In the ring of fire


Top of Tuesday’s news was the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit the island of Bohol, 562 kilometers, south of Manila. The tremors reached onto nearby Cebu, destroying churches, hospitals and other structures. Bohol is a top tourist destination famous for its pristine waters, Chocolate Hills and the world-renowned Loboc Children’s Choir. The church where the children regularly sing, collapsed. The Basilica del Sto. Nino in Cebu, the oldest Catholic church in the Philippines, was also badly damaged.

Wednesday morning’s report said the number of casualties was less than 100. By the evening, news announced more than 140 dead bodies found and still counting. It has been raining very badly for days in most parts of the country, making the disaster bigger, darker and more confusing. Rescue and relief operations are ongoing. Movement of the tectonic plates, geological experts explain the disaster’s cause. The Bohol-Cebu quake was pronounced worse than the 2010 Haiti quake and is said to be 32 times stronger than the Hiroshima bomb.

The August 2012 Samar quake was 7.6 in Richter scale, but that disaster left only a few casualties. The 1990 Northern Luzon earthquake was 7.9 in magnitude, with 1,621 on its death toll  (I was a teenager in the metropolis that time, tremors reached Metro Manila and for two months, we lived in fear – observing cracks in the wall and on the streets as we went along our routines).Topping the  list of worst quakes was the 1976 earthquake in Mindanao, one that had a tsunami in its wake – death toll was 4,791. Unfortunately, we do get a lot of natural disasters around these parts, thanks to our rather exciting location: in the center of the world’s Ring of Fire, hoho. 🙂


Image of Bohol's wide waterways

Part of Bohol’s allure is for tourists to take a boat ride along its wide rivers, surrounded by verdant hills and mountains/


Image of Bohol's famous Chocolate Hills

Bohol is known for its Chocolate Hills, a series of mounds that grace the island’s spectacular landscape/


Image of the Loboc Children's Choir from the Bohol island, Philippines

The famous Loboc Children’s Choir showcasing the island of Bohol in the background/


Image of tarsiers on the island of Bohol

The biggest population of Philippine tarsier, one of the smallest primates, can be found in Bohol/


I was in El Nido, Palawan the first time, last September. El Nido is another top tourist destination in the Philippines, known for its clear water and gigantic limestone rock formations, similar to the Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. It was a pit stop in the Amazing Race reality show and the last scene in the latest installment of the Bourne Legacy series (a paradise-like island where the escaping movie couple, Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz, found themselves). My sister and I were there for five days, but we did not see much. The coastguards would not allow tours of the islands and the beaches: Philippines was then in the middle of a supertyphoon, Odette. We spent most of our time by the door of our hotel that was conveniently beachfront, with the giant sea waves lashing the shore and the windblown talisay leaves flying in our faces. For days, we felt marooned in the island said to be one of the country’s best.

On our last day, the supertyphoon has already landed, the coastguards allowed several groups to venture out nearby. We did get to see some of the gigantic limestone rocks, 13 to 15 million years in the making. From our boat, the cliffs look like ancient cathedrals – dark, foreboding, uninhabited. Dark blue waters with huge, undulating waves, against the gargantuan rocky mountains – untamed nature, up close, live. They take one’s breath away and leave one speechless. And, we weren’t in the choicest parts of El Nido yet…

We had a swim in a beach several kilometers away from the town and were served a sumptuous lunch. Then, on to another beach in another giant rock shelter, close by. As our boat was inching towards the shore, a storm hit. It was my second time to experience a sudden and violent cyclone in the open seas. The rain was pounding, the wind was merciless and it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. We were actually in an islet, somewhere in the Bacuit archipelago, just a few kilometers away from Malampaya. All tourists in the five boats that made that trip ran for cover, by the shore. There really was nowhere for us to go. We were like rodents scattered in different parts of the shore, ravaged by the storm, about to be carried away by the giant waves, almost…


Image of one of El Nido's beaches in Palawan

The dark cliffs of El Nido have withstood raging storms for millions of years/


Living in the Philippines is quite exciting. Soon as you’re thinking you’ve had it bad, you open the TV or your computer and immediately, news of disasters greet you. Hardly a month passes by without a catastrophe visiting our group of islands – storms, floods, earthquakes, landslides or sometimes, a combination of. And these do not include the man-made disasters, my friends… The politicians in our country are always busy, needless to say. It’s a tough job telling and assuring the people, the constituents, to hang on – tomorrow, life will be kinder.

