Thoughts on Vigan Houses and 27 July 2022 Earthquake

I felt it earlier this morning. An rocked Manila early at around 8:43AM (on footnote, it eerily was somehow similar to the time of 2013 SugBohol Earthquake and same date as Itbayat, Batanes's tremor). After minutes of waiting, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) determined that it was a magnitude 7.0 earthquake's epicenter was in Abra River Valley. It was close to my "home in the north," Vigan! I immediately called friends and colleagues there, checking if they are all right.

Quema House damage. Archival photo of Berniemack Arellano (2018) and Arlene Alegre Gajeton (2022)

Then a friend of mine, Arlene Gajeton fed the first photos from Vigan. I was shocked. There were damages in buildings. There were walls that fell on to cars. Another friend of mine, Giunno Alonzo also took photos in Vigan. Asking permission, I posted this for information of the everyone. It became viral. UNESCO World Heritage Site of Vigan was hit hard by the Abra River Valley Earthquake. Though Ilocanos and Bigueños were shocked, netizens all over the Philippines and the world expressed their sadness and shock seeing the situation.

The Filipino Ingenuity at Work

I for one, felt affected. I did not grew up in Vigan, but being the topic of my master's thesis back in graduate school, I grew loving the city beyond its tourism aura. However, what I learned from studying Vigan for years is that the heritage houses were built for such events like earthquakes.

Around Governor A. Reyes Street. Archival photo from Berniemack Arellano (2018) and Giunno Alonzo (2022)

According to architects and heritage conservationists, most of the weight overloaded are distributed to the hard wood columns, rather than masonry walls. This makes the houses “sway,” rather than resist the forces of the earthquake, making them flexible and more quake resistant. Walls do not bear much of the house’s weight. Hence when walls are damaged, the house remains standing.

A Reflection of Culture and History

The Vigan Bahay na Bato houses were said to be an evolved and “poblacionized” version of the indigenous Ilocano “kalapaw” or bahay kubo in Filipino. Over time, it mixed with other influences from the Hispanic traditions to Chinese culture, reflecting the fusion of multiple cultures in what was once Ciudad Fernandina de Vigan.

Plaster fell off from the facade of Vigan Metropolitan Cathedral. Archival photo from Berniemack Arellano (2021) and Giunno Alonzo (2022).

Though tremors are a threat to the integrity of the heritage buildings, for locals the biggest threat still for Vigan houses is fire. The incident of 1968 burned the Regional Seminario and other heritage houses within the vicinity of Plaza Burgos. (City Government of Vigan, 2010, p. 100) Plaza Salcedo's lagoon was borne out of these incidents. It was built as a reservoir for fire back in the 1970s, giving it a more utilitarian function rather or aside from its aesthetic value. (Arellano, 2019, p.83)

The Maranaos with their Torogan have those stones beneath the hard wood columns.

A house along General Luna Street showing damages. Archival photo from Berniemack Arellano (2018) and Arlene Alegre Gajeton (2022).

This isn’t the first time Vigan experienced a strong earthquake. PHIVOLCS cited 56 tremors between 1862 and 1981 in nearby city of Laoag. (PHIVOLCS, 1983) For centuries, the houses stood storms, quakes, fires, and even armed conflict.

Documentation is Important

Vigan's prestige as a UNESCO World Heritage Site was not possible if it was not for its local community spearheading the heritage conservation efforts, together with the academe and professionals. One of their efforts was to document the heritage houses in their historical, cultural, and architectural details. In 1996, The Save Vigan Ancestral Homes Association, Inc. (SVAHAI) project of documenting 120 ancestral houses in the city was a key component and activity.

The Heritage Homeowner's Manual of Vigan. It incorporates important pointers in properly maintaining heritage houses in the city. Photo by Berniemack Arellano (2022)

When Vigan was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, documentation was part of their effort. These initiatives were the foundations of the existing best practices of the city in heritage conservation.

In 2010, they were able to create a Homeowner's Manual for Vigan Houses. It explains, in lay folk terms, how to maintain or conserve, or even prepare for the twin threats of earthquakes and fires. 

Liberation Boulevard and Sy Quia Mansion. Archival photo from Berniemack Arellano (2019) and Arlene Alegre Gajeton (2022).

Therefore, I could not stress enough how important documentation and research is for the protection of the city or country's cultural heritage and history. Not just tsismis, these can not only guide us through in navigating the challenges of times, but also how to save lives and a better appreciation and understanding of our local culture. I guess for local communities, they can start with cultural mapping or local history research.

I am hoping and praying that the aftershocks would be less disturbing. May our kakabsat in Ilocos and Cordilleras be able to bounce back as soon as possible. Agannad kayo apo!

Details of the earthquake can be read here:

  For Manong Ric and Manong Mel.


Arellano, B. M. (2019, May). Taoid ken Ili: Sense of Place and Placemaking Practices in the City of Vigan. Graduate Thesis. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Diliman.

City Government of Vigan. (2010). Heritage Homeowner's Preservation Manual: World Heritage City of Vigan Philippines. Bangkok: UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education.

Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. (1983). 1983 August 17 Ms6.5 Laoag Earthquake . Retrieved July 27, 2022, from

Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. (2022, July 27). Primer on the 27 July 2022 Magnitude 7.0 Northwestern Luzon Earthquake, 27. Retrieved from Facebook PHIVOLCS-DOST:

Rabang-Alonzo, F. A., Zialcita, F. N., & King, D. Q. (1996). An Inventory of 120 Ancestral Houses in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, Philippines. Vigan City: Toyota Foundation.