HASHTAGS ABOUND with the Taal Volcano eruptions but we have yet to see any stirring slogan that could serve as a rallying cry for the victims to rise from the dire straits they have been consigned to.
Like what we’ve had in our own Pinatubo experience. That proved beyond doubt their efficacy of motivating, indeed of rousing, of transforming victims into victors. So, we remember anew…
E KO magmalun, mibangun ya ing Pampanga.
The exhortation of Gov. Bren Z. Guiao for his people to end their collective grief, rise from despair, and believe in a renascent Pampanga brought the first ray of hope in the wake of the Mount Pinatubo eruptions.
It was the faintest flicker of hope though, the Kapampangan trapped in the most desperate straits: damned in a wasteland of buried homes and broken dreams, doomed in a landscape of death and desolation.
Beyond PR savvy – of which Guiao was a guru – the slogan was founded on the governor’s unwavering faith in the Kapampangan character: of grit and resiliency, that have served him well in rising from every adversity, be it socio-politico-economic, as in the agrarian unrest, the Marcos dictatorship and the communist rebellion; or natural, as in the floods that perennially devastated the croplands and aqua farms of the province and damaged its infrastructure…
A faith well placed. A prophesy coming to pass. Pampanga indeed rising from the ashes of Pinatubo to use that overwrought cliché. As Bren Zablan Guiao promised. As my foreword in the book Pinatubo: Triumph of the
Kapampangan Spirit (2008) put it.
FROM OUT of the depths of desolation and despair, a cry – faint at first, then resonant all across the city.
There rekindled some flicker of hope that the city can rise again, if only the people believed in themselves – that, yes: “We Can.”
Summoning storied People Power, Acting Mayor Edgardo Pamintuan led thousands of his constituents to the Abacan River to confront the gravest threat to their very existence: Lahar.
“Pala Ko, Buhay Mo,” the activity was named.
With picks and shovels, hoes and rakes – many with no implement other than their bare hands, the determined populace sandbagged the riverbanks – bamboo stakes serving as improvised sheet piles – in a bid to check further scouring by lahar. It was futile as pathetic an effort, with but ten minutes of lahar flow, not the slightest trace of the day’s work remained.
The determination of the community though gained international respect and recognition, their activity winning for the coordinating agency, the Angeles City “Kuliat” Jaycees, the Best Community Involvement Project in the 47th World Jaycees Congress in Miami, Florida.
The can-do spirit at the Abacan River thence inspiring and spawning clean-up projects all around the city. Manufacturers joined their craftsmen and artisans in rebuilding their factories to revive productivity. Among the first was Cruz Wood Industries which resumed its manufacture and export of high-end furniture within 45 days after the eruptions.
At Fields Avenue, bar girls and bar owners themselves hosed mud from their dance floors, sprayed the ash off their neon billboards, and opened up even to zero customers if only to perk up the place. US veterans that opted to stay helped in the famous avenue’s clean-up.
The abandoned Clark golf course was literally dug up from several meters of sand and ash by the Angeles City golfers in a team-up with the PAF’s Clark Air Base Command. And made it playable in due time, the constant threat of ashfall providing additional degree of difficulty to their drives, pitches and putts.
So it is clichéd that familiarity breeds contempt. So it was with lahar, the dread and horror it initially brought lost with the advent of heavy rains: its scalding heat fizzled, its viscosity dissolved with the abundance of water.
Lived with lahar, the Angelenos did. And even profited from it. Where lahar flowed – at the Abacan River – enterprise flourished.
With the bridge totally destroyed, passenger vehicles loaded and offloaded commuters at each end of the gap. For them to go down the river and cross to the other side.
Makeshift ladders of all makes – steel, aluminium, bamboo, wood – and sizes were soon ranged against both bluffs of the river to ease the ascent and descent of the commuters – for a fee of course.
To cross the river, commuters had a choice of the “Pajero” – and improvised sedan chair, and the “Patrol” – the carabao-drawn farmer’s cart locally known as gareta. Again, for a fee.
The pumice stones belched from the volcano’s bowels became a principal source of livelihood, a backyard industry. Crushed to golf-ball size, the pumice was used in stone-washing denims. Handicrafts, ornaments, even art objects were fashioned out of pumice rock, among the more familiar were Japanese stone lanterns, ashtrays, religious images – the head of the crucified Christ, angels and cherubs – and miniature jeepneys.
Needless to say, sand quarrying became a principal source of income in the city.
With the sense of normalcy returning to the city, there arose the need to jumpstart the still-lethargic local economy. Thus newly-elected Mayor Edgardo Pamintuan and his confidant, the activist Alexander Cauguiran, brainstormed Tigtigan, Terakan King Dalan.
Grounded on the defining character of Angeles as an entertainment city, the Mardi Gras-like festivity – of street music and dancing, of food and drinks – ably delivered to the nation and to the world: “Happy Days are Here Again.”
A happy beginning
AS THE phoenix birthed itself from its own ashes, to rise, to soar to greater heights of glory, so did Angeles City.
Clark Air Base reborn as a freeport zone. Its airport well on its way to full transformation as the country’s premier international gateway.
Foreign investments rising. The Koreans keep on coming. Fields Avenue upgrading.
The service industry – hotels, restaurants, entertainment – rebounding. New ones, like business process outsourcing, aborning.
Shopping malls sprouting.
Thousands of jobs opening.
Greater opportunity spelling prosperity. A promised land of plenty.
More than a happy ending to the Pinatubo story, this is yet a new beginning for Angeles City.
So went the capping essay in our book Agyu Tamu: Turning Tragedy into Triumph (2011).