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More on Metro Manila’s Earthquake (Un)Preparedness

(Article published in the Apr 6,2011 issue of Manila Standard Today)  

My piece published the week of March 23 precipitated a comment from one of our readers.  I was taken to task for my statement that UNDRO study I spoke of was “not given the attention it deserved” and “was simply ignored.”

As is my usual practice, I herein publish the reader’s comments in full, without any deletions and alterations, and exactly as I received them, except for the usual courtesy portions of salutation and valedictory.  Here‘s the reader’s reaction:

“Your article on Metro Manila's vulnerability to "The Big One" was very interesting, especially your reference to the UNDRO study of 1976-77 which I am very familiar with because my office then served as the local counterpart to the French consultants, Messrs. Michel Couillaud and Jacques Didon, in undertaking the study. 

That study was conducted under the auspices of the then Human Settlements Commission (HCS) which requested UNDRO for technical assistance to look into Metro Manila's vulnerability to earthquakes and other calamities such as flooding and landslides. My office then, the Metro Manila Development Planning Program of the HSC, provided the support to the two consultants in terms of data collection, mapping, report preparation, etc. At that time, my office was serving as the then Metro Manila Commission's (MMC, now MMDA) planning office under the direction of Dr. Jose Conrado (Jolly) Benitez who was Executive Director of HSC and concurrently as MMC Action Officer for Planning.


Contrary to what you mentioned in your article that the study was not given the attention it deserved, it was in fact used as a major input in the subsequent updating and improvement of the Metro Manila development plan which I personally supervised. The UNDRO study was particularly helpful in the formulation of Metro Manila's first ever land use plan and zoning ordinance of 1979 when I was appointed Commissioner for Planning of MMC. However, the study's composite vulnerability analysis map, which was produced manually, was too generalized to be effective as a development management tool because it subdivided the territory of Metro Manila into one square kilometer grids with each grid classified according to degree of disaster vulnerability. After all, it was produced in just three months! It needed to be fine-tuned further, and our recommendation then was to detail it to 500 square meter grids. We also recommended that Metro Manila adopt its own building code to take the metropolis' specific circumstances relative to disaster vulnerability, instead of simply using the national building code which is too generic.

But you are correct in saying that many studies are not given the attention they deserve. One that comes to mind is the 1984 study titled "Marikina Valley Action Plan" which was prepared under my supervision with funding support from the Australian government. This study specifically focused on the problems in Marikina Valley particularly those associated with urban development, drainage and flooding. Among its recommendations were the development of a drainage and flood control system for the Valley before construction of new roads, and more stringent development controls in the identified flood-prone areas as well as along the alignment of the Marikina West Vally Vault. As the massive flooding brought about by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng has vividly demonstrated, these measures were not mplemented.

I have a copy of this action plan should you be interested in reviewing it. I also have copies of other plans which were not implemented, such as the 1985 proposed land use plan for the Infanta-Real area in Quezon which, had it been implemented, would have avoided the widespread devastation and loss of lives a few years back when heavy rains caused a major landslide. 

While I am no longer with government, I continue to practice as an urban environmental planner. Perhaps we should meet one of these days to exchange views matters of mutual interest. There really is an urgent need to address the issues of vulnerability to disasters especially in the face of climate change.”

The sender of the e-mail response is Nathaniel von Einsiedel.  I stand corrected on my hyperbolic statements of government inaction. Still, what remains to be done, I submit, is for all to understand and to take measures against the certain damage that would be suffered if and, or more precisely, when the Big One occurs which could be sooner rather than later. 

An attempt to address the expected damage, among others, was made in 2004 with the Japan International Cooperation Agency as implementing agency and the MMDA and PHILVOCS as the counterpart agencies.  The Final Report of the Earthquake Impact Reduction Study for Metropolitan Manila…that was done in 1964 lays out in stark detail what could happen under the worst scenario model:

“…170,000 residential homes will collapse; 340,000 residential homes will be partly damaged; 34,000 persons will die, and 114 persons will be insured.  Fire, will breakout to burn approximately 1,710 homes hectares and totally 18,000 additional persons will be killed by this secondary desease,..and lifelines will be heavily damaged.”

That is a clear call, if not to repentance, to constructive action from our leaders.