Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. IV,  No. 27                           August 8 - 14, 2004                      Quezon City, Philippines


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Disaster Execs Admit They Can’t Handle Big Quake
Last of two parts

National and Metro Manila disaster officials are aware that a big earthquake would strike anytime. But they admit that nobody – not even their agencies – can control its impact.


Baguio city in the aftermath of the 1990 earthquake

With Metro Manila being the country’s political, economic and cultural center, “the national system will collapse” or at least severely affected, according to Cora Macasieb, Special Operations Officer II and acting division chief of the Directorate for Special Operations of the Metropolitan Manila Disaster Coordinating Council (MMDCC).

The magnitude of the devastation and loss of lives to be wrought by the “Big One” is beyond government’s control. “If this is true,” Engr. Arthur Saldivar-Salis said, “I doubt that any city in the world is prepared to manage this kind of disaster. Masyadong malaki ito. Mataas ang alarm nito sigurado” (This is too big. For sure, the alarm would be high).

The head of a disaster management department of a well-known international rescue agency who has seen the MMEIRS study shook his head, saying “Sa laki nito, hindi ito kakayanin ng gobyerno kahit ilang response unit pa ang mabuo” (The government cannot respond to this even it creates several response units).

Government authorities, such as MMDCC’s Macasieb, share the same view. Along with member local government units (LGUs) and other agencies, the MMDCC, which is under the MMDA is the overall implementing organization of the study. She admitted to Bulatlat that agencies including her agency, are not ready for the response services based on the study’s projected casualties.

Aware naman tayo pero hindi talaga tayo handa, kulang din sa gamit. May Collapse Structure Search and Rescue Unit nga sa AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] pero di pa rin ganon katindi ang equipment” (We’re aware (of the implications of the study). We have Collapse Structure Search and Rescue Units under the AFP), Macasieb said. “But a lot of money is needed.”

Even MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando once said in a meeting that they are not really prepared for this one, Macasieb said.


Macasieb in particular said government is unprepared for a big number of evacuees “Yun ang malaking problema. Kahit nga DSWD [Department of Social and Welfare Development] namomroblema kahit sa street dwellers lang” (That’s the problem. Even the DSWD just now cannot cope with the number of streetdwellers).

Seminars for awareness and preparedness during disasters are being conducted in municipal communities. The LGUs might already know about the action plans in response to an earthquake scenario but, she said, MMDCC is having problems with local authorities.

Napakahirapsa LGUs,” she said, “Kahit nga civil defense nahihirapan. Karamihan sa local governments di nagre-respond, di pinapansin letters nila” (It’s very difficult with the LGUs, even civil defense has problems (with them). Most LGUs ignore communications), she said. 

Aside from lack of funds, Macasieb admits that the implementation of community-based disaster response plans has been stalled for several months. She points to the election campaign as one cause for the delay.

Nagkataon na election kaya na-hamper ang [disaster] education program ng mga tao. Napakahirap sa local, kapag pumupunta kami, walang makausap nang matino dahil nasa kampanya ang mga officials” she lamented.

Macasieb admits though that the response system in the metropolis has improved. Response units are more alert now, she said. Most government agencies in Metro Manila now belong to the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) and almost all LGUs have their response units. 

MMEIRS’ own “Earthquake Impact Reduction Plan for Metropolitan Manila” contains 100 action plans for a “safer Metro Manila.” The plans, which include monitoring equipment, would need financing and, laments Macasieb, money is not flowing.

Few scientists

To compound the problem Phivolcs has its own load of constraints. Dr. Norman Tungol of Phivolcs’ Geology, Geophysics, Research and Development Division (GGRDD) said that out of the agency’s 40 scientists, only three study faultlines in the country.

Phivolcs uses the global positioning satellite (GPS) system in monitoring fault movements. Because the device is expensive, only one is in use and is monitoring the Philippine Fault. And it would only by next year when the agency will start monitoring the West Valley Fault.

But Tungol also sees something wrong with the NDCC’s system, hinting that the Council’s own disaster monitoring and preparedeness management is faulty.  Problema kasi sa system ng NDCC, ang mga pumapasok don ay elected officials, minsan two years lang palit na naman, so pagkatapos ng isang term, kung papalitan, walang turnover” (The problem in the NDCC system is that it is led by elected officials. After two years, officials are changed and there’s no proper turnover), he said.

