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The Nueva Vizcaya earthquake of 1881


 There are elements to be savored in these archival reports: the old names of towns and rivers, the enviable description of nature before greed and loggers and a run-away population decimated the lush countryside.

In 1881, the governor general formed a commission to study the earthquakes that struck Nueva Vizcaya from July to October of that year. In July at 5:00 p.m. a strong jolt damaged some stone structures in the province. It was merely the precursor of a stronger earthquake. On Sept. 1 at 12:20 p.m. a strong, brutal and jarring shock of vertical movement commenced and continued unabated from one hour to the next, interrupted only by stronger jolts.


Enrique Abella later discovered an ancient missionary in Dupax, Fray Antonio Xabert, who had observed and catalogued the event. Fray Xabert had recorded 13 quakes in September and even more aftershocks. Abella also took notes of the geologic formation of the area.

The commission left Manila by the road to the north, passing by the towns of Caloocan and Ubando. In Bulacan it noted the formation of slime and mud forming part of the bay. The area was almost always inundated at high tide and surrounded by a multitude of canals, notably the two branches of Ubijan and Taliptip at the entrance of Bulacan.

From there, the commission traveled to San Isidro, Nueva Ecija, passing by the towns of Quingua, Baliuag, San Ildefonso and San Miguel de Mayumo and traversing a plain that slightly undulated in some parts and rose slowly in the east.

There the horizon was limited by the cordillera called El Caraballo de Baler, where some currents were born that poured into Manila Bay. The most important was the river that passed through the towns of Angat, Baliuag and Quingua, of Maasin, Garlang and Balaong.

In this area the land was formed by the same volcanic upheaval that formed Manila, interrupted by some girdles of mud produced by the great currents of water and by thick deposits of slime. Born of the same material accumulated in the same depressions of the land were those called the Pinac of Candaba that remained submerged a good part of the year, favoring rice cultivation.

From San Isidro, the road crossed the Gapan River that flowed into a greater river born in the Caraballo of the south, limiting the mountainous area and plains of the province. It passed by Bongabong and Cabanatuan, forming the great strand that could be called the mighty river of Nueva Ecija. On the outskirts of Cabanatuan beside Talavera was another river, almost as immense, that continued on to San Jose and Puncan.

In San Jose, at some distance to the north, appeared some elevations that were the buttresses of the southern range. Upon arriving at the Lomboy River (the same waters that passed by Talavera), the course of the river was contained by hills that limited the horizon on both sides. The road began to ascend smoothly up to Puncan where the terrain was mountainous and the horizon restricted by hills.

After traversing the Rio Grande, called Dicdic in the area, two small divides could be seen separated by a stream, the Maringalo, where muddy layers impregnated by iron oxide were evident, with pronounced colors of yellow and red.

Between Caranglan and San Jose, these sedimentary layers were even more pronounced, leading Abella to conclude that these were geologically correlated to a passage between the Lomboy River and the Puncan, represented by massive layers if not in their original deposits at least in situ. Layers of this nature were also found in the riverbed of Dicdic.

Continuing the ascent towards the Caraballo, the land was of essentially muddy composition. Just before arriving at the Camarin de Salazar (a light construction built for travelers in those days), the landscape began to change, taking on a more volcanic formation, explaining the abundance of the sedimentary layers and their diverse inclinations.

Due to their tight schedule, Abella was unable to gather fossils that would indicate the age of the deposits but similar ones were excavated in Cebu and Mindanao that indicated tertiary modern deposits.

Some samples of brown-colored oxides and red iron were collected around the area of the Camarin, consisting of real metal ore, making Abella presume that mining the deposits could benefit the province. From thereon the road became more precipitous and more revealing from the petrography point of view due to the rock layer evident on the sides of the road and in the beds of streams.

The rocks formed were of diverse species, within the classification of diorites such as diorita granitoide thick but fine-grained, the anfibolita, the afanita anfibolica and in the shadow of the Cruz de Caraballo, nests of feldspar in rock whose composition produced a kaolin that covered the road, simulating a snowfall in some areas.

Abella did not find the grains or pebbles that would have given him the age of those ranges or proved that the Philippines formed part of the Asiatic continent, separated by a convulsion and leaving the granite layer of the Cordilleras and its foothills to form the archipelago. That would be left to scientists of a later date.