Pampanga and Bohol-A A +A
Monday, October 21, 2013
IF IT'S any consolation to the people of Bohol, we Kapampangans went through a far worse ordeal in the 1990s but look where we are now.
This is not to belittle the present suffering of Boholanos but rather to give them hope, that no matter how bad things look now, the dust will eventually settle and life will go back to normal — it always does.
I don’t think there is anything in world history that is comparable to the season of disasters that Kapampangans went through in 1991-1995. Even the Israelites in the land of Egypt had only 10 plagues; Kapampangans got the entire list in the catalogue: volcanic eruption, typhoon, earthquakes, floods, rain of ash, sand and stones, days of darkness, exodus, epidemic, drought, famine, swarms of locusts, and the most apocalyptic calamity of all—lahars!
In one day alone, on June 15, 1991, Kapampangans experienced an incredible coincidence that never happened before or since, anywhere in the world: a typhoon crossing the vicinity of a volcano at the precise moment of its climactic eruption.
This was more than 20 years ago, which means Kapampangans 30 years old and above are the only ones who remember Pinatubo. All the students enrolled in the universities, all the workers newly hired in government and private sector — they don’t have any idea of the extent of devastation, and no idea how desperate the situation really was.
Kapampangans — not just by the thousands but by the hundreds of thousands — stayed in crowded evacuation centers where they waited for rations of food and queued for latrines. They stayed there not just for weeks or months but for years, because they could no longer return to their villages and neighborhoods that were already buried by lahar, and had to wait until the government could build them resettlement areas far from home.
Mawaque, Bulaon, Madapdap, Dapdap, Sta. Lucia, Pandacaqui — young people today do not realize that every household in these resettlement areas shelters scarred survivors with lingering memories of the horrors wrought by Pinatubo.
Fire, typhoons and earthquakes only destroy your property; you can repair and rebuild immediately after. Not in the case of Pinatubo. The morning after, people were dismayed to find everything covered with a foot-thick blanket of sand — not just their houses, not just their neighborhood, but the entire village, the entire town, and the entire province! You could not rise alone from such a calamity, you had to wait for the entire community to rise with you.
I remember not being able to travel even short distances because all the roads had been blocked by fallen trees, and bridges had all disappeared in the night.
And there was the dust — swirling, blasting, choking dust — which clung to our clothes and beds and appliances and lungs for many years. I believe the lifespan of an entire generation of Kapampangans has shortened as a result of inhaling volcanic ash day and night for many years.
The first few weeks after the eruption were the worst. The food in the refrigerator rotted, toilets stank, there was no water to bathe in, no food to buy in the market, and nowhere to go. People stayed home in their dirty clothes, huddled around candles, slept on dusty beds, and woke up to endless days of hopelessness.
There were rumors of nuclear bombs at Clark Air Base ready to detonate, packs of mad dogs roaming the streets, the entire province of Pampanga collapsing in a sinkhole, etc.
And when the US military base closed down, Kapampangans felt abandoned by their next-door benefactor whose sprawling presence had served as a physical and psychological buffer zone between the volcano and the province. Gone forever were the sparkling lights that had always brightened Pampanga’s night sky, and gone, too, were the jobs of thousands of base workers at a time when they needed them most. They got a hefty separation pay of course, and some of them spent it on costly house improvements — which all went to naught when the lahars came and finished off whatever the eruption had spared.
There was something really evil about this particular plague. Boiling mud, sounding like a thousand carabaos on a stampede, laden with debris with only enough water to lubricate and make it flow, mobilizing even on a clear day or a starry night, and starting as a rampage bulldozing everything in its path and slowing down to a creep around nipa huts. Yet lahars bury everything with finality, cementing it to a depth where you cannot unearth it anymore, and erasing not just your home but your home address, because all landmarks disappear and your entire neighborhood is forced to relocate, never to return.
Even the dead in the cemetery were reburied over and over, one layer at a time every monsoon season from 1991 to 1995, until six feet under became 26 feet under. Lahars also buried houses that had been raised on stilts. Young Kapampangans today walk the streets in Cabalantian, Bacolor not realizing that the original barrio lies under them along with 500 residents who lost their lives in October 1995, when Pinatubo dealt one final blow before finally quieting down.
As Boholanos pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, Kapampangans are extending both arms to comfort them with the assurance that everything will be all right. They’d be surprised to know how much courage, grit and resilience they have inside them that’s waiting to be mined in times like these.
Who would have thought, for example, that the vain, pampered, carefree, and fun-loving Kapampangans would be able to survive the worst possible misfortune that can befall them, and come out even stronger, wiser and more self-assured?
Pampanga and Bohol have many things in common — pride in their ethnic identity, passion for cultural heritage, their religiosity, their rich natural resources. During seminars and conventions on church heritage conservation, experts Regalado Trota Jose, Fr. Ted Torralba, Eric Zerrudo, Ino Manalo always give Pampanga and especially Bohol a pat on the back for their efforts to preserve and restore old churches.
Loboc, Baclayon, Loon, and all those precious churches may have been reduced to a heap of rubble, but I have no doubt that in due time, Boholanos can restore them to their former grandeur, piece by piece and stone by stone.
The San Guillermo Church of Bacolor, Pampanga should be their inspiration. This magnificent church was the crown jewel of the former capital of Pampanga. Lahars buried it repeatedly, layer by layer, year after year, from 1991 to 1995, up to the height of the chandeliers. Instead of discarding it and building a new church, the townspeople decided to honor it by continuing to hold all their religious services and events under its now very low roof.
Churches, especially old churches, are often the largest, oldest, and sturdiest edifices in any community in this country; if Burma, Indonesia, Thailand, and all other Southeast Asian neighbors have their Buddhist and Hindu temples, we Filipinos have our Catholic churches as witnesses to history, shelter during storms, sanctuary in times of war and revolution, and repository of our soul as a people.
Yes, let’s save those churches. They deserve it.
Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on October 22, 2013.