The 7.6-magnitude earthquake of Aug. 31 occurred 139 kilometers east of Samar Island but triggered high anxiety among Filipinos nationwide. It inflicted relatively minor damage considering its strength but left almost everyone fretting: What if it had struck closer to land? In the metropolis, the question was: What if it had happened in the heart of Metro Manila?
In 2004, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority presented the Metropolitan Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study which warned that if a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit the metropolis, the results would be catastrophic. “As the worst case, 170,000 residential houses will collapse, 340,000 residential houses will be damaged, 34,000 people will die, 114,000 others will be injured,” the study said. “The human loss, together with properties and economy losses of Metro Manila, will be a national crisis.”
According to the study, the earthquake will most likely be caused by the Marikina Valley Fault System, also known as the East Valley Fault and the West Valley Fault: “The active phases of the Valley Faults are approaching, and many research studies indicate that the estimated magnitude will be seven or more.”
Predictably, the potentially calamitous Aug. 31 earthquake triggered questions involving the Philippines’ preparedness for the Big One, or a disaster of similar proportions. The 7.6-magnitude earthquake was the strongest of a series of temblors that have recently been felt. On top of that, the country is still in the throes of the storm season, with the rest of the approximately 20 typhoons that hit every year still to come.
After the deep and unprecedented damage and loss of life caused by Tropical Storms “Ondoy” in September 2009 and “Sendong” in December 2011, both the government and the private sector were sufficiently moved to put in place remedies and contingency measures for similar disasters. But considering the thrashing that parts of Luzon took last month in the form of the southwest monsoon, exactly how ready are we?
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, which oversees the government’s efforts in preparing for natural catastrophes, is the key player. Executive Director Benito Ramos has said that should Metro Manila be hit by a strong earthquake, the MMDA and local government units would be ready for the worst-case scenario, when “we are all victims, and even the responders are also victims.” Rescue units will come from nearby provinces and as far away as Cebu to provide aid, he said.
Throughout the country, steps are being taken. The late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo had, after all, made it a personal crusade to ensure that LGUs improved their disaster risk reduction and mitigation capabilities (by way of incentive, he announced the awarding of a “Seal of Disaster Preparedness” for the qualified LGUs). “The important thing here is reducing casualties to zero,” Robredo had said. Results were marked as early as the first half of the year, with 8,504 LGUs putting up working disaster management councils and 1,539 employing alarm systems and command centers.
Last month, the House of Representatives sought the swift passage of bills intended to produce better institutional responses during calamities. Among the more than 10 measures awaiting passage is one ensuring efficient funding for emergency and rescue efforts and another banning the construction of habitable structures in landslide-prone areas.
Indeed, private and public efforts are being coordinated for disaster preparedness, indicating that we have learned from the worst lessons that Nature has provided. As the Philippines takes its place among the globally competitive countries—jumping 10 slots to rank 65th out of 144 countries, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2012-2013 Global Competitiveness Report—disaster preparedness is an essential area for improvement if we are to maintain and improve on economic and societal gains.
If the Philippines is to continue on its rise, then it must be ever vigilant against natural and manmade disaster and equip its people to avert destruction. It takes the government and the people acting together to prepare a nation. It’s time we ditched the usual attitudes that have caught us perennially flatfooted.
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