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08:51 PM June 25th, 2013

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By: Neal H. Cruz, June 25th, 2013 08:51 PM

Now that the typhoon season is here, how safe are we from floods, landslides and storm surges? And from earthquakes, which are unpredictable?

Director Edgardo J. Ollet of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) was at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday to tell us how to be safe. With him were two new partylist representatives, former ambassador Roy Señeres of OFW and Terry Ridon of Kabataan, who talked about their advocacies and what legislation they will file in the House after they assume office on July 1.

Ollet said that obviously, those living in low-lying areas, especially rivers, creeks, esteros and other waterways, are in danger of being swept away by floods, and those living at the foot of hills and mountains and on the sides of cliffs and steep embankments are at risk of being buried by landslides. Also, those living along the seashore are in danger of being swamped by big waves during typhoons or by tsunamis. He advised them to move to safe places and not wait for the heavy rains and for the waters to start rising.

Those living at the foot and sides of hills, cliffs and mountains are in danger even without rain. An earthquake can trigger a landslide even on a beautiful sunny day. And even without an earthquake, the force of gravity can pull big rocks, soil and even whole hillsides to collapse on the villages below. This has happened many times, resulting in the death of scores of people, some of whom were never recovered from under the debris. This can happen at any time of the day or night, when the residents least expect it.

Don’t wait for that to happen, Ollet advised. Relocate now.

The problem is where to relocate. Land is becoming very scarce in the Philippines, what with developers snatching up every vacant space to build shopping malls and expensive condo buildings for the rich. Squatters congregate along the banks of waterways because these are the only available spaces left. And yet some legislators want to amend the Constitution to remove the ban on foreigners owning land in the Philippines. With their wealth, foreigners will end up owning the best land in the country, including agricultural land, leaving nothing to poor Filipinos who can’t afford them.

What about the high-rise condo buildings mushrooming all over the urban areas? Are they safe from strong earthquakes? Ollet was asked.

“If the engineers and builders followed the building code, they should be safe,” he said.

A number of buildings in Metro Manila, Baguio, and Dagupan have collapsed due to earthquakes, starting with the Ruby Tower in Binondo and the Hyatt Terraces Hotel in Baguio. How sure are we that the same thing will not happen again?

The Ruby Tower was constructed before the new building code was made, Ollet explained. In fact, the new building code was made as an aftermath of the Ruby Tower collapse. The Hyatt hotel followed the new building code but the engineers forgot the perils of the foundation in Baguio, Ollet added.

Recently, a building in Binondo tilted and collapsed on a neighboring building. Did it not follow the new building code? Ollet was asked.

He said that the collapse occurred because of the weakening of the foundation, which was in turn caused by the construction of another building nearby.

What about those tall buildings and houses near the Marikina Fault line—are they safe?

“If they followed the new building code, yes,” replied Ollet. “Actually, the tall buildings are safer than the two- and three-story houses. The builders of the tall buildings have to strictly follow the building code because of the obvious risks. On the other hand, the contractors of the two- and three-story houses don’t pay attention to the building code in order to cut costs. In case of a strong earthquake, the low-slung houses will suffer more damage than the high-rise condos.”

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Señeres was asked about the sex-for-flight scandal in which runaway Filipino domestics seeking shelter at the Philippine embassies in Middle Eastern countries were sold for sex by embassy officials in exchange for plane tickets home. An official of Migrante, the association of OFWs, told another press forum that runaways had been offered as “prizes” in raffles conducted by embassy officials. Tickets were sold to Filipino and local men. The winner pays for the runaway’s plane ticket but he gets to spend the night with the exploited Filipino domestic.

Himself a former ambassador and labor attaché in several Middle Eastern countries, Señeres said the envoys in the embassies where the sex-for-flight scandal happened should be prosecuted and imprisoned. “They were very negligent in not knowing and stopping the crimes that were being committed right in their backyards,” he said.

Ridon was asked what legislation he would file to help his constituents, the youth. He said he would focus on better education and more jobs for the youth, which is a motherhood statement.

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