Former ONE Strawweight World Title contender Rene “The Challenger” Catalan thought it was just another typical Sunday in the Catalan Fighting System gym in Makati City, Philippines on 12 January.
He and a few other coaches were preparing Jomary “The Zamboanginian Fighter” Torres for her upcoming bout against Jenny “Lady GoGo” Huang at ONE: FIRE & FURY, and nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary.
But then, when he least expected it, tragedy struck.
The sunny day in the country’s business capital transformed into darkness as ash, small rocks, and smoke filled the city’s skyline.
Over 100 kilometers south in the province of Batangas, Taal Volcano – a dormant volcano for 43 years – started erupting. Its effects were quickly felt in half of Luzon, the most populous island in the Philippines.
“We were just training in the gym when we heard about it,” Catalan explains. “It was tough, even here in our gym, because we had to clean up for the ashfall. We also had a lot of students who were affected by it.”
Upon its eruption, the volcano quickly displaced over 100,000 residents in the area – mostly coming from the permanent danger zone. It also affected hundreds of thousands more in neighboring provinces such as Cavite, Laguna, and some parts of Metro Manila.
In the breezy mountains of Baguio City nearly 350 kilometers away from the eruption site, Team Lakay’s head coach Mark Sangiao and former ONE Flyweight World Champion Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio were alarmed when they first heard about the news.
“I was just on the road here in Baguio when I heard it,” the former flyweight king recalls in shock.
The pair were not directly affected by the eruption, as both of them were up north in the “City Of Pines.” However, the northerners are not exactly new to this situation.
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On 15 June 1991, a deadlier eruption happened just over 100 kilometers south of Baguio, as Mount Pinatubo raged over the northern part of the country. Its effects were felt not only in the Philippines, but also in the neighboring Southeast Asian region.
Eustaquio was only a toddler when the event occurred, but Sangiao was old enough to experience its wrath and that is why he truly understands the plight of his compatriots now.
“I was 11 years old at that time, and I was in school when it happened. It was really scary. You can really feel the effects of it over here,” the Team Lakay head coach says.
Sangiao has seen northern Luzon rise from the ashes over the years, and he is confident that the provinces affected by the recent catastrophe can overcome this episode, too.
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It's been two days since Taal Volcano took everyone by surprise with its sudden eruption.⠀ ⠀ The volcano continues to spew ash as Alert Level 4 remains — which means a hazardous eruption is imminent. "We expect more volcanic activities in the next few days," Phivolcs told CNN Philippines this morning. ⠀ ⠀ Stay tuned for more updates. ???? @gergcahiles
“To all my countrymen in Taal, stay safe. I know that you guys can get through this. I’ll always pray for them, and I expect them to rise above it and get back what they lost,” he continues.
“Challenges in life are always there, and it’s like martial arts – you lose sometimes, but you always have to keep standing up and bounce back. We’re always here for you.”
The eruption still continues to this day, and it remains on high alert level four as it enters its second week. While the volcano’s activity has recently calmed down, experts warn that the threat of a bigger eruption remains imminent.
Eustaquio and others might be a few hundred kilometers away from the permanent danger zone, but he promises that help is on the way. In the meantime, “Gravity” has an uplifting message he wants to share with his compatriots.
“It’s not the first time [we have] encountered this situation. We were tested many times, and we always end up on top. Filipinos have the warrior spirit in them, and that is hard to conquer,” he says.
“Don’t worry, we will face this test as a team, as a nation, and as a family. Support is coming, and we got your back in different ways. We pray for you, our dear brothers and sisters. Never give up.”