Is the Philippines prepared for another major disaster?


Bulatlat perspective

The country has not yet fully recovered from the impact of super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), which hit the country two and a half years ago, and yet disasters seem to be looming in the horizon.

Nepal was hit by another strong earthquake, May 12, with a magnitude of 7.3. The earthquake this week is a mere two weeks after a 7.8 strong earthquake killed more than 8,000 people in Nepal.

Also another strong earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck off the northeastern coast of Japan today, May 13. More than four years ago, in March 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the Pacific coast of T?hoku, which triggered a tsunami. The most powerful recorded earthquake to hit Japan claimed the lives of 15,891 people, with 2,584 missing.

The question is: Is the Philippines prepared if a strong earthquake strikes the country?

Almost two years ago, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Bohol Island in Central Visayas. It killed 222 people and damaged 73,000 structures, including the island’s old churches.

Before that, the last time an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude hit the country was in 1990. The epicenter then was in Nueva Ecija province in Central Luzon but the damage it caused stretched all the way to Baguio City in northern Luzon. Baguio City was the most damaged and it was isolated from the rest of the country for 48 hours. The quake killed 1,621 people.

This writer was in Baguio City at that time. People panicked after every aftershock. And there was a pervasive atmosphere of fear, loss, desperation, and death. It was like a nightmare the first two days after the quake struck.

What if the earthquake strikes in more populated areas such as Metro Manila? published an article in 2004 based on the Metropolitan Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study, a Japan-funded study that was initiated in August 2002.

The report revealed that “active phases of the (West) Valley Faults (formerly the Marikina Valley Faults) are approaching and that the estimated magnitude will be around 7 or more. But MMEIRS also raised the possibility that it could reach from intensity 7 to even 9, which could be ‘devastating.’”

The devastation it would cause is enormous: “up to 35,000 residents of Metro Manila would die and up to three million others would need to be evacuated. In addition, some 175,000 buildings would be damaged.”

Dr. Norman Tungol, who was then with the Phivolcs’ Geology, Geophysics, Research and Development Division (GGRDD), estimated the Fault’s movement of recurrence at 200-400 years and is therefore, due to move anytime.

The study was done more than a decade ago. But this does not make the findings less likely. Dr. Tungol estimated then that based on the margin of error, the movement “could be within the next few years, (or) few tens of years.”

Worse, there has been no development in the country’s preparedness, especially in dealing with earthquakes.

The “Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010” was passed with its lofty objectives and the former National Disaster Coordinating Council was changed to the National Disaster Risk Reduction Council. And yet, the government has not fully embraced the whole concept of disaster risk reduction and management.

Its disaster preparedness and risk reduction program has been limited to the installation of early warning systems, purchase of lifeboats by local government units and a stricter implementation of evacuation orders. There are no disaster preparedness trainings, no mitigation and adaptation measures in place.

What has mitigated the impact of disasters is that, after Typhoons Ondoy and Yolanda, Filipinos have learned lessons the hard way. Most voluntarily evacuate during typhoons and some even before the storm hits.

But while the installation of early warning systems and evacuation orders have somehow lessened the casualties, these are only useful for typhoons and volcanic eruptions.

These would not save lives when a powerful earthquake hits the country because it strikes without warning. The enforcement of building and construction regulations, the conduct of disaster preparedness trainings, formulation of plans and mitigation and adaptation measures down to the grassroots level would help the country prepare for a powerful earthquake.

The problem is building and construction regulations are negated by corruption while the conduct of disaster preparedness trainings and formulation of plans have suffered substantial budget cuts. The institution of mitigation and adaptation measures are nowhere in the government’s priorities.

Sadly, it took the torrential rains of Ondoy and the massive destruction brought about by Typhoon Haiyan before the government made disaster risk reduction and management a part of its agenda.

Will it take a powerful earthquake to shake the government from its complacency? It is no secret that the country is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, aside from sitting astride the typhoon belt. (

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