Why PH still isn't ready for the Big One

Posted at 07/18/14 9:08 PM

Gov't gets low mark for earthquake preparedness

MANILA - Building 3 of the Katuparan Village in Vitas, Tondo saw two deaths the past year. In both cases, the men accidentally plunged from balconies when the railings dislodged due to years of neglect.

It's a grim reminder of how dangerous Building 3 and eleven other buildings in the complex have become.

The complex, built during the administration of former President Corazon Aquino, is densely populated. It's now filthy, decrepit, and smells of sweat and human excrement.

Children play on staircases that threaten to collapse, among protruding metal objects and chunks of plaster that easily crumble.

It's no place for children. But it's no place for grown-ups either.

In April 2010, a month before general elections were to be held, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) recommended the National Housing Authority rehabilitate 12 buildings in the complex. No repairs were ever made.


In 2014, the Manila City Engineer's Office finally declared the buildings condemned. But the residents appealed the decision.

They refuse to leave because they have nowhere to go. "Tuwing gabi, nag-iisip kami sa kaligtasan namin, pero wala kami talagang magawa," laments Lilia Bucacao, a long-time resident of Katuparan Village.

"Gustuhin man naming lumipat, saan naman kami titira?"

Chona Rubio, another resident of Katuparan, has spent the last few months trying to collect P8,000 from neighbors in order to fund the repair of the most dilapidated staircase in her building, to no avail.

"Yung mga hagdanan, kung lumindol, paano kami makakababa kung yung hagdan mismo ang unang bumigay?"

That thousands continue to live in Katuparan is perhaps one glaring reminder that more needs to be done to prepare for earthquakes in Manila.


Phivolcs, in partnership with Geosciences Australia under the Risk Analysis Project (RAP), estimates 5,449 people could die and 21,620 could be seriously injured in Manila if a 7.2 Magnitude tremor occurs from the West Valley fault.

Manila will have the second highest casualty count in NCR next to Quezon City. "The number of people that will die is dependent on the number of buildings that will collapse,"says Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) Director Renato Solidum.

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Francis Tolentino, who's in charge of earthquake emergency response program, Oplan Yakal, gives government a score of 5 on a scale of one to ten.

He concedes more needs to be done to rehabilitate buildings, or evacuate people to safer areas, as is the case with Katuparan.

"Baka sa mga ganung aspeto, kulang. But the fact that it's been identified, yun ang first step," Tolentino says.


Tolentino says government needs more emergency and rescue equipment, a national land use plan, and an amended National Building Code.

He is pushing for more night-time earthquake drills, as well as metro-wide drills. He says Metro Manila emergency responders must also train with Regions 3, 4 and 5 as the National Capital Region willl depend on them for help should a severe calamity strike.

But Tolentino says, government is better prepared for an earthquake today than it was 10 years ago. "We have more equipment, we've trained more personnel. The level of awareness is higher for the general populace, and there is an ongoing process of engineering intervention. Retrofitting has been initiated and partially completed by DPWH in some government structures. We did an earthquake census. We've involved the private sector, especially the mall operators, to raise awareness and espouse drills in establishments. "

In 2011 the DPWH conducted building inspections across Metro Manila as part of efforts to prepare for earthquakes, and found 18 buildings that need urgent detailed inspection. A total of 240 other structures, including school buildings, needed repairs or rehabilitation.

The findings were forwarded to relevant agencies. But three years down the line, it's unclear if appropriate action has been taken as DPWH has not conducted follow-up inspections. The Department of Education, for one, could not produce a status report after one week of follow-ups from ABS-CBN.

While government preparedness is wanting, Solidum gives the public a stern warning. "When it comes to disasters, it's not just government's responsibility. It's everyone's responsibility. If you're the house owner and there's a disaster, who will be killed? You and your family. They should be taking care of themselves."