Several days after earthquake hit sourthern California on July 29, 2008, Rep. Manny Pacquiao sent me a personal email: “To, kumusta ka na? Salamat gid ha” (Boy, how are you? Thank you so much). Pacquiao and I talk in Hiligaynon dialect because we both speak Ilonggo.
We were inside Pacquiao’s apartment at the Palazzo in Park La Brea East in Los Angeles, California when a magnitude 5.8 earthquake rocked the United States’ largest state.
We ordered Pacquiao’s two kids — Jemuel and Michael — to hide under the table. Danny Halibas, Pacquiao’s LA-based aide who is the apartment’s caretaker, secured the duo when the tremor disturbed the building at around 11: 42 in the morning (L.A. time).
I was writing a story in the table when Danny herded the boys under the dining table while their parents — Manny and Jinky — were at the second floor. Jemuel, who did not understand what was going on, initially refused but when we goaded him to dive and follow Michael to the floor, he obeyed.
“Go, hide under the table, c’mon, kids hide under the table,” shouted Halibas, a resident of the boxing champion’s unit in the penthouse floor of the 4,000-residence luxurious building located on 3rd Street.
The children were in the sala near the dining table while Pacquiao husband and wife were preparing for their flight to Las Vegas scheduled at 1 o’clock in the afternoon.
Present in the sala together with the children were former WBC international bantamweight champion Jovy Halog, his wife Gemma and their daughter Jolene, 6; NABF champion Bernabe Concepcion, hospital instrument technician Alex Oreto, this writer, and Halibas.
Minutes later, Jinkee and twin sister Janet came down to report what they felt in the second floor and checked the kids who appeared puzzled and still did not understand what was happening. When the shaking stopped, the kids resumed their activity.
Sensing there was no immediate damage on his property and family members, Pacquiao stayed in his room in the second floor and did not bother to go down.
He played dart alone hours earlier while I was sleeping on the floor. Pacquiao chided the kids for being noisy. “Pssst, huwag kayong maingay may natutolog.” (hey kids, minimize your voice somebody is still sleeping)
Oreto, one of the couple’s most trusted assistants and was cooking at the time of the earthquake, warned everyone of the coming aftershocks. “Watch out for the aftershocks,” he quipped. “This had happened before here.”
Oreto, who drives the couple when he is not on duty at the White Memorial Medical Hospital, said California experienced the last strong earthquake in 2001 when he was still working as security guard. “There was also a strong earthquake in Malibu two years ago and in Northtridge,” Oreta said.
The jolt was felt from Los Angeles to San Diego, and slightly in Las Vegas where it was initially reported as “slight shaking”.
When Pacquiao came down to take his lunch some 15 minutes later, he asked Jemuel and Michael if they had already taken their lunch. “Upo kumain na kami,” the two chorused.
Preliminary information from the U.S. Geological Survey estimated the quake at magnitude 5.8, centered 29 miles east-southeast of downtown Los Angeles near Chino Hills in San Bernardino County.
Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said there were not immediate reports of damage or injury in Los Angeles.
The quake struck at 11:42 a.m. PDT. Buildings swayed in downtown Los Angeles for several seconds.
Minor damages in the runway of Ontario and John Wayne were also reported, while Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) reportedly lost one of its radars.
The city council, which was holding a regular session in downtown, called for a 15-minute recess while witnesses reported some crying and moaning in nearby buildings.