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 with 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 47 th 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
Makeshift ladders of all makes – steel, aluminum, 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” – an 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. Manufacturing abounding.
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.
(The capping essay in the book Agyu Tamu: Turning Tragedy into Triumph (2011)
edited by Bong Z. Lacson)