Earthquake Preparedness

August 26, 2014

Privilege Speech of Senator Loren Legarda

 on Earthquake Preparedness

26 August 2014 – Senate Session Hall


Over the weekend, earthquakes registering between 6 and 6.9 magnitude jolted central Chile, northern California and southern Peru.


The extent of the damage in Chile and Peru is not yet clear, but in California, affected communities have injured citizens and damaged structures, including historic buildings. The quake triggered at least six major fires, downed power lines, broke water mains and caused gas leaks.[1]


As we hope for the immediate recovery of the citizens and communities affected by these recent earthquakes, we must realize that we, too, are facing the risk of such a strong temblor.


In fact, we are just awaiting for a big inland earthquake of 7.2-magnitude in Metro Manila, which will be triggered by the movement of the West Valley Fault. The fault, formerly known as the Marikina Valley Fault System, is ripe for such movement. It can happen next year or the succeeding year,tomorrow, or today. No one can tell when it will occur, but the important question that must be answered is, “Are we prepared for the Big One?”


Mr. President, I have asked this question several times, here in the Senate and in various fora. It has been asked by other individuals and organizations, as well. During a BBC Debate in Geneva in 2009, this question was posed by the head of the Emergency Services Branch of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


To this day, the answer remains unclear, maybe because we are not ready.


In 2004, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) released the Metro Manila Earthquake Impact Reduction Study (MMEIRS).


The study revealed the impacts of a 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Metro Manila: an estimated 169,000 houses will be destroyed and 340,000 other houses will be damaged. About 35 percent of all public buildings, including schools and hospitals, city halls, fire and police stations, will be damaged. At least seven bridges will likely fall off. All these structural failures will result in at least 34,000 deaths and 114,000 injuries. The ensuing fires will also result in 18,000 additional fatalities. Four thousand or 86 percent of water pipelines will break. Electricity and telephone services will be interrupted. And the whole of Metro Manila will become segregated into four sectors isolated by collapsed structures, fires and damaged roads, thereby making evacuation and emergency response difficult.


The study also presented six basic goals for a “Safer Metro Manila from Earthquake Impact”, namely, (1) develop a national system resistant to earthquake impact, (2) improve Metro Manila’s urban structure resistant to earthquakes, (3) enhance effective risk management system, (4) enhance community disaster management capacity, (5) formulate reconstruction systems, and (6) promote research and technology development on earthquakes.


It also included 105 priority action plans, 40 of which were considered high priority and should have been initiated within 3-6 years from 2004.


Ten years after MMEIRS was released, how many of these priority actions have been carried out?


The report recommended the passage of a comprehensive law on disaster risk reduction and management. We have already done that with the enactment of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act. We are also currently working on the passage of a comprehensive land use plan.


But how about the actions required from local government units and other agencies of government?


Are early warning systems for disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes in place? Do we have a comprehensive emergency response plan? Do we have back-up systems of vital utilities like electricity, water supply and communication, which are considered necessities for speedy recovery and rehabilitation efforts? Are local officials down to the barangay leaders capable and equipped to implement disaster risk reduction measures to prevent and prepare for disasters?


As we examine the budget of government agencies, it might be good to ask them also how they have been implementing the recommendations under the MMEIRS.


Another important question is: Have we evaluated the structural integrity of our buildings and civil infrastructure, including the Skyway, MRT and LRT lines, and bridges? Are there measures for the retrofitting of critical infrastructure to withstand disasters?


Earthquakes do not kill people; unsafe structures do. Earthquakes turn into major disasters due to unsafe structures—poorly built buildings in inappropriate places, inadequate design and materials specification, and shortcuts in construction. Thus, inspection during the construction of both public and private infrastructure is important. We must realize that the additional expense required for making structures safe from earthquakes is worth it especially if it would save thousands of precious lives.


Mr. President, I am certain that no one would want to experience a 7.2-magnitude earthquake. We have seen what happened in Bohol when it was jolted by an earthquake of the same magnitude last year. We do not want that to happen anywhere in the Philippines, including in Metro Manila. But we cannot prevent it from happening, we can only prepare and be ready for it.


I will not be tired of demanding from concerned government agencies the establishment of necessary mechanisms to secure our communities from the devastating effects of disasters such as earthquakes, and I will continue to urge communities to take the initiative in making sure that they are well-prepared so that they will not be caught off guard when this earthquake and other natural hazards occur.


Today, I dare say that Metro Manila is not prepared. Despite the MMEIRS study and countless warnings in the past, wehave not done enough to reduce the impact of such a strong earthquake once it hits us. But with so much lives and properties at stake, I hope I am proven wrong. However, there is too much politics in this country; what the people need most from their leaders is concrete action executed right to the grassroots level, and the onus rests on elected officials like us to lead the way by being proactive.


Thank you, Mr. President.***


[1] Northern California earthquake is area’s strongest in 25 years,