Does anyone remember Diamond Theater tragedy?

By Lito Perez

Or for that matter, Diamond Theater itself? That huge wooden old cinema house along P. Burgos Street, Butuan where Metrobank beside Father Saturnino Urios University now stands.

No one of course remembers but me and a friend as we took time reminiscing it. That was late 1960s to early 1970s more or less. I was seven years old, residing in the middle end of Burgos St., where my parents had a small business. It was year 1972 to be specific and along with boys of my age in downtown neighborhood we shined shoes both as an income and for fun.

We “shoeshine boys” lined up outside the theater building facing the street and waited for customers, mostly men who worked in nearby banks and other professionals. On certain rainy days, the street inundated with water and our little business halted. So what we did, we sneak into the movie house without the owner’s knowing, or the kind security guard allowed us in.

My parents would know where to find me even after dinner time because I was a movie buff before I shined shoes late afternoons. My elder playmates then taught me with the others, like we were just playing. But a serious game later as it meant coins for our pockets and sometimes I gave my mother some and she smiled and rubbed my head in fondness. I felt like Superman, I was able to help the family needs in a small way.

Then around 6 o’clock early evening, the earth gradually shook, reaching in strong intensity. I don’t remember where I was that time, not inside and outside the movie house or at home. Maybe at the old Rizal Park facing the cathedral and I remember I ran home scared and worried. Thank God they were fine even if our house was made of light wooden materials. But there was strange silence everywhere.

The next day, news through word of mouth spread that a few people died inside the movie house. There was panic, people running and elbowing and hurting each other as they rushed out. The theater did not crash down and remained standing but closed and reopened the following days. I did not recall collective mourning but there must have been and I was no longer allowed to shineshoes in the movie house, only at Rizal Park.

(To be continued)

Photo courtesy of Butuan City Old Photos

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