March 20, 2023
MANILA – The 7.8-magnitude earthquake that occurred Feb. 6 this year, in the boundary between Turkey and Syria, should be an eye-opener for us on what we need to do in our current situation. As of March 1, the death toll from the quake has surpassed 50,000, with thousands of buildings and houses leveled to the ground. Researchers predict that another strong quake within the next 70 years is likely to strike Istanbul, which is close to the unstable Northern Anatolian Fault. Istanbul is Turkey’s main financial center and its largest city with a population of 16 million.
In the Philippines, we have an even worse apocalyptic scenario, with the West Valley Fault predicted to move anytime and cause death and destruction all over Metro Manila. According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, the fault moves every 200 to 400 years, and the last time it did was in 1658 or 365 years ago. The areas that will feel the strongest ground shaking are those near the fault line in the eastern part of Metro Manila, but also those in its western part whose foundation of weak sediments can even amplify ground shaking.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the earthquake would cause an ominous scenario with the country’s political and economic functions at a standstill, while government and business buildings and houses crumble, and Metro Manila breaks up into four regions.
A major contributory factor that makes Metro Manila particularly vulnerable is the utter disregard for rules on building and construction, a National Building Code that needs updating, the unreliable infrastructure system, and the tolerance for informal settlements in hazardous areas. The predicted bleak scenario brings to mind the need for the country to plan and effect posthaste the transfer of its political and economic hub to a geologically and environmentally safe area.
In 2016, then Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Benitez introduced the Administrative Capital City Planning Act that proposed to relocate the country’s administrative capital and national government agencies outside Metro Manila. The rationale for the relocation move included the Metro’s “overpopulation, traffic congestion, and high vulnerability to natural disasters.” Benitez also cited the following examples of national capital transfers: Malaysia’s congested Kuala Lumpur 25 kilometers south to Putrajaya; Brazil’s coastal Rio de Janeiro to centrally located Brasilia, and South Korea’s Seoul near the North Korean border to Sejong in the west-central Hoseo region.
In 2019, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian also proposed the transfer of the seat of national government by 2030 to the New Clark City in Tarlac, again with the Metro’s congestion as rationale. I can cite other possible locations in the country such as the Real-Infanta-General Nakar area in Quezon province, though it is also located on the Philippine Fault. Centrally located Iloilo City can be another possibility, but it is too far for the easy transfer of facilities from Metro Manila. Tarlac’s New Clark City is good as it is surrounded by flat towns that can easily accommodate establishments to be transferred from Metro Manila. Furthermore, these areas are not traversed by fault lines and are not exposed to the rise in sea level at Manila Bay and to tsunamis from the Manila Trench. For more economic operability, the proposed capital can also be connected south to the nearby Subic Bay port and economic zone by a high-speed train aside from the current connecting highway.
We need to be proactive and not reactive, especially to the “Big One,” lest we suffer the current woes of Turkey and Syria.
Meliton B. Juanico is a retired professor of geography at the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, UP Diliman, and is a practicing licensed environmental planner.