That’s the spirit
“The Great Wall of Bohol” is how the phenomenon that appeared in the wake of the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the province is now being called. Such was the power of the Oct. 15 temblor that it forced up a 3-meter-high rock wall and produced a big gash in the land that now runs through some of the most bucolic farmlands and woods on the island. It’s a remarkable sight illustrating the geological violence that occurs during an earthquake, and Boholanos were quick to spot an opportunity when a number of tourists began asking to see the fault line. These days, Barangay (village) Anonang, which hosts a portion of the fissure, carries a sign that says: “This way to the fault line.” And visitors are streaming in.
Bohol may have been devastated by the quake, but it’s clear that it hasn’t lost its entrepreneurial bent for tourism. Before the quake, the province had enjoyed a reputation as a national trailblazer in turning its myriad attractions—from pristine beaches to the rare tarsier, from the Chocolate Hills to centuries-old churches—into an innovative tourist experience that integrated leisure, adventure, history and heritage. Like Bali, Bohol was an enchanted island that had it all, and hordes of local and foreign visitors have heeded its siren call. This year, some 2,770 Japanese tourists and 10,932 Koreans visited Bohol from January to June—a 14-percent increase from the same period last year.
Prospective visitors will be happy to know that the popular Loboc River Cruise, the flagship tourist attraction in the town that also hosts a world-renowned children’s choir and a historic church that dates back to 1734, has resumed operations, a mere two weeks after the quake and after the damaged docking piers were quickly repaired. Loboc’s San Pedro Apostol Church, however, said to be the second oldest such structure on the island, suffered massive damage—a toppled façade, its intricately decorated ceiling turned to rubble, half its bell tower shorn—that would take years and enormous resources to rehabilitate. It was among six churches designated as national cultural treasures—aside from Loboc, those in Baclayon, Loon, Dauis, Maribojoc and Dimiao—that either sustained heavy damage or, as in the case of Loon’s circa-1850 Church of Our Lady of Light, were completely destroyed.
In all, six Bohol churches were pulverized and 17 others were badly shaken. Fr. Milan Ted Torralba, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Committee for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, estimates the rehabilitation cost for the Bohol churches, not counting those likewise affected in neighboring Cebu, to reach at least P100 million.
Raising all that money and directing it to the restoration of religious edifices, no matter their historic and cultural import, will take time and a careful calibration of political realities. Right now, much of the rehabilitation effort is aimed at providing immediate relief to some 380,000 people displaced by the disaster. Damage to infrastructure is also significant—some 12,102 houses now uninhabitable, 55,846 partially damaged and 38,342 partially affected. With aftershocks still ongoing, that tally may still rise.
Bohol will be unable to resuscitate its tourism industry without adequate and safe infrastructure. But it is refusing to yield to paralysis and confusion. The initiative to turn the island’s fault line into a tourist sight—to mine opportunity in disaster, in effect—has the blessings of the local government. “Bohol’s attractions have not diminished but added,” said Bohol Gov. Edgar Chatto. “[It] still captures tourist interest with its so many other points… People would like to see what happened to these churches after the earthquake.”
And so the ruins and the fault line will now be part of the Bohol tourism product, he said. The famed Chocolate Hills, too, will now have the added attraction of a mound or two split open by the quake, revealing the limestone core. The new tourism activity even has a proposed name this early: the Geo-Science tour of Bohol. Said the governor: “Bohol will be a good learning center for culture, arts, heritage, environment and geology.”
That’s the spirit. But the Boholanos’ resilience and indomitability in the face of disaster cannot stand alone. Now is the time for everyone to put their money where their mouths and social media hashtags are, and make an effort to back the province in its efforts to get back on its feet. The mantra of the season should be “Visit Bohol.”
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