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Davao City, Philippines

Helping quake evacuees build sturdier houses go a long way

November 07, 2019 - Thursday 4:11 AM by Jimmy Laking

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There seems to be an avalanche of food assistance going the way of evacuees in North Cotabato and Davao del Sur.

And with food packs coming from all over, including 30 bags of rice pooled by Surigao detainees, the evacuees will not be wanting of the commodity in the days ahead.

This cannot be helped. It is in times like this when the Filipino shines, sometimes exceeding himself, in extending a helping hand to those in need. It is part of bayanihan or tambayayong at its best.

At the invitation of a cousin, I have myself experienced joining a food queue once in Baguio City days after the 1990 earthquake.

The pack consisted of a kilo of rice, two canned goods, noodles which I handed over to a younger sister who was more amused than grateful. Then I headed back to the ruins of the Hyatt Terraces Hotel where a team of miners from Philex Mines were doing recovery work.

My coverage of this event showed that while responders are dime a dozen, often in colorful suits, the task of getting at the dead or survivors in the twisted rubble fell on the shoulders of gutsy miners who improvised tunnels, cut off steel, and hammered away at concrete to reach their objectives.

The Nevada Hotel also collapsed on its side but its basically intact structure allowed miners with the assistance of Philippine Military Academy cadets to free 35 victims. It was in this manner that Alicia Laya, wife of former education Secretary Jaime Laya, was rescued. Miraculously, she survived the ordeal with no injuries.

Ten years later, I visited what remained of the Hyatt Terraces only to find it all deserted except for the collapsed concrete that testify to what happened on that fateful day of July 16, 1990 when a pair of 7.6 magnitude earthquakes shook the cities of Cabanatuan, Dagupan and Baguio City, bringing their economies to a standstill.

Occasionally, I was told, a white horse would be seen prowling the fenced premises of the ruins during the nights. And unlike the rest of the city that rebounded from the ruins like the phoenix, this one was never rebuilt.

Four days after that earthquake, the National Disaster Coordinating Council placed the initial estimate of damage at P8.4 billion. It was to double one month after when the full extent of the damage became clear. The official death toll was placed at 1,600 but it could be more.

I also witnessed how that city became a ghost town in the days following the earthquake as people flocked to the provinces, as the stench of death pervaded the air. And because five road accesses to the city were closed by landslides, it was virtually in isolation.

The sight of helicopters, mostly from the United States Air Force, bringing in relief was a common one. The helicopters also played a role in bringing the injured, some of whom were plucked in some isolated villages, to the hospitals.

Fortunately for a few reporters stuck in that city, the teletype machines were working. If not, the stories were dictated word for word by long distance to Manila.


It is in recalling this event that I find, with justification, the events following the series of earthquakes that struck this region mild by comparison.

I also recall that Baguio City quickly bounced back to life when the roads leading to the city were reopened. The flow of relief had long ceased in the weeks that followed as people quickly recovered.

Which is why I sympathize with the evacuees who chose to move to the evacuation center or to open grounds to get over the trauma of their ordeal. They are not in a position to deny what comes in their hour of need. It comes with the territory.

That will do temporarily. But helping them get back to their feet by helping them rebuild sturdier houses or providing them farm assistance would probably go a long way.

Two months after the 1990 earthquake, a municipal mayor and earthquake-raved town in Nueva Vizcaya personally asked a Manila-based non-government organization to stop sending his constituents food packs.

What he said was something: “What do you want? Do you want to see them standing up or lying down? You can help them better if you would help them rehabilitate their farms, their schools, their irrigation system and their roads.”