On July 16, 1990 at 4:26 PM, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck parts of Luzon particularly Regions 1, 2, 3, the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Southern Luzon and Metro Manila. Among the hardest hit was Baguio City, where several structures collapsed, burying hundreds of people. Some of the destroyed establishments included hotels such as the Hyatt Terraces Plaza, Baguio Park Hotel and Nevada Hotel.
Claiming more than a thousand lives and leaving massive damage, the event was listed among the world’s largest and deadliest earthquakes. 27 years after this quake, we get to know Sandy Montano, one of the survivors of this earthquake, who’s now an advocate of disaster preparedness.
Buried for Three Days
When Sandy was still a nursing student in Baguio City, she personally experienced the quake. The boarding house she was staying in collapsed and pinned her down. She was trapped under the rubble for three days, surviving without any food or water.
At first, she tried to keep calm and shouted for help. But the city was in chaos, she failed to get attention. She kept the faith and continued praying.
On the third day, hopelessness set in. “N’ung akala ko wala ng pag-asa, nagsabi na ako ng last prayer ko, nagdasal na lang ako na sana kahit makita lang ‘yung cadaver ko.” (I lost hope so I said what I thought was my last prayer. I prayed that rescuers would at least recover my dead body.) After a few hours, a sniffing dog traced her and caught the attention of the rescuers.
Sandy and her three friends were the only survivors from their neighborhood. After their rescue, they went to Burnham Park, the only open area which was safe from the collapsing structures. For days, they fed themselves raw egg mixed with sardines, the only ready-to-eat food from the relief goods.
The stench of the decaying bodies became unbearable for her so she left Baguio City and went home to her family in Pangasinan. Despite the aftershocks, Sandy braved the zigzag roads and along the way, saw people who died from landslides. When she reached home, her family, thinking she was already dead, was so shocked to see her. “Akala nila multo ako.” (They thought I was a ghost.)
Weeks after the quake, Sandy was traumatized, hardly able to sleep and eat. The slightest sound such as the door closing would scare her. Instead of returning to Baguio, she continued her studies in Manila and finished nursing at the United Doctors Medical Center.
From Being Trapped to Being on Top
Eventually, her experience made her realize her true purpose in life. While studying, she served as one of the volunteers of the Philippine Red Cross. She also devoted her free time to blood donation activities and first aid trainings. Her dedication was recognized when she was awarded a Diploma of Service and was chosen to represent the Philippines in Japan for Hajime No Ippo or the “First Big Step” Red Cross student exchange program.
When she returned to the country, she founded the Community Health Education Emergency Rescue Services (C.H.E.E.R.S.), a social enterprise that aims to supply communities with knowledge on disaster preparedness. C.H.E.E.R.S. empowers people to be globally competitive and highly skilled by providing internationally-certified training on Basic Life Support (BLS), Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) and more.
Today, Sandy is an award-winning leader and entrepreneur. She has bagged several recognitions such as the 1st ASEAN Woman Leader, Outstanding ASEAN Woman Entrepreneur and one of the 100 Most Influential Global Filipina Women in the World.
Instead of losing hope, the tragedy served as her motivation to rise again, aim for success and help others. As a social entrepreneur, she believes that social businesses must have a genuine interest for the people’s welfare and development.
“Hindi ko naman ginagawa ang pagtulong sa ibang tao para mabigyan ng awards, pero nagpapasalamat pa rin ako,” she noted. (I am helping others not to gain fame or recognition but I am very thankful.)
Maximizing our Resources
Part of Sandy’s sustainable livelihood programs is the manufacturing of Tropika Flour made from tropical crops and vegetables from the Philippines. Using ingredients such as malunggay, camote, cassava and munggo, this flour is a healthier alternative to its conventional counterpart, which mainly uses starchy products.
Farmers who are also survivors of disasters are Sandy’s partners in this program. Apart from giving them a sustainable source of income, she also educates them on how to be part of a resilient community. She wants to maximize on agriculture as a career and an effective tool to eradicate poverty.
Sandy’s story proves that there is life after a tragedy. Instead of debilitating her, Sandy’s experience paved the way for her to be a better citizen, to equip others to be prepared for such disasters, and to help those who, like her, have experienced them.