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The earthquake which hit Bohol is another reminder we live in a volatile archipelago, where the forces of nature are in constant display – whether it be through destructive movements of the earth or spectacular yet deadly volcanic eruptions. As early as elementary school, Filipinos are taught they live in a place part of the so-called Ring of Fire, a seismically and volcanically active region of the Earth mostly on the edge of the Pacific. These natural events are not in any way limited to the aforementioned region. Every corner of this planet is shaped by natural forces that have been active since the universe’s birth.

Still, the jolt was a surprise to many. The last major earthquake in the country was way back in 1990, when movements in the fault systems in the island of Luzon saw over a thousand people die, and the popular tourist destination of Baguio hard hit. Memories of that tragedy may have now resurfaced with the recent calamity to beset Visayas. Images of residences, commercial buildings, and countless churches devastated, alongside the rising number of casualties, shake the illusory peace of mind caused by a drought in deadly quakes.

Just because it hit Bohol and Cebu, doesn’t mean other parts of the country are spared. The islands of the Philippines were given birth to by these powerful forces of the earth. Plates are constantly grinding and sliding, and it’s always only a matter of time until the next one hits. It could be in Mindanao. It could come from the dangerous fault lying in Marikina, a scenario which could potentially claim thousands of lives in a city haphazardly built as Manila. It could be in some far-flung island in the Philippine Sea. No one can predict when, only that there is a guarantee it would come. Many big cities across the globe are bracing themselves for the “Big One” – a quake that could decimate an entire urban region. San Francisco, Mexico City, Tokyo, Beijing, and Santiago all share the same tip-toe of fate as Manila, having been built on such seismically active regions.

The loss of lives in the Bohol earthquake is a cruel yet real reminder of how small we are up against the powers of Nature. Preparedness and even luck can only do much to save lives. As populations grow, and infringe even more into regions prone to natural hazards, even the strongest of infrastructure can only do so much.

The earthquake in Visayas also saw a slew of ill-educated and misguided opinions over the destruction of several historic churches. While many mourn the loss of these cultural and religious sites, others were quick to reduce their destruction as superficial, even hastily comparing it to the loss of human life. Human casualty, by all means, is tragic. Whatever the cause, and however cruel the statistics are, the death of so many people is something that should be mourned. The numbers should be accounted to see if many of the deaths were preventable and to guide those responsible for making safety policies and standards in infrastructure development in making the necessary amendments to minimize or avoid the loss of human life in the future.

The destruction of historic churches should not be trivialized. Although the country has seen changes in public sentiment towards Catholicism, and religion in general, individual prejudice should not hamper the reasonable and reasoned discussion of the intangible value of the churches. As they have entertained to the needs of the millions of faithful in this country over the centuries, they have also served as iconic structures which have contributed to one of the primary sources of economic growth in this country – tourism.

Even in developed countries – in Europe particularly – where people have long shaken off their religious traditions, churches, temples, and other sacred sites are cared for because of their cultural and historic significance. Pseudo-nationalists will argue these churches are mere reminders of the colonial past we need to erase. The truth of the matter is that these religious sites are now part and parcel of our cultural identity, long assimilated in our ever-changing system of beliefs, purified or diluted, suppressed or emphasized. So even if these churches were replaced by mosques or other places of worship, they deserve the concern allotted to historic and cultural sites, and now fall in the realm of public interest.

Similarly, I see no reason why men and women of faith should be criticized for praying for the survivors, praying for the souls of those who died, and praying for the recovery of the hard-hit provinces in Visayas. While donating is the most practical and useful help one could take, people are free to believe in whatever path of healing and recovery they want to take. One does not have to respect these beliefs. One simply needs to acknowledge it. I, for one, am not always kindest to religion, and religious beliefs. I have forgotten what it means to pray. But if a man or a woman finds comfort in his or her religion, and if he or she has found the grace to sustain his or her spirit in a time of crisis through prayer, I see no logical reason as to similarly trivialize their convictions. Now is not the time for politics. Now is not a time for doublespeak and value judgements. Now is not a time to be intellectual. Now is simply the time for character and heart.

I’m pretty sure we’re going to see many more tragedies like this in our life time. This is not based on faith or some prediction from the bible, rather the facts we have long known. Continents drifted apart because of tectonic plates. The great mountain ranges of the world were built by these constant yet unseen movements. In fact, many of the most spectacular landscapes of the world are products of violent and deadly forces – the islands of Hawaii, Mayon Volcano, the Himalayas, and Yellowstone Park. We will be reminded that in spite of our self-imposed importance in this world, something is greater than us, and even the best man-made infrastructures won’t stand a chance. How we hurdle these mammoth forces depend on our anchors. For some, it’s science. For others, it’s faith. And maybe for the rest, it’s both. While we recover from the current disasters, survey the damage, and mourn the loss of loved ones, loved homes, and loved churches, it would be in good grace and taste to simply do the good we can – pray, donate, volunteer – instead of using the disaster to further our motives, and shove our opinions down other people’s throats.

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