Bohol, akong pinangga, akong hinigugma (my love).

It is hard to find accurate statistics as to how many Mindanawons could claim Bohol as their place of birth or that of  their parents and ancestors.  But one knows that it is considerable. Just by looking at maps and seeing the names of towns and barangays (New Corella, New Baclayon, etc.), one can tell that Bol-anons migrated to Mindanao in big waves. And in every market, there are crafts from Bohol which are for sale.  In all corners of Mindanao, one can hear the joke about Bol-anons doing everything they can to  go home to  Bohol to be with relatives during their  town fiesta. Indeed, for a big segment of the Mindanawon population, Bohol is their  pinanggang hinigugma.

When Bohol was hit on 15 October 2013 with a 7.2 magnitude earthquake (which also affected the nearby islands of Cebu, Siquijor, Negros Occidental and Guimaras), it was not only the Bol-anons who grieved with the terrible devastation brought by the disaster. Their kin in Mindanao  shared the grief and wondered how their relatives were faring even as more than 3,000 aftershocks have continued to shake the island with a total land area of 4,821 square kms. and a total population of 1,255,128 (Census data of 2010).

Along with Bryan D. Angayan,  the lay staff of our Center for Social and Ecological Concerns based in Cebu City, I went on a three-day  visit to the worst hit towns of Bohol last 31 October to 2 November. Despite having seen the dramatic images of the extent of the devastation  on TV news coverage as well as in the internet, it was still an emotional roller-coaster to travel  through the worst-hit places across the south-western part of the island and personally see the damages to lives and properties up close.

From Tagbilaran where we conferred with Fr. Warly Salise, the Social Action Director of the Diocese to whom we had turned over (and continue to do so)  all the relief assistance that  we have been able to mobilize from the Redemptorist network across the country, we went to the towns that he considered the worst hit and still needed continuous relief assistance from outside. These included the inland towns of Sagbayan (which was nearest the epicenter), Catigbian, Loboc and the coastal towns of Loon and Maribojoc.  We also visited the towns of Dauis, Baclayon, Loay, Sikatuna, Corella and Sikatuna.

The statistics provided by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) were pretty grim; as of 29 October, there were 220 reported dead, 796 injured, 8 missing. Of the  more than 700,000 families affected in Central Visayas, the majority were in Bohol. A total of 8,480 houses in Bohol were totally damaged while 27,321 were partially damaged.  In Catigbian, which has a total population of 5,122 households, 4,865 were affected and 1,042 houses were totally damaged and 3,359 houses partially destroyed.

The numbers are gruesome  but the landscape one sees all over Bohol  are even more ominous and gloomy.  There are landslides everywhere; roads have been cleared of debris but one sees the extent of the damages on the infrastructure. On the cement and asphalt roads between Maribojoc and Loon, there are big cracks.  Following the fissure that must parallel the fault underneath, one sees the crack go across the middle part of the church that has totally crumbled all the way to a side of a mountain where the landslide took place.  Bridges like the one at Avatan that connects Maribojoc with the other towns broke down causing transportation problems and difficulties in the delivery of relief goods.

While media had continuously showed the dramatic photos of the collapse of Bohol’s heritage churches, including the churches of Baclayon, Loboc, Loon, Maribojoc, Loay, Dimiao, and Dauis, most other churches across the island have been damaged.  But beyond the churches are all kinds of edifices and buildings: government offices, barangay halls, markets, stores and houses.  The ones that grab the viewers’ attention are the beautiful resort and retirement houses along the coastal areas that have been built from P10 to P60 million pesos either from OFW money or from rich relatives abroad.

Something can be said about architecture in this landscape. While those made of bricks, cement, hollow blocks and glasses crumbled in a matter of minutes, those made of indigenous housing materials – lumber, bamboo, sawali, amakan, nipa –  survived the earthquake and are left standing beside those that once stood proud on the promontories but unable to stay intact when hit by the earthquake.

In the worst hit areas of Sagbayan, Loon and Maribojoc, the scenes are surreal and depressing. It is as if these towns were hit by a bomb like Hiroshima or were places in  the Middle East where wars were fought in the streets leaving houses totally damaged.  Hundreds of people are still living in tents, including those whose houses are only partially damaged or not at all. Part of the reason is because of the after shocks that continue to take place; they are still afraid they could be buried alive. While there are families still living in evacuation centers in school compounds (where tents have also been set up to serve as classrooms) there are those who   have built tents near their homes where they sleep at night.

Except for the interior barangays in Catigbian and Sagbayan, two weeks after the earthquake the people across the affected areas of Bohol have adequate supply of relief goods and water.  Fortunately, for the rice-producing villages of Bohol, October and early November is the season for harvesting rice, so there is additional food available.  What the people need most are psycho-social interventions and assistance in trauma and stress de-briefing, especially for the children, many of whom cling on to their mothers when there is an aftershock. Housing assistance will be needed by the thousands who lost their homes. The Maribojoc LGU has come up with a prototype using indigenous materials costing P25,000. With this simple house, a family can already own a home once again.

In 1959, a French film – Hiroshima mon amourdirected by French film director Alain Resnais, with a screenplay by Marguerite Duras was shown at the Cannes Film Festival and won the Fipresci International Critics’ Prize and was nominated at the Oscar for Best Film.  It became a popular film and was credited for inaugurating a new French wave in cinema. The film is the documentation of an intensely personal conversation between a French woman and a Japanese man dealing with  memory and forgetfulness. The former compared their failed relationship to the bombing of Hiroshima and had reflections on  how people affected by the tragedy had different perspectives as to the meaning of this incident.

While travelling across the affected areas of Bohol, I had conversations with all sort of Bol-anons: those living in evacuation centers, those lining up to receive relief goods, habal-habal drivers, LGU and DSWD personnel, doctors and lawyers, priests and lay leaders, students and children. I asked them all sorts of questions including: where  were they  when the earthquake took place, how they felt about the incident, what thoughts came to their minds as they sought cover, and related questions. To some I also posed the question: what could be the meaning as to why the Bohol churches were badly hit with a few totally collapsing into ruins?

I thought the last question was most relevant as Bohol is known as a wellspring of Filipino spirituality.  No other island in the country has produced the most number of bishops, priests and religious.  Ordinary Bol-anons take seriously their faith tradition in terms of popular  religious practices. Their churches are the bedrocks of their identity; their patron saints as close to them as their beloved ancestors. So why did the churches crumble in the wake of this awesome calamity?

The answers were instructive and they revealed the perspective of my conversation partners. A philosophy professor echoed the sentiment of the rational ones: this is but bad luck for Bohol owing to its location vis-à-vis fault lines. Those who have heard discussions on environment issues blame the diggings that have taken place across Bohol since it became a tourist destination (especially as a hundred sinkholes have appeared after the earthquake). The older people believe that this disaster is due to the changes that have taken place with young people no longer attending church events. A priest told his flock it is because only a few have held on to their religious tradition. There are also the faithful ones who echo the opinions of the  conservative clergy who lay the blame on  secularism and materialism  that came with tourism as well as the RHB-law.

In the  Old Testament, when a calamity hits God’s people, a prophet arises to discern the meaning of the event and lead the people to conversion. I have asked if there was such a prophet in Bohol these days.  No one seems to know.

The only thing that people know is that Bohol – mon amour, pinangga ug hiniguma  – will go down in their memory as a place hit by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on 15 October 2013.  For a long, long time they will not forget where they were on that earth-shaking moment of their lives. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, former head of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team and author of several books, including “To be poor and obscure,” and “Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures,” writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A Sojourner’s Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw].