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Pinatubo: Of Triumph and Thievery

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ALONG WITH Independence Day, the Mount Pinatubo eruptions take centerstage every second week of June in Pampanga. With the celebration of the resilience, iron will, and triumph of the Capampangan spirit as recurring, indeed, unvarying, theme. 

This, if only to for the younger generations to learn, if only in passing, the hardships their elders hurdled, the sacrifices made for this life they live today. 

That triumph literally memorialized in at least two books I had the privilege of crafting – Pinatubo: Triumph of the Kapampangan Spirit commissioned by the San Fernando Heritage Foundation in 2008, and Agyu Tamu: Turning Tragedy into Triumph commissioned by the Agyu Tamu Movement of the friends of Mayor Ed Pamintuan in 2011.

We are not short in remembering either the agony of the Pinatubo devastations or the ecstasy of the Capampangan rising, aye, soaring, from it.

In our remembrance though, we have glossed over the evil – yes, that evil that was worse, much more hellish than the ashfalls and lahar flows – that struck the Capampangan in the wake of the volcanic havoc. It was as though Satan himself came with Pinatubo’s vomit.

There was the plunder of the American-abandoned Clark Air Base.

Under the patronage of someone most appropriately named “Hakot” – the way we Capampangans pronounce it with our penchant for adding the letter H where it should not be – the once bastion of American imperialism and decadent capitalism in the Asia-Pacific was cleared not so much of volcanic debris as of anything of value that remained in it. Yeah, not even door knobs, toilet bowls and sinks were spared.

An even more profitable enterprise that arose from the devastated base: the total demolition of damaged buildings, the scrap – galvanized iron roofing, wood paneling and ceilings, parquet and tile flooring, steel beams – contracted out to junk dealers. Egress of the contraband from Clark’s guarded gates facilitated by the guards themselves.  
A living monument of that thieving to this day – the CAB Hospital a ruined shell of its former self as the best military medical facility in the whole of the Far East.

So, it was futile to fight nature’s course. Still, to save the “saveable” was proffered the nobler cause. Hence, the engineering interventions that were the sabo dams and the earthen dikes.

Nothing more than Sisyphean – those dams and dikes in an endless cycle of building, being washed out at every heavy rainfall, rebuilding, washed out again… — the interventions were nonetheless pursued most zealously for reasons that turned out to be least humanitarian but most cornucopian – their being inexhaustible source of cash, mountains of cash – for certain public works officials and their private contractor cohorts, best known for the moniker “Pajero Gang” after their preferred mode of transport.  

Even more lucrative were the desilting operations whereby contractors could just say what they had dredged and dug out of the river channels was washed back by the rains to the same rivers.

Indeed, some guys have all the smarts: finding the greatest opportunity in the worst adversity. Tumubo, tumabo sa hagkis ng Bulkang Pinatubo, as some wag came to calling these contactors then.

Come to think of it now, Angeles City – its Balibago entertainment district specifically – could have owed its rising to this cabal of government engineers and private contractors as it was in the remaining night joints there that the transactions of por diez, por diez porciento were dealt, sealed, and delivered. Under the cover of darkness – oh, so appropriate.

As with the dams and dikes, so with the relocation and housing sites.

The fair market value of the chosen sites suddenly becoming fairest, not so much to the landowner’s but to the government purchaser’s delight.  

The initial houses and lots instantly damned as fit for swine not for humans. Pigpens at the cost of homes, right there.

Then, what about the donations of tens if not hundreds of millions directly going to the bank accounts of certain local officials, and/or laundered in some feeding program, stress debriefing, or-relief giving?   

Aye, as much as the triumph was the thievery that obtained with the Mount Pinatubo eruptions and its devastating aftermath.

So, we – the survivors – rightfully celebrate and congratulate ourselves for our resiliency, our excellence in raising Pampanga to an even higher level of development, wanting to impact the lessons of Pinatubo to the current and coming generations of our race.

So, those who made money out of our misery have their own kind of celebration. No one went to court, much less to jail. Their crime did, indeed, pay. The greater lesson of Pinatubo is right there. Unlost to succeeding generations of unmodified greed and unbridled corruption that birthed the “politicontractors.”  

(First published on June 17, 2019, last sentence added.)

 

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