“Once you have been in an earthquake you know, even if you survive without a scratch, that like a stroke in the heart, it remains in the earth’s breast, horribly potential, always promising to return, to hit you again, with an even more devastating force.” SALMAN RUSHDIE
By Alex P. Vidal
What happened to the most hollowed churches in Bohol Oct. 15 also happened in Iloilo 65 years ago.
Our late high school English teacher Segundina Javellana of Jaro, Iloilo City once shared to us a story about the destruction of Jaro belfry, when super earthquake named “Lady Caycay” hit Panay Island early morning of January 26, 1948. It brought to tears then Iloilo City Mayor Vicente Ybiernas and the prelates of Archdiocese of Jaro, she recalled.
“That was the year when the city’s architecture was starting to be influenced by international styles, and Jaro belfry was gaining international fame because of its unique design,” Mrs. Javellana narrated. “Mayor Ybiernas could not believe what he saw: ruins of the most magnificent structure in Jaro built during the Spanish era.”
Ybiernas just inherited the reigns of the “City of Love” from future Vice President Fernando Lopez by virtue of Commonwealth Act No. 158/Republic Act 365 (Dominador Jover was the last to be appointed as city mayor in 1954 before future Senator Rodolfo Ganzon became the first elected city mayor in 1955-1959).
The belfry otherwise known as “campanario”, or belltower is a given fixture of every Catholic church and houses the bells, which basically toll the hours and call the faithful to mass, and announce important religious events.
“The sight of the (Jaro) belfry ruins were so depressing,” recalled Mrs. Javellana, then a high school student. “The procession (during the Candelaria de Jaro fiesta on February 2, 1948) was the saddest in history. We looked at the wrecked belfry with awful sadness and tears in our eyes as we passed by while praying the rosary.”
Jaro and the entire Iloilo City, has not yet recovered from the World War II when the earthquake with magnitude of 8.2 on Richter scale, struck and devastated Spanish-era churches located mostly outside the city. No serious damage was reported in the City Proper except in some old buildings and a hotel on Blumentritt St. used as lair of Japanese “comfort women (I revisited the place together with the crew of Noli de Castro’s “Magandang Gabi Bayan” in the early 90’s).”
Religious fanatics attributed the belfry’s collapse to superstition saying heaven was “mad” at Jaro for allowing its public plaza to be used as alternative detention area of Japanese battallions during World War II. Others blamed the “poor” restoration construction in 1831 when the campanario was heavily damaged by a strong earthquake on July 17, 1787. Augustinian friar, Fr. Jesse Alvarez supervised the reconstruction only in 1833.
The Jaro belfry, made of bricks and limestone blocks and was a three-storey tower 29 meters high, was not the only casualty of Lady Caycay’s wrath. The churches of Leon, Oton, Alimodian, Cabatuan, Duenas, Dumangas, Guimbal, Lambunao, San Joaquin, as well as Molo and Arevalo districts also in Iloilo City, were also damaged.
“Much part of the province of Iloilo lies in soft ground and one of the possible reasons why the earthquake was called ‘caycay’ was due to the seeming chicken scratches on the ground caused of the numerous fissures especially in the lowlying part of the province, Fissures were observed along the roads from the town of Pototan to Dingle and along the Santa Barbara railroad tracks,” reported the Research Center for Iloilo.
What happened in Iloilo also happened in Bohol. The magnitude 7.2 earthquake Oct. 15 also destroyed heritage churches in Bohol, site of the tremor’s epicenter. It was also felt in Cebu, Negros and Panay. No major damage was reported in Iloilo and Guimaras. Sixty seven people have been reported killed.