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


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‘The Most Disaster-prone Country’

The Philippines, being in the so-called Circum-Pacific belt of fire and typhoon, is constantly subjected to disasters and calamities. In fact, the government has even declared the month of July as the national disaster consciousness month.


In 2000, a Brussels-based research center declared Philippines as “the most disaster-prone country on earth.” It cited typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, garbage landslides and military actions against Muslim rebels as bases.

Disasters are classified into two: natural and manmade. Natural calamities¾tropical cyclones, floods, droughts, storm surges (tidal waves), tornadoes, landslides, tsunamis, volcanic hazards and earthquakes¾are physical forces that my cause disaster when they occur in populated areas. On the other hand, manmade disasters include natural resource degradation, pollution, displacement due to militarization, development aggression and nuclear radiation.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) is the country’s disaster management. It is under the Office of Civil Defense which serves as the highest policy-making body for disasters in the country and includes almost all department secretaries as its members. On the other hand, the disaster coordinating councils (DCCs) from the regional, provincial, city and municipal level are composed of representatives of national government agencies operating at these levels and local officials concerned.

Meanwhile, there were two major disaster events when the Philippine government issued an appeal for international assistance: the July 16, 1990 earthquake with a 7.8 magnitude and the Mt. Pinatubo volcanic eruption in June 1991 dubbed as the worst volcanic eruption of the century.


The Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) estimates that the Philippines experiences about four to five earthquakes daily of varying intensities. This is mainly because the country is situated along two major tectonic plates--the Pacific Plates and the Eurasian Plates.

Earthquakes can be classified as tectonic or volcanic. Tectonic earthquakes are caused by the sudden displacements along fault fissures in the lithosphere, the outermost core of the earth. Volcanic earthquakes, on the other hand, are triggered by the fracturing of rocks and by the rise of molten rocks from the earth’s inner core. Of the 220 volcanoes in the country, 22 are potentially active.

Earthquake results from the sudden shifting of the earth’s crust below or at the surface, causing ground vibrations. If these earthquakes are sufficient in magnitude, these result in the collapse of buildings, destruction of properties and death of people.

The magnitude of an earthquake depends on the amount of energy released during the earthquake; the intensity is based on the damaged felt in an area and thus varies from place to place. The Richter scale is often used to measure the energy released by the quake. The Phivolcs uses ten levels to measure the strength of an earthquake. Intensity I refers to “scarcely perceptible” quakes, the weakest, while intensity X refers to the “completely devastating” earthquake, the strongest.

According to the Phivolcs website, the country has experienced 12 destructive earthquakes from 1968-2003.

The most destructive earthquake experienced in the country occurred on July 16, 1990. It was triggered by strike-slip movements along the northwest segment of the Philippine Fault Zone, the largest fault, and its splay, the Digdig Fault. The earthquake epicenter was placed at 15º 42' N and 121º 7' E near the town of Rizal, Nueva Ecija. It affected 23 provinces in six regions of Luzon.

With 7.8 magnitude, the quake resulted in 1,620 deaths, 3,500 injuries, about 148,000 homeless, and left three (3) cities in Luzon ¾ Cabanatuan, Dagupan and Baguio Cities ¾ devastated at about P12.2. billion estimated damages.

Being so far unequaled in deaths, property damage and psychological shock, the July 16, 1990 earthquake was listed among the major earthquakes worldwide. Bulatlat

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

Part II: Disaster Execs Admit They Can’t Handle Big Quake

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