Clark Freeport, Pampanga―Still buried in 12 feet of lahar and volcanic debris, the town of Bacolor in Pampanga will commemorate on Sept. 15 its gradual recovery from tragedy with a Mass and a get-together of its residents, including those still living in 10 resettlement areas outside the town.
Bacolor Mayor Eduardo G. Datu said this year’s commemoration will be simple but meaningful with a Mass at the San Guillermo Church, which was half-buried by lahar and other volcanic debris brought about by the deadly combination of the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo and Typhoon “Diding” in 1994.
It is also a moment of nostalgia for the townspeople “specially the homesick or those who like the smell of the seas that connote the memories of a childhood vacation,” Datu said.
The San Guillermo Church and the Our Lady of Lourdes Church in barangay Cabetican are now famous for year-round religious tourism coming from Central and Northern Luzon, including Metro Manila.
Datu said eight of the 21 barangays of Bacolor saw thousands of houses buried under lahar. Hundreds remain missing, while several millions’ worth of properties were also destroyed by the disaster 25 years ago.
Of the reported missing persons then, only 12 were recovered and identified by the police and disaster authorities, Datu said.
The center of the tragedy were the barangays of Pasig Potrero, Cabetican, and Cabalantian, which were engulfed by steaming lahar, mudflow, and other volcanic debris during the disaster, the mayor said.
During a media forum here, Datu also reported that the recent 6.1-magnitude earthquake last April 22 damaged the multibillion-peso FVR dike, which is now the subject of investigation by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvocs).
The findings on the damages, mostly long and deep cracks on the dike, will be submitted next week to him to determine if this will endanger the residents and municipality anew, Datu said.
Bacolor’s residents have been returning to their villages, but about 20,000 still remain in the resettlements in the towns of Arayat, Lubao, Mexico, Floridablanca, and in the cities of San Fernando and Mabalacat.
The mayor said the reason behind the reluctance of the residents to come back is because most of them are now working inside Clark Freeport, which serves as a magnet for employment, not only those from Bacolor but residents throughout Central Luzon.
At present, the mayor said the total residents of Bacolor, also know as Bakulud in local dialect, is now reaching 50,000, but based on the 2015 census there were only about 39,460, in contrast to its total population of 65,000 before the disaster struck the third-class municipality.
Bacolor, which is called the Athens of Pampanga as it was the capital of the province from 1698 up to 1904, until it was transferred to San Fernando in July 1, 1904. It also produced five governors and was the center of art and culture, including the birth of Zarzuela in the province.
Today, Bakulud has an annual income of P200 million, mostly coming from agriculture, quarry, poultry, and processed food products.