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Wrapped in Grey
Thursday, October 17, 2013
THERE is untold suffering taking place in the communities of Bohol and Cebu after the strong earthquake destroyed homes, roads, and bridges last Tuesday.
In Bohol, power has not been restored and as a consequence water was also cut off and the locally available supplies are now being depleted. The death toll is rising as we speak as the complete picture of the destruction becomes apparent. CNN noted that the earthquake was especially destructive as it struck the densely populated areas of the Visayas. And the psyches of our kababayans remain shaken as aftershocks are still being felt in these areas.
But curiously what has been emphasized by media in the immediate aftermath of the event has been the destruction of the 500-year old churches. Instead of the plight of the thousands rendered homeless and afraid, the churches have assumed center stage to the discomfort of some who rightfully noted that we should be more concerned about the human victims of the natural disaster instead of these archaic symbols of colonial rule.
Let us hope that the concerned government agencies and cause-oriented groups appropriately respond to the immediate needs of the affected people.
However the image of the massive walls and towers of these ancient churches built by local hands from coral stone and eggs centuries ago now reduced to rubble by the earthquake struck a sensitive chord among TV viewers and netizens in social media. And the collective feeling, whose social meanings remain unarticulated, has been that of a wistful regret and a deep mourning of sorts.
There is something about the violence of destructive earthquakes that leave indelible marks to the collective memory of a people. In various oral and folk histories, these events serve as chronological markers of historical periods and it so happened that old churches are the physical and architectural repositories of these events.
Ask the history of any of these old churches, and the details regarding the great fire, memorable battle and the destructive earthquake of centuries ago are part and parcel of the structures' story. These old churches have stood tall and proud through natural and social calamities until this recent earthquake.
What makes the recent destruction painful is that for all these tumultuous natural and social events, the strength and stability of these massive structures has always been the mirror of the community's resilience. With their destruction, it is as if the soul of a community is crushed alongside the caved roofs and walls of the grand structures.
The meaning of these old churches for the seafaring and migrant Boholano must also be considered. The Boholano is one of most industrious and adventurous among us Filipinos. Owing to the hard land of their native place, many have sought better opportunities elsewhere as seamen or migrants.
But come fiesta season, they are beckoned by the land of their birth to come home. Like lighthouses guiding the weary sea traveler, the old churches of their communities serve as their beacons to their familial roots.
For the rest of us Filipinos who were fortunate enough to have paid these grand old structures a visit, we have less substantial ties to these churches. I was awed just the same by the grandeur and musty history that they manifested but for altogether different reasons.
The churches were beautiful all right but they were also monuments of suffering and sadness under the burden of the Spanish colonial yoke. They were built through the piety of our people and the grandeur of these structures expressed their belief in a newfound but exploitative Catholic faith then.
The thousands of hands who quarried the coral stone and the thousands of eggs that could have been food on the table of peasant families that made those massive walls and towers speak about the political economy of Spanish colonialism. Our people built those churches with their labor and resources and they stand as a testament of our capacities but also of our blind enslavement under colonialism.
Is it right then for the just God to strike down these structures for what they represent? No, they should be rebuilt and restored not only for the Boholanos and the collective importance that the churches stand for, but also for us as Filipinos and the important historical lesson these structures provide.
For me, the regret and mourning come from the lost opportunity to understand the true historical meaning of these churches. It is sad that before we have truly come to terms with our colonial past, time and events connive to erase the historical lessons to rubble.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on October 18, 2013.