walang tubig. Cut-off lahat ng lines kasi hindi safe. ‘Yung lolo ko at uncle ko (from Mt. Province) naramdaman din nila…ang lakas e! Sira ang kalye. Sarado ang daan. They walked for two days para lang i-check kami. Tapos, nung nalaman nilang okay kami, balik sila. Lakad ulit.”

Her non-verbal attempts to suitably portray the urgency of the situation would give you clues of how complicated it was to be in that very moment of hopelessness -- and later, despair.

Yes, recovering but the emotional attachment solidifies. “Of course, because you grow older, you really have to move on…for those who came here, na hindi nila naranasan ‘yun, you don’t get the same sentiments. But for us, who’ve been here at that time, and stayed here…ibang-iba ang pakiramdam.”

August 5, less than a month after the quake, Lea recalled it was probably one of the saddest birthdays she had. Even so, she shared the story now with mature humor, “Masama ‘yung loob ko kasi parang…yung sister ko nag-birthday, ‘bongga’ ‘yung kanya --  kasi may mga stock na. Sabi ko, ‘Ma, dapat yung handa ko ganito din!”

When the tragic date July 16 approaches, memorial service is always held. There is a mass at the Cathedral in the morning, and a breakfast gathering follows. “You can still see…they’re still crying. Every year, they’re still crying.”

Baguio: Then and Now
Probably, the best news they heard since the tragedy – “May kuryente na, may kuryente na! Takbo kaming paloob! Hindi talaga ilaw e.  Kuryente.” In her personal account, Leia described it a “luxury," while the resumption of basic services signaled ‘turning a new leaf.’ Their house was built in the verge of a crisis – when cement’s price flared high.

Baguio City (Quirino Hill view), July 2012
Today, Leia’s house is quite far from the city. “Umalis kami doon, nagpatayo kaming sarili naming house…and one consideration is wala bang fault line.” Interestingly, their neighbor happens to be a geologist, who guided them for land selection.

But, the pages have changed. It seems ironic that the place has become more and more densely populated through the years, despite doubts casted on Baguio’s geographical integrity.

“Kung ika-cut mo nga ang history ng Baguio, the old Baguio is the pre-earthquake Baguio…because ngayon, parang wala na. Congested.” For her, the old Baguio never got back. Instead, it has ‘deteriorated.’ Leia hopes everything levels off, so that they, as a community may start the right way again.

With an average of 500,000 daytime population including students and workers (2011), Leia, the journalist always asks local government units, regarding Baguio’s actual carrying capacity, pitted against the booming number of people. 

 “Sinasabi nila (local government), kaya ‘yan, kaya ‘yan. With water status, binabahayan pa ang water sheds, in 20 years, wala ka ng natural resources. Ngayon, ang una kong iniisip, water – saan ka kukuha ng tubig. You have to stock at least for a week, or more than a week.”

Lesson Learned
 “I would not rewrite it,” Leia said with conviction on possibly rewriting her story. “It is more pure that way. If you’ll ask me to write it now…parang [it will be] more on ano ‘yung iniisip mo as an adult…more on lessons learned.”

“You can’t prepare for it. It’s more of kung kaya mong mag-survive again.”

These survivor stories proved ‘nothing is resilient.’ Twenty two years after the earthquake, these still serve as a glaring reminder to us -- that while resilience may be put in question; in the end, what matters most is how we survive, and how we plan to survive again.

1 comment:

eunice santos said...

remembering the earthquake today feels like yesterday. that day when our dog barked so loud one afternoon then came a tremor after 30 minutes or so. it was 23 years ago and yet the feeling of shock and awe after coming home was rather fresh when i heard the news in cebu and bohol. looking at the cracks on the wall and the floor of our home reminds me how we survived the horror of an inevitable disaster.