Meantime, Congress is being urged to act on a bill that is meant to improve the country’s disaster preparedness. Called “An Act Strengthening the Philippine Disaster Management Capability,” authors of the measure are asking President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to certify it as urgent.

Most disaster authorities and experts are one in saying that, given the constraints, mitigation can be one effective response during a disaster. And reducing the effects of earthquake would have to rely on public information and awareness. “Our safety also lies in our own awareness and capability,” said Macasieb.

Tungol agreed that awareness would prevent further harm in times of disaster but he noted that public awareness on disasters is not satisfactory.


For all the alarm that earthquake reports may spawn and current concerns by scientists and disaster officials, there are quarters who remain skeptic. One of them, Trixie Concepcion, secretary general of Samahan ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Sambayanan (Agham, a group of scientists and technologists), questioned the intentions of the MMEIRS study. She said that some companies might be part of the buildup on the issue of earthquake to increase their profit.

“They’re riding very much on the 200 [year] due [of the West Valley Fault], wala namang (there’s no) scientific verification on the ground as of the moment,” said Concepcion.

“Companies can exploit the study to maximize their profit and minimize their own risk,” she said. Concepcion said that insurance is not offered in places where earthquake is prominent, like in nearby areas of San Andreas Fault in California, USA.

But she also challenged companies to offer insurance on flooding - a disaster almost normal to many parts of the country - if they really want to help the people. She challenged the Arroyo administration to address the issue without making the people spend any amount for it.

Just as Concepcion was questioning the motives behind the studies, a report came out in a news daily (Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 19, 2004) about an earthquake insurance pool. In an article, Reynaldo A. de Dios, who claims to be a risk and insurance management consultant, proposed an earthquake insurance pool, which he calls “a risk sharing organized framework where the government, the private insurers and the global reinsurers work in partnership to mitigate losses to the general public attributable to earthquakes. It may also be considered as a risk-transfer mechanism to build up resources over time which should be subject to favorable tax treatment through legislative action.”

De Dios said that the Philippines being “the fourth most disaster-prone place in the world… faces high exposure and vulnerability to natural perils.” Since the NDCC does not have the funds to rebuild damaged infrastructures and property “steps should be taken to set into motion the setting up of a proposed earthquake insurance pool which through government support, in partnership with the private insurance sector and management by competent professionals, will enable the country to build up its resources to mitigate the disastrous effects of an unpredictable major earthquake” for an effective national disaster risk program for the Philippines, he also said.

Past earthquakes

Composed of 13 cities and four municipalities, Metro Manila is in Luzon island, where many earthquake faults, such as the Marikina Valley Fault, Philippine Fault, Lubang Fault, Manila Trench, and Casiguran Fault, lie in a north-south direction.

An earthquake that registered 7.7 on the Richter scale hit Metro Manila and the rest of Central and Northern Luzon killing 1,700 people. The “killer earthquake” also injured 3,000 individuals and displaced 148,000 more in Luzon. Property and infrastructure damage was placed at $2 billion.

On Aug. 17, 1976, an earthquake caused a tsunami or tidal wave that killed about 8,000 people in Mindanao. On Aug. 2, 1968, an earthquake caused the collapse of Ruby Tower buildings, leaving hundreds of people trapped underneath the rubble.

As part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” the Philippines is one of the most seismically active regions in East Asia. The archipelago is situated in the collision zone of the Eurasian Plate subducting in the west and the Philippine Sea Plate subducting in the east.

The oblique convergence of the Eurasian and Philippine Sea plates leads to the development of the Philippine Fault System and other smaller shallow crustal faults. The Philippine Fault System is a major strike-slip fault structure that traverses the entire length of the archipelago and has produced several of the most destructive earthquakes in recorded history.

The Philippines registers around 1,700 earthquakes a year, but only around 16 are strong enough to be felt. Bulatlat

First Part: ‘Big One’ Is Possible But Metro Is Unprepared

Related article: The Most Disaster-prone Country

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