The Earthquake Scare of
September 29, 1998
by Jerome Baquilar

From all indications, September 29, 1998, seemed like your normal Baguio City, Philippines day. Cloudy skies, peaceful cool air temperature, kids going to school, adults going to work. Nothing out of the ordinary, for this time of year. I woke up as I usually did, and went online to check e-mail, and do my normal web browsing activity for the morning. I had breakfast, which was my usual cupcake and coffee, and went back onto my computer to start work on a web design project.

Then at around ten in the morning, my wife got a phone call from one of her aunts. She asked my wife if we heard about the earthquake. "What earthquake?", we wondered. Answer: "The earthquake is predicted to happen anytime between 11AM and 2PM today, and could reach 7.0 on the Richter scale". The television was on ESPN at the time, I was keeping track of the one game MLB playoff between Chicago and San Francisco while doing my work. Quick run through CNN, BBC News, CNBC, even SNN and local tv stations. Nothing. Another phone call from an aunt, relaying the same news. We ask for the source of the news. The answer: "CNN". We just checked, and found nothing. I check CNN's website, and find nothing. Closest related story? Philippine Airlines closing. This was getting weird. Another phone call, saying schoolchildren were being sent home from school for fear of the earthquake. A glance outside verifies this fact, as I see kids by the group going to their homes in our neighborhood. Looks as if children weren't the only ones going home, as I saw adults going home in large numbers. I see families staying just outside their houses, probably in fear of their homes collapsing upon them. I think to myself, "This is bu11$h!t, there's no way anyone can predict an earthquake, not yet at least. Not in the US, not in China, no where. How come the Philippines suddenly became the secret ace on earthquake prediction?" 11AM shows on the clock. No tremors to report. 2PM rolls on by, uneventfully, as I expected. I'd love to know who thought of starting the earthquake rumor...

I think this "event" showed me a lot about how things are here, probably not just in Baguio, but in the Philippines in general. People here are just too gullible when it comes to rumors and gossip, and that was proven when "educated" people in high places believed the rumor so much as to send home their schoolkids, workers, etc.

Another thing to be learned is that not enough people watch CNN, or even SNN for that matter. One, or a few persons could say they saw it on CNN and no one could disprove it. People take too much interest in the six o'clock news shows, featuring rape, high crimes, modern day pillaging, prostitution news, celebrity gossip, etc... SNN at least shows a considerable degree of credibility and sense in what they present to the viewer. To the outsider to the Philippines (i.e. me), the early evening newscasts seem too much like an extension of showbiz, spewing out only the most sensationalized stories.

Another thing which truly makes me laugh at this infamous day, is that so many people here, people of the sciences, engineering, architecture, business fields, etc, could just throw away all their sensibility in knowing the facts (i.e. that it's impossible to predict earthquakes) and instantly taking the earthquake prediction rumor way too seriously. Without even checking the validity of the source, to boot. I can honestly say I didn't believe a word of it from second one, and only checked the best media sources just in case the unlikely had happened. Once I saw/heard nothing from the news sources, I just made an open effort to laugh at everyone who still thought it was going to happen.

Just posted this up for those who wondered about this day in the Philippines, and those who made the effort to put the "scare" in all those "Chicken Littles" who said the sky was falling, but didn't even bother to try looking up...

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