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Earthquake!

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But we are already talking about it — what we all can do for the environment. At the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), April 22, the day after Easter Sunday, was a whole-day focus on Mother Nature, in communion with the celebration of World Earth Day.

Fr. Benigno “Ben” Beltran, SVD, lead convenor of the Philippine Sustainability Challenge, asked the Earth Day celebrators, mostly delegate-students of various colleges and universities, teachers, and government environment officers, to be more proactive, and plant trees to clean the air, enrich the soil, and keep the earth together to contain the water that will sustain and nourish agriculture — ultimately for our food supply. Why don’t we start simply? Let us plant bamboo.

Target: one billion bamboo culms by 2030 in the Philippines for one million agricultural and forest lands for earth-friendly enterprises, and one million out of school youth trained in alternative mobile-learning systems for livelihood based on 4th Industrial Revolution ideas! Earl Forlales, Forbes “40 under 40” entrepreneur winner for 2019 presented his do-it-yourself bamboo house for mass housing. Sr. Merceditas Ang (SPUP Programs on the UN SDGs) and President of St. Paul University, who now also heads the UN World Council on Curriculum and Instruction (Phils), stressed the inculcation of environment consciousness and values in our Youth.

Are we not conscious enough of our environment?

At 5:11 P.M., the Fuller Room on the third floor of the AIM started shaking. Earthquake! It was an individual experience, simultaneously felt in group, of one being held by the shoulders and violently shaken sideways, so tight was the angry grip of that invisible force of Nature. It was magnitude 6.1, coming from a depth of 10 kilometers at epicenter 18 kilometers east of Castillejos, Zambales, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (phivolcs.dost.gov April 23, 2019). “We are looking at two fault systems, the Iba and East Zambales fault (UNTV News April 23, 2019). Phivolcs also believes that the quake did not trigger a movement of the West Valley Fault as “it is 100 kilometers away” (Ibid.).

But the strong push and pulls were felt to 100 kilometers away, along the broad curve of the 146-kilometer West Valley Fault, which starts from Bulacan in the north and runs through the provinces of Rizal, the Metro Manila cities of Quezon, Marikina, Pasig, Makati, Taguig and Muntinlupa, and the provinces of Cavite and Laguna, ending that in Canlubang in the south. There are 99 private villages and subdivisions inside 80 barangays traversed directly by the fault and endangering 6,331 buildings in a span of 2,964.10 square kilometers (1,144.45 sq mi), where majority are houses with 19 schools included (Malicdem, Ervin: Barangays and Villages Traversed by the Valley Fault System, Aug. 16, 2017).

The Easter Monday earthquake was also felt strongly in parts of Bataan, Tarlac City, Batangas and Cavite. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported 16 fatalities in the quake: five people killed in the collapse of a four-story supermarket in Porac, seven in different barangays in Porac, two in Lubao and one in Angeles. Phivolcs explained that aside from being a neighbor of Zambales, Pampanga sits on soft sediment and alluvial soil “made up of or found in the materials that are left by the water of rivers, floods among others, (making it) prone to strong shaking during an earthquake (UNTV News April 23, 2019).

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But we have known from the beginning that the soil in our 7,101 islands is soft, except for the natural rock formations in mountains and hilly areas. In particular, Metro Manila or the National Capital Region of the Philippines (16 cities and 1 municipality = 597.47 km2) “used to be a submerged area at one time in the geologic past. Intermittent volcanic activities followed after which, volcanic materials were deposited. Thus, alternating beds and transported sediments became a characteristic feature of the geologic deposit” (Jonathan R. Dungca et. al: Soil bearing capacity reference for Metro Manila, Philippines. De la Salle University College of Engineering, No. 30. 2016). The surface geology of the western and eastern area is composed mostly of quarterly alluvium, a loose type of soil…not capable of carrying heavy loads…using shallow foundations for high rise buildings and other large structures should be avoided or a deep foundation is recommended (Ibid.)

The same study declared “cities with rock formations beneath the surface, such as Quezon City, North Caloocan, and Muntinlupa, have soils with high(er) bearing capacities that are suited for shallow foundations…Nevertheless, caution must be taken when placing structures in these areas, as the Valley Fault System is nearby, making the area prone to earthquakes” (Ibid.).

If we truly tried to understand and respect our natural environment, how did it happen that there are “more than 3,000 structures built along the West Valley Fault” identified by the Philvolcs itself: 1,630 residential structures; 1,392 mixed residential and commercial structures; 58 commercial structures; 52 industrial structures; 24 cultural structures; seven infrastructure and utilities structures; and six recreational structures are exposed to ground rupture in a major earthquake (msn.com April 25, 2019). Based on a 2004 study by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), more than 30,000 people could die while over 100,000 others could get hurt when a possible major earthquake dubbed the “Big One” strikes (Ibid.). Arturo Daag, PHIVOLCS’ Chief Science Research Specialist, said the 15-year old study must be upgraded for population increase and “building intensity” (Ibid.).

And there are those cities and provinces not on the fault, but are nevertheless vulnerable to earthquakes because of the nature and level of its geological stratification (and its soil, how many feet below sea level, etc.) and the unpredictability of violent aftershocks and the fatal empirical experience of tsunamis, fissures and “black holes” experienced around the world in recent decades. Remember that the Philippines lies along the Pacific Ring of Fire, which causes the country to have frequent seismic and volcanic activity. Many earthquakes of smaller magnitude occur very regularly due to the meeting of major tectonic plates in the region. This is particularly frightening in the building boom in Metro Manila. As of Jan. 2018, there are 74 high-rise buildings (at least 150 meters [492 ft] tall) and still more than 40 buildings planned to be completed by the end of 2020 (The Skyscraper Center April 24, 2018).

Makati City, by its 2011 report says: “Makati lies within a tectonically active region in the Philippines known as the Philippine Mobile Belt, and has experienced numerous destructive earthquakes in its recorded history. There are six (6) known tectonic earthquake generators affecting the area, namely (MGB, 2003 and Daligdig and Besana, 1993): (1) the Valley Fault System, (2) the Philippine Fault Zone, (3) the Lubang Fault, (4) the Casiguran Fault, (5) the Philippine Trench, and the (6) Manila Trench. The nearest active fault within the City is the West Valley Fault” How has Makati planned to mitigate its vulnerable position and situation against natural calamities like fearsome earthquakes? Makati admits it has 0.01 open space left, and skyscrapers have stomped down the old low-rise structures more adaptable to Makati’s soft and often-flooded soil. Note that the newly opened project, the Makati subway will run from Ayala Avenue, Ospital ng Makati, Circuit Mall, City Hall and Pembo, circling the country’s financial capital. Surely this must have been evaluated vis-à-vis Makati’s geological vulnerabilities.

At the Earth day conference at the AIM, frightened environmentalists scampered to the doubtful safety of the small open space in front of Greenbelt 1 (formerly a park and aviary less than two decades ago). Mother Nature must really be angry.

 

Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.

ahcylagan@yahoo.com

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