A story of unity, resilience: 28 years after the 1990 killer quake

BAGUIO CITY — Who could forget that fateful afternoon, exactly 28 years ago today — also a Monday — when a 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck northern and central Philippines?

It bore a 125 kilometer-long ground rupture stretching from Dingalan, Aurora to Nueva Ecija. It also left an indelible mark on the minds of Filipinos.

UNFORGETTABLE IMAGES. Who could forget that fateful day exactly 28 years ago today, also a Monday, when a 7.7 magnitude earthquake shook northern and central Philippines? Although the epicenter was recorded in Nueva Ecija, much of the damage was felt in Baguio City, where buildings and hotels went crumbling, killing more than a thousand people. (Photo courtesy of Art Tibaldo/Media Newsroom)

Although the quake’s epicenter was recorded in Nueva Ecija, the biggest devastation was in Baguio City, where buildings and hotels on mountainous terrain went crumbling like accordions, killing more than a thousand people, many squeezed between the rubbles and buried alive.

The Hyatt Terraces Plaza, Nevada Hotel, Baguio Hilltop Hotel, Baguio Park Hotel, and FRB hotel were among those reduced to ruins by nature’s wrath.

Those who survived thought their lives — and dreams — were shuttered, left with no chance at recovery. But not quite — seeing what has become of the City of Pines and the Philippines’ Summer Capital today.


Shooting up land values

The July 16, 1990 killer quake was followed by seemingly endless aftershocks, even days after the initial temblor.

Many vacation house owners in the then already a major Philippine tourist destination sold their properties almost at give-away prices.

Now, 28 years after, lot prices in highly urbanized Baguio City have shot up to “sky-high” levels, notes civil engineer Antonio Caluza, a member of the Cordillera Regional Development Council.

A lot of people now want to have a piece of the now progressive city. Those who have stayed after the massive disaster that had almost flattened the mountainous city are now enjoying a windfall.

Baguio resident Manong Darius relates that his family bought their 800-square-meter lot in Barangay Gilbaltar, a less-than-five-minute-walk to tourist spot Mines View Park, at PHP300,000 in the late 1980s. Now, their lot has a market value of PHP6.4 million, at PHP8,000 per square meter.

Rising from the rubbles

Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan was a city councilor when the killer quake struck Baguio in 1990. He witnessed how the people rushed out to open spaces — frightened, wailing, praying, and feeling helpless.

Many frantically ran home to their families, making sure they were all safe and were together.

Domogan recalls everyone thought Baguio was dead after the tragic calamity. “But we proved them wrong. We were able to get up on our feet,” he says.
He related that Baguio had an annual budget of PHP88 million, when he began serving as city mayor in 1992. With him at the helm, the city government approved a supplemental budget of PHP146 million to boost the city’s recovery efforts.

Going back to basics, the multi-sectoral “Alay sa Kalinisan” movement was formed to bring back Baguio’s clean and green environment.

Trying to dispel the stigma of the tragedy, the locals then started cleaning and removing the rubbles from collapsed walls, houses, and buildings — structures that served as ugly reminders of the massive disaster, where 1,283 people died, 2,786 were wounded, and at least 321 went missing.

The earthquake crushed exactly 25,305 houses and partially destroyed 77,249 more.

Seeing the efforts of Baguio people to restore the city, then-president Fidel V. Ramos approved the release of PHP2.1 billion for the city’s rehabilitation, along with the modernization of Baguio’s entry and exit roads, major thoroughfare Marcos Highway and the Baguio-Bauang Road.

The late former Senator Juan Flavier, who was also from Baguio, gave his entire congressional fund to his home city. The former Philippine Health Secretary also allocated funds to fix the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center.

For three years in a row, from 1994 to 1996, Baguio was a Hall of Famer in the country’s search for the cleanest and greenest urbanized city.

“How it happened was plain and simple sincerity of the people in Baguio, who worked together to stand up again as a city,” Domogan said, describing it as teamwork and the urge to bring Baguio back to its old glory.

Value of resilience

For 2018, Baguio City is now working on a fiscal budget of PHP2.056 billion.

Investors are coming back, eager to operate in the continuously flourishing Summer Capital of the Philippines.

As for Domogan, other than the necessary infrastructure, the city needs to build character among the city residents.

To build resilience, he said, the city residents must go on practicing the culture of sharing and caring — the same values that worked to rebuild Baguio City from the rubbles.

To do this, the city government has its program on school visitations and the so-called Pasadang Pambarangay, where the people are reminded that the value of resilience starts from their own homes and schools as well.

Such value, he said, must be restored among the city residents, and must be built among members of the next generations. PNA-northboundasia.com