The Philippine islands (all 7,100 of them, give or take) sit on the shelf of the Circum Pacific Seismic Belt – better known as the Ring of Fire, an area where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the Pacific ocean.
In a 40,000 km (25,000 mi) horseshoe shape, it is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and/or plate movements. It has 452 volcanoes and is home to over 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes
– Via Ring of Fire, Wikipedia
Because of this, the country has endured many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, including the most recent quake that hit Bohol island with a magnitude of 7.2 in October 2013.
The seventeenth-century navigator, William Dampier, in his own quaint and amusing way, describes how the natives and the Spanish colonists of Manila strove to guard against the double danger of earthquakes and typhoons, and how they both failed ignominiously. The Spaniards built strong stone houses, but the earthquake made light of them, and shook them so violently that the terrified inmates would rush out of doors to save their lives; while the natives from their frail bamboo dwellings, which were perched on high poles, placidly contemplated their discomfiture. All that the earthquake meant to them was a gentle swaying from side to side. But the Spaniards had their turn when the fierce typhoon blew, against which their thick walls were proof. Then, from the security of their houses, could they view, with a certain grim satisfaction, the huts of the natives swaying every minute more violently in the wind, till, one by one, they toppled over—each an indescribable heap of poles, mats, household utensils, and human beings.
In 1814, Mayon volcano, known for having a “perfect cone”, erupted and buried the neighboring villages and towns, including the Cagsawa Church that you see below.
In 1880, an earthquake destroyed one of the belfries of the San Agustin Church in Intramuros (inside Manila) and to this day, it only has one belfry.
After having survived the quakes of 1645 and 1863, the belfry of the Manila Cathedral crumbled during the 1880 quake.
While fortune may have shone on these Manila churches when it came to escaping major damage from earthquakes (although the Manila Cathedral – and most of Manila for that matter, was destroyed in WWII when Manila was declared an open city by the United States and most of its landmarks destroyed from bombings to rid the city of the Japanese), the same cannot be said for the San Pedro Apostol church in Loboc, Bohol which was built in 1601. It crumbled during the Bohol quake of 2013.
The Bohol earthquake didn’t just destroy the old churches, remnants of colonial Spanish architecture. It also destroyed the island’s natural wonders like the natural haycock formation of grass-covered limestone hills called Chocolate Hills (because when the grass turns brown, they
look looked like Hershey’s Kisses).
It’s a terrible price to pay for a country right on the shelf of the Ring of Fire, but one that Filipinos have learned to live with.