Mabini on my mind

By Rex Catubig


I’M haunted by memories of catastrophes. Yet I was never in any of them.

As a young boy, I was raised on stories around the massive brick columns that lay on the riverbank of Calmay. The overriding theme was the Great Flood of 1935, way before I was born, that destroyed the Colegio de San Alberto Magno and swept away the Franklin Bridge, consequently cutting off and isolating our barrio from the Poblacion.

In June 1972, while I was in Manila, another big flood hit the city and submerged it in murky floodwater that reached up almost midway the grand staircase of the City Hall. Worse, the raging river current chomped a big chunk of barrio Calmay, almost a third of its width.

Then in July 1990, just a month after I arrived in Los Angeles, a powerful temblor wrecked most of the city proper, splitting a bridge in half, cleaving street surfaces that swallowed parked vehicles, and caused pungent-smelling muddy water to gush forth.

But all these seem to pale in comparison to the mind-boggling natural disaster that happened in the town of Mabini, some thirty kilometers away. Which I remember from radio broadcast as a 3rd grader.

It was Friday July 7 in 1957. At around two o’clock in the morning, as the residents of the hilly town were deep asleep, lulled by the tiresome toil of previous days winding down to the weekend, a sudden surge of flash flood came cascading down. The villagers never had a chance to wake up. The rampaging water cut a swath of destruction, devouring whole villages along the way, burying persons and property in thick mud. In all, it plunged two third of the town under dark muddy water.

The calamity was blamed on Typhoon Wendy whose torrential rains inundated the Ange and Balincaguin rivers

As morning broke, 200 were found dead due to drowning. Another 250 were reported missing. But as the day went by, the fatality rose to around 1000.

It was such a shocking calamity–leaving in its wake death and destruction in what was one of the worst floods in the history of the province.

Thus, it hugged the headlines–and the limelight.

Better known as the birthplace of movie queen Gloria Romero, Mabini became an unlikely celebrity itself. A movie adaptation of the dawn disaster was subsequently made and shown on the silver screen. Unfortunately, I cannot recall the film title.

Really, if I had a choice, I’d rather have no memory of all these heartbreaking catastrophes.

I wish they never happened and will never happen again–in my lifetime or the next.

But on June 15, 1991, Mt Pinatubo had a climactic violent eruption that ricocheted around the world.

I was some eleven thousand miles away, but it haunts me to this day. Because months after, I received a long letter from a friend narrating her traumatic experience being caught in the midst of mud and rain, and spectral darkness.

This nightmare is seared on my mind. And in my mind, I was there all the time.

My heart is part of it all.

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