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Bohol bounces back

/ 12:14 PM November 21, 2013

No disaster can disquiet the human yearning to survive, to pick up the pieces and move on with life. And nowhere was this concretely visible for me than in the last two days going through about 15 towns in Bohol with accomplished photographer Fr. Jun Rebayla, SVD, vice president for finance of the University of San Carlos (USC), and fellow Cebuano photographer Estan Cabigas, who teaches basic photography at De La Salle University.

I could finally see for myself where the Oct. 15 tremor really shook hardest, going east-southeast wrecking so many of the houses and colonial edifices along its path. We had to go through the mountain passes of San Isidro and Antequera to reach Loon and Maribojoc towns as these were cut off from Tagbilaran city due to the collapse of the bridge over the Abatan River.

Along the mount highway which had been going through a massive cement paving when the earthquake struck, we could imagine the trauma that people in these upland villages are still going through in the tents and shelter boxes that they live in just beside or near their houses. Apparently, despite the winding down of strong aftershocks, people here still refuse to go back to their abodes.

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The good thing is that the stirrings of life and livelihood, at least for the tourism industry in Bohol, appears to be returning to normalcy. A kind of “disaster tourism” has taken root most especially with foreigners in scores of tour vans and cars visiting damaged churches like those in Loboc and Baclayon, to take pictures and to see firsthand the impact of the earthquake. (I asked the locals in Loboc who were directing traffic and parking for the scores of tour vans and cars that were parking every few minutes or so whether they were collecting any donations or fees to help the rebuilding of the church. I was told that no one was doing this. And so tourists are virtually allowed to climb up the unfinished bridge, now turned into an esplanade of sorts, to take shots of the ruined church.)

Incidentally, teams from the National Museum have begun arriving at those churches that it had already declared as National Cultural Treasures (NCTs) or Important Cultural Properties (ICPs) in Bohol. With funding from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the NM has started initial clearing operations on the severely damaged churches under its care. We chanced upon Adan Soriano of the NM Archaeology Division at the Loboc Church as he and an architect from NM were supervising the removal of coral rubble and taking measures to gather all the coral stones in places where they could identify which part of the church walls they fell from.

Another NM team led by Clyde Jago-on also arrived in Loon while another also in Maribojoc. Clyde’s team has its work cut out for them. Loon Church was once Bohol‘s largest colonial ecclesiastical structure. To those who are not aware yet, the church crumbled into pieces during the tremor, like that of Maribojoc. It was a depressing sight to see Loon Church, even if we prepared ourselves for what we would see. But I believe there is so much to learn from Loon and those who study earthquakes will clearly have a lot to tell about the path of the fault that ravaged the town. It is not just the church that crumbled in Loon but also modern concrete residences and buildings that seemingly followed a line leading towards Maribojoc. Even the Spanish-era cemetery in Loon, with its walls forming a circle embracing the final resting place of Loonanons’ ancestors was not spared destruction. Neither did its mortuary chapel across the street from the church which clearly buckled down from the pressure brought about by a second floor that someone added over what was designed to be a one-story structure.

It will take many more years to rebuild some of Bohol’s lost ecclesiastical treasures but it is also heartwarming and inspiring to see that the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that ravaged this island has not discouraged its people from moving on.

* * *

Let me congratulate Mrs. Louella Eslao-Alix on the successful launching of her book, “Hikay: The Culinary Heritage of Cebu” (with photography by Fr. Jun Rebayla, SVD and Rudolfo Alix) yesterday at the Barcelona and Bilbao rooms of Casino Español de Cebu. Let me also thank the Bank of the Philippine Islands and China Banking Corporation for their support in the production of this celebration of Cebuano gustatory delights and to Cebu Daily News and Sun.Star Cebu for their partnership with USC Press, the office which I help manage, in promoting this important contribution to Cebuano heritage.

For those interested to obtain copies of the book, kindly call USC Press Office (look for Tina at 2300-100 local 290) or USC Museum (look for Fatima/Stephen at 253-1000 local 191).

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