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She stops the quakes and stills the waters

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(BY: VICENTE R. SOLIS, LAWYER)    Since childhood we’ve never ceased to be amazed by stories on the miraculous events identified with our La Virgen del Pilar, whose feastday we marked yesterday. Handed down from generation to generation, the accounts have fortified our belief that in times of calamities, natural or man-made, the Lady of the Pillar stands between our preservation and destruction. One such story dates way back to 1897, or a century and seventeen years ago, which I only got to be aware of recently by reading the following narrative of the late Adolfo C. Navarro, once the city’s tourism commissioner and historian, in his “Legends of our Lady of the Pillar”. He writes:

“(This) story concerns her intercession in the earthquake-tidal waves that occurred in this area, Basilan, and Sulu on September 21, 1897. It was the most violent of the five earthquakes that hit Zamboanga, Basilan, and Sulu during the latter part of the 19th century. Its vibrations were registered in the seismographs in different places throughout the world, and the waves comparable in destructive power to those that struck Chile and Lisbon and other regions and during the eruption of the Krakatoa in Java.

“The whole area quaked at 1:17 in the afternoon of that day with such intensity that the ground opened up chasms here and there, and sent wave after wave of sea water towards the town, sweeping everything that was twenty feet above sea level two hours after the first tremor was felt. Those who survived the blows of the waves of the sea ran to the hills and mountains for safety – and knelt in prayer before our Lady of the Pillar and suddenly the quaking stopped and the sea calmed down.

“Oldtimers, to this day, would swear they saw a woman, dressed in immaculate white standing in mid-air over Basilan Strait with her right hand raised, signalling the onrushing waves to stop, and the waves did stop.”

Thankfully, we have the Lady of the Pillar, then and now. But, how did her image got to be where it is today? Again, we turn to Mr. Navarro for a short history on Fort Pilar, which, like the miracles of our Lady, must likewise be passed on to future generations for preservation and appreciation. Mr. Navarro writes:

“Construction of the fort was started on June 23, 1635 with the laying of its cornerstone by Melchor de Vera, a Jesuit priest, who also supervised the work on it. That date commemorates the founding of Zamboanga, which was earlier known as ’Samboangan’.

“The fort was originally named Real Fuerza de San Jose. It was renamed Real Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza in 1719, and again renamed simply as Fort Pilar when it fell into American hands on November 16, 1899.

“The statue of our Lady of the Pillar was installed where it is today, on the east wall entrance to the fort, merely as a frontispiece in 1734, as indicated on the inscriptions at the base of the statue. Since then it has come to be venerated by Catholics and non-Catholics because of its legendary miraculous powers.

“Fort Pilar was attacked by the Dutch in 1646, dismantled by the Spanish troops in 1663 when they were summoned to Manila to help drive away the Chinese pirate Koxinga, and reconstructed by Juan Sicarra in 1719. In 1798, it was bombarded by the British and became the scene of mutiny in 1872. Later events saw the fort captured by American expeditionary forces in 1899, surrendered to Japanese forces in 1942, and recaptured by American liberation troops in March, 1945. The historic fort was finally turned over to the government of the Republic of the Philippines on July 4, 1946, upon the withdrawal of American sovereignty from the islands.” (Miracle at the Fort, Memories of the Old Town, planned and edited by Antonio E. Orendain II)

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OTRAS COSAS: The announcement on the approval by the Energy Regulatory Commission of the Power Sale Agreement between ZAMCELCO and San Ramon Power Corporation (SRPI) is welcome news. Power consistency and reliability in the city, however, will not be in place until after four years considering that the plant’s construction and commissioning will take that long.  While waiting, let’s engage in serious, creative, and productive discussions on how to improve the power distribution system of our Cooperative. Once the SRPI’s plant is up and running, ZAMCELCO’s distribution system must be in A1 condition, which it isn’t today due mainly to financial constraints.

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Serious, creative, and productive discussions must likewise be accelerated on the removal and relocation of our existing airport facilities, which must necessarily include the air force base at the east end of the runway. The high cost project can be pursued under a public-private partnership where the government’s exposure is considerably minimized. The existing airport complex can be turned into a business and commercial center by and for the private sector with no more caps on building heights. We might finally see high rise structures in our city.

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One of the most successful Ateneo high school golden jubilarians this year is Dr. Oswaldo Herrera, a first rate heart specialist at the Makati Medical Center. Although a resident of Manila for so long, his Chabacano is just as good as during our high school days at the AdeZ La Purisima campus. (PO Box 333, Zamboanga City, solislaw@outlook.ph)




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