Stella Maria L. de Guia
Thirty years after the July 16, 1990 7.7 magnitude earthquake, I still get paranoid whenever there is a jolt or tremor. The memories linger on about the two successive 30 to 40 seconds earthquake that toppled the only five-star hotel in Baguio – The Hyatt Terraces and several other hotels, inns and restaurants. It struck at 4:26 p.m. on daylight saving time. We were having a regional meeting with staff coming from Ilocos Norte, La Union, and Baguio. The Department of Tourism – Cordillera Office was then located at the center of the tourism complex, now the Baguio Chamber of Commerce.
The first jolt sent the staff members running outside. We could hardly run or walk as the quake threw us from one point to the other. Then a strong rain followed. The security guard reported that there were women trapped inside the museum (now the Baguio Museum). Told him to break the glass doors to extricate the women. Confusion, chaos what now? I thought of my children. A grade six pupil, a grade 1 pupil and a baby at home all in different locations. Where was my husband? It was good timing because it was daylight saving time, the students were dismissed early. Ed was able to pick up Nashi from SPED Center and Deke from UCCP and was on his way home, passing thru BGH rotunda when the earthquake happened. When he got to the house my little baby girl Gina was already with her yaya Merlene and they all went straight to the DOT office. The dazed staff members all went home walking to their homes. Only learned that some of them stayed at Burnham Park too.
We were in a quandary. Then radio transmissions from REACT Canao announced the fall of Hyatt Terraces and other hotels and the closure of roads. REACT Philippines started transmitting messages. Messages were likewise transmitted from Baguio (REACT Canao) to La Union (REACT Tabako) to Dagupan (REACT Bangus) to Tarlac (Tambuli) to Pampanga (REACT Arayat) to Manila (REACT NCR) and vice versa. Somehow REACT Canao and the DOT central office touched based. Strong aftershocks followed and continued. We stayed inside our car at home. We adopted two friends who stayed far from the city and brought them home with us. We did not experience hunger only anxiety and fear. A long message from the President was transmitted thru REACT and resulted to battery drain. Our car battery was useful.Thank you, REACT Canao and REACT Philippines for your great service during the earthquake -relaying information and needs of the people of Baguio. Your story has finally been told, 30 years after.
The following day, DOT central office has informed DOT-CAR of the arrival of Tourism Sec. Peter Garrucho and Usec Raffy Alunan by helicopter. With ourselves feeling like zombies and dazed, we had to go around and inspect the hotels that collapsed and gave a report. We first went to Nevada Square, then Hyatt Terraces, then Baguio Park Hotel then Session Road and the mayor’s office. We were told that DOT central office was gathering relief items to be sent to Baguio via the C130aircraft landing in La Union with about 30 DOT tourist police officers and under Director Baba Jasmin as team leader. We pulled resources together, DOT Manila and Baguio with Philippine Tourism Authority staff . We were in-charge of gathering data about tourists and foreigners: evacuation and deaths to be given to the different embassies. People were sent to the airport, the hotels and the hospitals. The DOT regional office functioned as the command post where embassies would gather reports on their citizens, in turn leave us data. Evacuation started from July 18 and continued to July 30, 1990. Every day, the team would leave the office at 6 a.m. and would request a gas ration from Gen. Aquias for the monitoring team and would come back for lunch and leave again until about 6 p.m. Director Baba would then have a debriefing for the following day. All data collected were left at the DOT-CAR and Region 1 office for the embassies to verify. Soup kitchens also got their supplies.
Sec. Garrucho, who was designated as Cordillera Officer for Regional Development (CORD), landed on July 18 with Usec. Alunan. They, together with some Cabinet members brought with them three of the first ever “wireless telephone” as big as transistor radios. It was a miraculous gadget then as people lined up to make telephone calls to relatives at PILTEL. The wireless phones were left at the DOT-CAR office for communication and to report to DOT Manila about the operations.The entourage went to Nevada Square and Hyatt. The group of Hyatt people composed of GM Heinrich Maulbecker , Resident Manager Noli Reyes and PR Manager Therese Necio were busy with rescue and retrieval operations. Necio herself was a victim. She married Joey Ortega also in 1990. Note: our condolences and prayers to the family of Therese Necio-Ortega who passed away last July 13, 2020.
Ligaya Gomez, PTA head then recorded evacuation procedures at the airport while we (DOT CAR staff members) stayed at the office.A Fokker 50 plane left at 9:50 a.m. at the Baguio airport on July 21, 1990 with 34 passengers. It was followed by a C130 military aircraft at 12:25 p.m. with 75 passengers, and then an Aboitiz aircraft. About 814 people were evacuated out of Baguio on that day, a Saturday after the Monday earthquake. The airport had thousands of evacuees waiting for a flight to Villamor Air base.
Gomezwas given a list of Americans accounted for by Thomas Murphy of the U.S. Embassy. The reports on retrieval continued. Aug. 24 was designated as “Araw ng Alaala” for Baguio, Dagupan and Cabanatuan and were to be commemorated simultaneously.
Artist Willy Magtibay designed the monument for Baguio.Activities for Baguio were done at the Baguio Fire Department with Sec. Garrucho, former Baguio Rep. Honor Aquino, Mayor Jaime Bugnosen, Gen. Juanito Aquias and the headmaster of Camp John Hay. Also in attendance were the families of the victims. Relief goods and medicines for soup kitchens and hospitals were distributed. The Filipino-Japanese community thru president Fukuda gave financial assistance to the gardeners of Burnham Park. They were our heroes and frontliners then together with the miners. The gardeners were in-charge of its cleanliness, since it was the convergence point of most the tourists in Baguio then.
The first religious congregation to show Baguio was recovering was done at the Baguio Convention Center in August 1990. This was followed by a Baguio-Benguet NGO Planning Congress for “Building a Better Baguio and Benguet Now” at the Benitez Hall of the Teacher’s Camp. The congress convened by the BCBC and the Baguio Jaycees commenced on Sept. 1, 1990 with about 120 people in attendance.
The board were composed of Adelaida Lim Perez, Nora Linda Mondonedo, Jose Ilagan, Domecio Cimatu and Cesar Liporada. Daniel Urquico was secretary general and Eric Picart was chairman. A vision statement was drawn.
Rehabilitation of Baguio and Benguet was the next step. Sec. Garrucho made a short ocular inspection of Bokod, Benguet as part of the rehabilitation program as it was isolated. We had a scary helicopter ride.
Thirty years hence, what happened to the lessons of the July 16, 1990 earthquake” We stated then that buildings should not be higher than the trees. As my father-in-law, Tur de Guia, used to say, “You never learn.”
Stella Maria L. de Guia