I was in my home in Miag-ao on Panay island when I heard the news on BBC world of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck the Central Philippines on October 15th. Only when I checked the website later did I realise that the quake’s epicentre was on Bohol island and specifically near the town of Carmen where we have a number of projects. Ireen was able to call me in the evening to tell me that she and her family were shocked but OK and that the city had suffered minimal damage.
Over the course of the next few days, worrying news reports started to come in of substantial damage and casualties in the central part of the island and coastal towns in the west. I learned that Analyn, our administrator on maternity leave, had been staying with her baby in her parents’ home in Maribojoc when the quake struck; thankfully, they were all able to get out before the house collapsed.
It was in Cebu on my way to Bohol on November 2nd that I first saw damage wrought by the earthquake; there were cracks in the road outside the port’s Weesam fastcraft terminal. Ireen and I were taking the 2pm boat bound for Tagbilaran, the provincial capital of Bohol province. Inside the departure area, the right hand side was cordoned off because of cracks in the floor.
The journey to Bohol takes two hours and it was a fine day. Ireen and I went out on deck for the latter part of the journey to enjoy the view of the Bohol coast. There was nothing to indicate that these areas had suffered major damage in the October 15 quake except the visible scarring of hillsides caused by landslides.
Three days after my arrival in Tagbilaran, Ireen and I set out for Maribojoc. We know that we shan’t be seeing Analyn and her family as they have moved to stay with relatives. We do however have 20 livelihood loan recipients in that area as well as one grant recipient. The town of Maribojoc is still inaccessible by road because of a bridge collapse so instead we take a jeepney to the town of Cortes and then a boat along a palm tree lined river. We disembark ten minutes later just next to the destroyed bridge and get a ride on a ‘habal-habal’ motorcycle to the town centre. This is when we start to see the severity of the damage wrought by the earthquake. The majority of the concrete houses have either collapsed or are leaning over; in contrast, the wooden houses have mostly sustained minor damage.
On arrival in the town centre, Ireen and I bump into Ronnie Dumandan, a former loan recipient who is bringing coconuts to the market to have the milk extracted for his wife who has a cooking project. I wander down the road ahead of Ireen and look to my left and to my astonishment, I realise that the rubble I see in front of me is the remains of the Holy Cross Parish Church. This is a church that has stood for 200 years and it is now a pitiful mound of rubble.
We walk down the road to the causeway where we have a number of PSHF clients. We stop at the home of Marlon Dumandan who is not there but his brother Nestor, is. The outside of the house bears no witness to the extent of the damage inside. Nestor explains that he and and other family members were on the terrace outside when the quake struck. This is most fortunate as the dining room table is covered in loose concrete and the room where Nestor slept is totally destroyed.
We take leave of Nestor and we walk up the steps built during the Spanish era and reach the other side of the destroyed church. We meet Araceli, a single woman in her 60’s who had been selling candles near the belfry of the church at the time of the quake. She explains how she ran for her life and then tripped up. She fell down and pieces of concrete fell on her leg. She undoes the bandage on her leg to show us the wound she sustained. We are standing outside her tiny home which is no more than 2 to 3 metres wide. Ireen takes down her details as we would like to help her; she has lost her main livelihood as there will sadly never be visitors to the church again.
Araceli’s home is on the edge of an open field and one of a number of dwellings or small shops catering to the students of the nearby elementary school which is our next stop. The teachers are having their first meeting since the quake and classes have only just resumed. With half the school buildings deemed unsafe, a number of classes are now being held under a tent in the field.
Ireen and I have happy memories of spending time with the school’s children in August 2012. I remember handing out pens from Tokyo Union Church. There were a couple of children in particular who we got to know that day - Erika and her friend Joyce who is a dwarf. I asked the teachers if they knew where Joyce lived as she was now in high school. To our delight, the teachers led us to Joyce’s home which is just a few yards away from the destroyed entrance to the Parish Church.
Joyce is there when we arrive and she is so happy to see us. We meet other members of her family including her mother and two sisters. The family home is unsafe to sleep in so the family are all living in an improvised tent at the back of the garden. It is while we are speaking with Joyce’s mother that the next door neighbour comes over. His name is Mike and he shows me his collapsed kitchen and explains that he and his wife Rosario had been in there when the earthquake struck. The door broke from its hinges and he used it to shelter himself and his wife from the debris that was falling down around them, It was only later that I realised that their escape had been even more miraculous than it had first appeared. It transpired that the kitchen had been an extension to the second floor so the couple had actually fallen with the kitchen to the ground level three metres below.
We say goodbye to the two families but not before giving Joyce some ‘piaya’ I had brought over from Negros. We assured Betty, Joyce’s mother that we would like to help them and promised to come back soon.