It’s also rough for the public school teachers and their pupils – every calamity spells ruined classrooms, changes in class schedules and begging politicians and rich donors for money — for the reconstruction of the damaged facilities. Of course, farming is usually badly hit and every year, agricultural output slides down. There is still a huge market for the insurance of small farms, leaseholds and fish pens: It begs to be in the top priority. Still, corruption at various levels manage to thrive and how…

The country’s previous administration is currently being investigated – for appropriating privately funds in billions – earmarked for farmer victims of previous typhoons. Hope the current batch of politicians, local and national, will not make hay out of the Bohol-Cebu tragedy. And hopefully, the peoples’ attention and concern for the disaster’s victims will extend beyond the days when said episode is top of the Yahoo News or Twitter’s trending topic.

I don’t know… From my experience, it is not really the gravity of the misfortune that causes a victim severe setbacks, but seeing and feeling the apathy of others who know about the big, consequential disaster, but treat it much like yesterday’s news. 🙂


Image of the historic church in Bohol destroyed by the October quake

Bohol’s Loboc church collapsed/


Image of Bohol folks fleeing after the earthquake

Century-old structures were not spared in the Bohol quake, people are still nervous about aftershocks/


Image of a road badly hit by the quake in Bohol

Several roads in Bohol have been damaged and impassable/


Image of a building wall that collapsed on a van in Cebu, Philippines

The neighboring Cebu City was also badly hit/


Image of nurses attending to the injured in one of the worst quakes that hit the Philippines

Attending to the sick and the injured first/


More than 1,200 aftershocks have been recorded since the original 30-second earthquake occurred. Authorities count 10 historic churches as badly damaged, as well as several hospitals and around 400, 000 families affected. Property damage estimate was placed at Php80 million, while the government has, so far, allocated Php98 million emergency and relief operations fund. Rescue operations are still ongoing, for the hundreds injured and missing in the tragic Bohol-Cebu quake.


Did I say that we, Filipinos, are a resilient lot? Disasters and all, we do manage to come around. More or less… 😉 🙂


Fortune knocks but once, but misfortune has much more patience.

Laurence J. Peter


Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.

William James


One likes people much better when they’re battered down by a prodigious siege of misfortune than when they triumph.

Virginia Woolf


It is the task of a good man to help those in misfortune.





Ode to the sea



* Ralph Fiennes reads Pablo Neruda’s poem, Ode to the Sea


Here surrounding the island,
There΄s sea.
But what sea?
It΄s always overflowing.
Says yes,
Then no,
Then no again,
And no,
Says yes
In blue
In sea spray
Says no
And no again.
It can΄t be still.
It stammers
My name is sea.

It slaps the rocks
And when they aren΄t convinced,
Strokes them
And soaks them
And smothers them with kisses.

With seven green tongues
Of seven green dogs
Or seven green tigers
Or seven green seas,
Beating its chest,
Stammering its name,

Oh Sea,
This is your name.
Oh comrade ocean,
Don΄t waste time
Or water
Getting so upset
Help us instead.
We are meager fishermen,
Men from the shore
Who are hungry and cold
And you΄re our foe.
Don΄t beat so hard,
Don΄t shout so loud,
Open your green coffers,
Place gifts of silver in our hands.
Give us this day our daily fish.


– Ode to the Sea by Pablo Neruda