Are we prepared for the Big One?

Things always happen for a reason. In the wake of the devastation wrought by the 6.7-magnitude earthquake that hit Surigao on Feb. 10, seismologists reminded the public that Metro Manila is in for the “Big One” soon.

The West Valley Fault caused a major earthquake way back 1658 or 357 years ago. Since that particular fault is supposed to move roughly every 400 years, Manila and nearby provinces should prepare for a 7.2-magnitude earthquake.

The response to the Surigao earthquake demonstrates how aware people are about earthquake disaster preparedness and management.

Fortunately, it seems to be swift if not adequate. Government agencies have distributed emergency housing materials such as tarpaulins and rope, which residents used to pitch tents near their house, family food packs and ready-to-eat meals.

As of presstime, water supply was still a problem.

The 100-km West Valley Fault runs through Bulacan, Quezon City, Marikina, Makati and Muntinlupa all the way to parts of Laguna and Cavite. The extent of devastation it could cause is unimaginable.

A 2004 study funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency for the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority showed that the magnitude 7.2 quake could kill up to 34,000 people and injure 100,000 others due to collapsed buildings.

Our scientists have been repeating these warnings and calls for preparedness. We have earthquake drills everywhere, but how adequate will our disaster management be in the event JICA’s scenario happens? The Surigao earthquake provides government an excellent chance to assess the measures being taken and those that were not. We just hope the valuable lessons to be learned will not just be on paper.

The JICA study also recommended the training of first responders from the community itself. The community is divided into clusters beforehand, each cluster having its own leader. Then 10 clusters form a district, and 10 districts form a bigger entity. This way, experts say, even if communication breaks down, or if power is off, self-help among these clusters would make a difference.

I personally wonder if the recommendations were ever implemented. I hope this and other suggestions and plans are now in place and we are ready should, God forbid, a mammoth disaster strikes.

This should not happen

The Department of Justice has filed charges against opposition senator and former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for her supposed involvement in the New Bilibid Prison drug trade.

This came on the heels of De Lima’s accusation that Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II had been coddling drug lords, giving them special treatment in their detention after they testified against De Lima in a congressional hearing last year.

Aguirre has ordered Bureau of Corrections chief Benjamin de los Santos to investigate the leak of confidential document on the alleged special privileges granted to high-profile inmates of the Bilibid Prison temporarily held at the detention facility of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The leaked memorandum dated Dec. 9, 2016 signed by BuCor Legal Office Chief Alvin Herrera Lim for De Los Santos was about a Dec. 2, 2016 meeting between the BuCor, AFP and the Philippine National Police.

The document showed that the military had inquired about who gave special privileges to the inmates, to which a prison guard was quoted as saying that it was Aguirre.

Instead of addressing the issue of special privileges, Aguirre and company are shooting the messenger. Aguirre earlier denied reports that he gave special privileges to inmates in exchange for their testifying against De Lima. He claimed that the document was leaked to the media to block his confirmation as justice secretary by the Commission on Appointments.

It is really sad that those in power use their government position for personal vendetta. De Lima has denied all accusations against her. If she is guilty of misdemeanor, it is principally her negligence in looking at the illegal drug trade inside the national penitentiary more assiduously, swiftly and much earlier than when she finally acted.

The tentacles of the drug trade there had grown to uncontrollable proportion when she raided the special detention cells of the drug lords. It was her raids that led to public knowledge of how really special the so-called special treatment given to them was.

But for her effort, the drug syndicates reportedly have pooled a big fund to pull her down. Now, the threat of her arrest seems imminent. We just don’t know where our criminal justice system is heading; it’s been going down the drain for a long time but, apparently, it can still go lower.

Women leaders from the #EveryWoman Movement have expressed their support for De Lima by wearing plastic handcuffs and offering her flowers. Among them are her fellow officials from the Aquino Cabinet, Dinky Soliman and Ging Deles, as well as former Commission on Filipinos Overseas chair Imelda Nicolas and Civil Service Commission chair Karina David.

“We are women standing by Senator De Lima and calling on all fair-minded Filipinos to uphold the truth and justice and dignity of women. Let us not allow the manipulation of systems that should have been dispensed fairly. No to the arrest of Senator Leila de Lima,” David said.

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