March 24, 2023

From chronicling disasters to becoming an almost victim of one.

For years, Baguio Midland Courier Editor Harley Palangchao has been documenting disasters and other calamities that hit various provinces of the Cordillera.

His stories, whether these are caused by natural hazards or tragedies resulting from road crashes, are often accompanied by compelling photographs that evoke emotions, not because they disturb one’s sensibilities, but because the images are the stories themselves.

His story on that fateful morning of July 27 is different.

Palangchao and his companions were travelling in two vans towards Tadian town from Mount Data Hotel where they stayed overnight when they heard thunder-like thuds before an avalanche of boulders falling down towards their path while navigating a road in Mabaay, Bauko, Mountain Province.

The first van was ferrying nine passengers, including the driver while Palangchao and eight others were aboard the second van.

The passengers of the two-vehicle convoy were on the second day of the three-day Benguet-Mountain Province Food Tourism Circuit initiated by the Department of Tourism-Cordillera.

Papunta kami sa Tadian that time. We were traversing the stretch of a road after Mabaay junction when the first vehicle of our convoy was about to be engulfed by falling rocks. The driver maneuvered but the vehicle was hit by a boulder on its right side. Thank God, the passengers of the first van that was closest to the avalanche of boulders were all safe after it was grazed by a boulder, injuring one of our colleagues,” he said.

Palangchao said he was the one who alerted the driver of the second van to stop because he was still not aware of the boulders, some as large as cars, were raining down just ahead of them.

When Palangchao raised his camera to take few frames, his main intention was not to take images purposely for publication, but to leave a record of what he feared could have been the final photos of his life.

“I was thinking there should be a record if something happened to us especially the occupants of the first van… It was a horrifying experience,” he said.

Twenty-minutes before the earthquake, which was recorded at 7.0 magnitude with epicenter in Abra, Palangchao said they passed by along Mount Data Cliff in Monamon Sur, Bauko, where a huge landslide occurred during the earthquake.

The cook-out events in Bauko and Tadian were cancelled and the group camped in an open area in Bauko and stayed in the town until authorities declared it was safe to travel. Soon as Palangchao and his companions arrived in Baguio, he still proceeded for overtime work at the Midland Courier editorial office – where articles needing editing, photographs needing sorting and captions, and an editorial that needs to be written – have piled up as the desk was winding up the Courier’s July 31 edition. – Jane B. Cadalig