“Philippine Saints Recover from Earthquake,” Ensign, Oct. 1990, 74–76
Church members in the Philippines continue cleanup and rehabilitation efforts following the July 16 earthquake that measured 7.7 on the Richter scale.
Members in seven stakes and two districts were directly affected. One hundred twenty homes of Church members were destroyed; another 340 were damaged. Several meetinghouses were also damaged—one severely. The Manila Temple was not affected. Of 1,666 casualties, 5 were members of the Church; all missionaries were safe.
“The Philippine people are remarkably resilient,” says Elder George I. Cannon, a member of the Seventy and president of the Philippines/Micronesia Area. “They know how to bounce back. They’re accepting it and moving on.”
Although devastation is widespread in some areas and major aftershocks continued for weeks, “there is little gloom and grief among Church members,” says Terry J. Spallino, director for temporal affairs. “They are busy helping one another and the community.”
For a time, telephone communication was cut off. And because of landslides, damaged buildings, and collapsed bridges, transportation in some areas was difficult. But members and leaders rallied quickly.
When Elder Cannon visited the quake areas, bringing comfort and counsel—along with the first of several truckloads of food, tents, blankets, medical supplies, and other emergency items—he found that local leaders had already visited members’ homes and were doing much to assess needs and offer assistance. “They were doing the best they could on their own with what they had,” he reports. “It was really marvelous. They weren’t waiting for us to arrive.”
From the first jolt, LDS meetinghouses became centers of activity. “When people ran out of their homes,” says Elder Cannon, “many of them went straight to the chapels.” Hundreds crowded inside, in the parking lot, and on the grounds; many lived there for weeks until other arrangements could be made. There, nonmembers as well as members received food, shelter, and medical attention. A missionary medical team—a retired physician and two registered nurses—treated victims and rescue workers.
Because of the Church’s excellent reputation, two national Philippine organizations selected the Baguio stake to receive and distribute large amounts of donated commodities. The chairman of one of these organizations was so impressed with the stake’s organized efforts that he took government officials to the meetinghouse to learn from the Church’s distribution procedures.
The stake received more than three thousand pounds of donated rice, along with money for cooking equipment and ingredients for stew. Relief Society sisters prepared the stew at the meetinghouse; then members distributed it to thirty-five “tent cities” that had sprung up around the cold, rainy city. They served hot meals twice a day for over two weeks—more than 34,000 meals.
“Most of the members are still involved in Christian service organizations,” says Frederico Costales, Baguio stake disaster relief coordinator. “They realize that they were protected by the Lord. Now they want to help others and give comfort.”
Now that immediate needs have been met, members are focusing on two great continuing problems: unemployment and housing. Many commercial buildings collapsed or have been condemned—and jobs have disappeared along with them. For example, Baguio stake president Jose C. Manalansan lost his tailor shop and equipment; he and his wife now go door-to-door soliciting work to do at home. Another family had just made final payment on their video rental business; the earthquake destroyed it all. Fred Dimaya, area welfare services coordinator, says leaders are training ward and stake employment specialists to help the jobless find work.
Housing is just as hard to find, and rent has shot upward. In Baguio, priesthood quorums are teaching construction skills and, as a group, are going from home to home, repairing or reconstructing.
Leaders report a dramatic increase in attendance at sacrament meeting as less-active members return. And full-time and stake missionaries in Baguio distributed more than 450 copies of the Book of Mormon to quake victims. The missionaries are now teaching many interested families.
Stories of protection are emerging from the disaster. One returned missionary reports that he was studying on the fourth floor of a university building when the earthquake hit. While others panicked, he remained calm and found an escape. Moments later, the building collapsed.
Others tell of losing all their material possessions—but being relieved to find their families safe. “We feel we were blessed,” says a father who lost his business and his home. “I don’t really feel that we lost much since our family is all right.”
Bishop Edison Cabrito had prepared a lesson on eternal life for family home evening. When the earthquake hit, he immediately took his family to the chapel—where they ended up staying for almost two weeks because their home had been seriously damaged. There, hours after the quake, he gave his home evening lesson on eternal life to a meetinghouse packed with survivors. The following Sunday, members sang, “Come, come, ye Saints, … All is well! All is well!”
“I think this is going to be a great strengthening experience for these people,” says Elder Cannon. “They will come out stronger as individuals and as members of the Church because they have learned how important the gospel and their families are.”