Residents ran from their homes and offices in panic and a shopping centre was set ablaze during the intense shaking in central Mindanao, the country’s second-largest island.
Authorities advised residents to stay out of homes that may have suffered cracks and been weakened.
The quake, which measured 6.4, also caused power cuts and strong aftershocks in some regions.
“Our hospital chief reported that a child died because of the earthquake,” Reuel Limbungan, mayor of Tulunan town in North Cotabato province, told a radio station.
In a town in the nearby province of Davao del Sur, 20 people were injured by falling debris and home furniture, Anthony Allada, an information officer, told DZMM radio.
“Many houses were totally damaged ... Another person is in a critical condition,” he said.
Footage showed firefighters tackling a fierce blaze that wrecked a shopping centre in General Santos City.
The US Geological Survey said the quake, described as strong and shallow, had a depth of only eight miles. Shallow quakes tend to cause more damage than deeper ones.
The quake, on Wednesday evening, was centred on Cotabato, about five miles from Columbio, which has a population of 33,258 people, and 42 miles southwest of Davao, one of the most populous cities in the country and the hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte.
“We felt a very strong jolt and there was a blackout. I saw people rushing down. We were panicking, heading to the exit,” said Naru Guarda Cabaddu, a hotel consultant who was near the epicentre.
Other video showed people at an airport and in a church covering their heads and cowering as the buildings shook.
The government-run Philippine News Agency reported power cuts in Koronadal City, and a hotel was evacuated.
It also posted photos of a college in Digos, Davao del Sur, that was badly damaged.
Max Fuentes, a resident of Davao, said he felt a strong aftershock.
“We received info from our friends that there is blackout in Digos City in Davao,” he said.
Renato Solidum, head of the Philippines seismic agency, told the ANC news channel there was a chance of aftershocks after the quake, which was considered strong and capable of causing severe damage.
“Aftershocks can happen. Some can be felt, most likely in low intensities,” he said.
“But we cannot remove the possibility of similar intensities that can be felt in the epicentral area."
No destructive Pacific-wide tsunami was expected after an earthquake, initially measured at 6.7, according to the Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.
The Philippines, one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, has frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity because it lies on the Pacific “ring of fire”, a seismically active arc of volcanos and fault lines in the Pacific Basin.
A 7.7-magnitude quake killed nearly 2,000 people in the northern Philippines in 1990.
Six months ago, at least 11 people died when two powerful tremors shook the country in two days.
The European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre said Mindanao had suffered three earthquakes in two hours.
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