BOHOL, Philippines – On the morning of Tuesday, October 15, I was awoken by the strong shaking of my bed.
I readily jumped out upon realizing it was an earthquake – with an intensity I’ve never felt ever before, not even close to the two previous earthquakes that I’ve experienced in Bohol. Everyone was already out of the house, my mom praying out loud, with my trembling cousins huddled beside her.
After the tremor – the experience I liken to the ever so slow but very steady swaying on a very large playground carousel, – we made calls to and from family elsewhere in Bohol (and some in Cebu). All was safe, thank the heavens! But then I received this ominous text message, “Liz, do you want my pix of the Dauis Church – destroyed by the earthquake?” Oh, no!
A hundred thoughts ran through my mind. If Dauis Church has been damaged, so would all our other heritage churches. Maribojoc, Baclayon, Loboc, Loon. Oh, no!
Cultural heritage threatened
I’m a cultural writer and advocate as well as a member of the Bohol Arts and Cultural Heritage Council. Just last week, I had a chance to meet National Museum officials from Manila. The paperwork and budget for the much-need intervention and repair work (stone consolidation of the facade, etc.) for the bell tower of Maribojoc Church or The Holy Cross Parish Church (aka Diocesan Shrine of Saint Vincent Ferrer) and the Panglao Watchtower (National Cultural Treasures-listed structures) finally came through. The work, in fact, finally began on October 7, 2013.
In addition, repair work for the Loon and Loboc Churches was supposed to commence very soon. Plus, we were also expecting the NCT declaration of other Bohol heritage sites and structures by year’s end. It was an exciting thing for us. The National Museum officials and the Provincial Government of Bohol was also cooking up a workshop in November along the theme of “Protecting Our Heritage.”
And then, this news.
Document the damage
I texted two cultural advocate friends from Loon and Baclayon for news on their respective churches. It was bad. The Loon church is a total wreck. Baclayon’s church belfry collapsed.
I knew I had to see for myself and take photos to report on the damage. Already, another Boholano cultural advocate, who was on a Dubai trip for a theater workshop, was messaging me on Facebook and asking for an initial damage assessment.
I sent a quick text message to a fellow writer for company and, after ensuring that everyone in my family was safe, we were off. The mission was to document the damage caused by the earthquake on some of the most important heritage churches of Bohol.
The drive plan: East-bound (from Tagbilaran City) first: Dauis, Baclayon, Albur, Loay, Loboc, and back to the city to go northward Cortes, Maribojoc and Loon.
Tagbilaran Cathedral – Very little damage.
Dauis Church – East and west façade collapsed.
Baclayon – Façade and campanile, crumbled.
Albur Church – Still there. Little damage. Integrity still intact. But the people pointed us to their homes by the coastline.
Then, the first big aftershock. Then an aftershock altogether different, as we received bad news from a barangay official. Two children from an uphill barangay died after a concrete wall fell over them. They were sent back from hospital after being pronounced dead on arrival. Up, we climbed up to their mountain home, on a habal-habal (tricycle). Heartbreak.
Then off to Loay Church – Façade down. Belfry damaged.
And then off to another heartbreak.
The Loboc Church (one of the more aesthetically and architecturally favored heritage structure by the Bohol culturati) and the Loboc Belfry, crushed. Worse, that infamous jumbo bridge was barely damaged. Many, many houses and property destroyed along the way. Plus the countless mini aftershocks.
One word. Torture.
At the last stretch of our monitoring, which we thought, was the toughest, having already seen photos of some churches in the towns north of the capital city of Tagbilaran, completely crumbled (as in ground zero, the precious Loon Church, the Bohol church with the most beautiful façade), and also having heard reports that a crucial bridge, the Abatan Bridge, has caved in, thus making the towns of Maribojoc and Loon inaccessible (there are other ways, but very difficult, landslide-prone and a much-longer route), we still set out to complete our original plan.
Indeed, Abatan Bridge, was practically cut in half, like it was masterfully hit by a karate chop. It was not passable, not even with light vehicles (like the slightly-damaged bridges going to Loay and Loboc).
But, there was still traffic, on the river, that of KayakAsia kayaks and the Abatan River Life Tour boat (bandung), ferrying passengers from one side of the river to the other. We had a chance. But seeing that the line was long and it was starting to get dark, we called it a day and went back our way to the city. But not without experiencing our second big aftershock of the day, right there near the bridge.
Taking a visita iglesia of our precious Boholano built heritage, reduced to rubble, seeing death and destruction along the way – add to the queasiness caused by the earthquake and too many aftershocks – it was gut-wrenching. It still is – and right through the solar plexus.
But seeing the paddlers of KayakAsia and the Abatan River Life Tour boat people volunteering to go back and forth many times to bring people to the other side of the river, was heartwarming. And we’ve seen many acts of kindness in the midst of calamity along the way. Volunteerism. Bayanihan. Inigsuonay (brotherhood). That would easily be missed out, buried under the grief, the destruction, the rubble.
But Bohol will rise from the rubble. We will.
Edeliza Macalandag is a cultural writer and cultural advocate.