But for those still grieving for lost loved ones, beautiful Bohol has slowly picked itself up, its tourism program getting a second wind, and its world-famous Loboc Children’s Choir in fine fettle.
It’s almost unthinkable considering what Bohol and its people went through. On Oct. 15, 2013, at 8:12 a.m., a 7.2-magnitude earthquake shook the province for precisely 33 seconds, causing widespread damage in one city and 43 of its 47 towns. It would be called the Great Eastern Bohol Earthquake, reputedly the strongest to strike the province in recent years. The casualty count was grave: 211 people killed and eight missing (they remain so to this day). A total of 95,884 families saw their houses destroyed or damaged.
The stories of bereavement are haunting. Genara Somoro’s children, 13-year-old Jonalyn and 11-year-old Joellene, were swimming in the river in Katipunan village together with an uncle and three cousins when the quake struck, bringing down part of Bayong Falls. No one in the group was ever seen again. In the town of Clarin, Estela Tagsip knew her son Roger had died when trees and boulders fell on him while he was fetching water. She still hopes for “a sign” from her boy, “to let us know where you are,” for a proper burial.
Rehab funds have been slow in coming, or lacking, and the people of Bohol looked to themselves to get back on their feet. Per a special report by Inquirer Visayas’ Carmel Loise Matus, almost 30,000 families have returned to homes repaired with emergency shelter assistance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development and materials from the National Housing Authority. As many as 2,716 families rebuilt their homes on their own.
Private donors pitched in with permanent shelters for 1,575 families. Another 4,358 families are staying in bunkhouses provided by private groups. At least 200 families in the hardest hit town of Loon are still living in bunkhouses put up by the Philippine Ports Authority.
The local government units have learned many lessons, particularly concerning response to disaster. And Boholanos have discovered their inner strength and will persevere even without the help of the national government, according to Maribojoc Mayor Leoncio Evasco Jr. “We will rise even without them,” he said.
Bohol’s tourism sector was literally damaged when the viewing deck for the world-famous Chocolate Hills was destroyed. The viewing deck has since been rebuilt, and the provincial government is planning an ecotour package for each town in order to bounce back from a record low number of tourists with so many destinations damaged.
Seriously hit were Bohol’s heritage churches: 25—some of them dating back to the Spanish colonial era—either destroyed or damaged, with the priceless exhibits in the church museums also lost in the rubble.
Rebuilding and restoration activities are underway.
Not all of the churches will be restored to the way they were, but what does it matter? Whether whole or in the shell, a church retains its history in local lore and in people’s hearts. This is made clear in the town of Loboc, where St. Peter Church, built in 1602 and the second oldest in the province, was so badly damaged it has become unusable. For Mass, parishioners had been making do with tents pitched beside the ruins. But through donations and hard work, an alternative church that can seat 1,000 people was built just five meters from the old church, and was blessed last Oct. 12. “The old church may not be brought back, but the attendance of churchgoers has doubled,” said a parishioner.
And the blessing of the new church was marked by a performance of the Loboc Children’s Choir, which has been busy performing in benefit concerts, and has raised more than P8 million for the rebuilding of the damaged churches. The children, Bohol’s pride and joy, sang for their people anthems of hope: “Light of a Million Mornings” and “Rise Up Again.”
There’s much work to be done by the determined people of Bohol. But through work, faith and song, they have provided an example to follow, a display of steadfast community—unshaken, indeed quakeproof. Bohol Gov. Edgar Chatto said it well: “We thank the people who helped us. Humana ta ug bangon (We have risen). We have already moved on. Padayon (Move forward), Bohol.”
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