Aftermath of earthquakes: Immediate focus

By Amb. Roberto R. Romulo

The recent conference on “Megacities at risk: Engineering resilience to seismic hazards” by sheer coincidence took place a few days after the magnitude 6.1 earthquake that shook Central Luzon, followed by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake with the epicenter this time in Samar. No doubt this made more topical and urgent the importance of earthquake engineering and land use to minimize the casualties.

Majority of the casualties from the temblor that hit Central Luzon were the result of the collapse of a four-story building and a few private dwellings. As in earthquakes around the world, most casualties and property damage were not from the original movement of the ground – collapsing buildings were the primary killer. This is a combination of three deadly factors – poor structural design, bad construction, and location in vulnerable areas. Porac is located on soil that is prone to liquefaction which amplifies the shaking from the original quake.

While no structure can be entirely immune to damage from earthquakes, the goal of earthquake-resistant construction is to prevent the collapse of the building while minimizing the loss of functionality even though there may be some damage. Earthquakes have affected millions of lives in the last 100 years, and despite the improvements in technology and enactment of earthquake building codes, more continue to be killed by earthquakes than by climate related hazards. The failures seem to lie in the intersection between the cost of proper design and structural engineering, risk awareness, and lax enforcement.

In the Philippines, the Building Code specifies the construction method, appropriate size and spacing of beams, posts, and steel rods so that a structure can withstand up to Intensity 8 shaking, said Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE) director Frederick Sison. According to Phivolcs executive director and DOST Undersecretary Renato Solidum, “with Intensity 6, we do not expect significant damage on a building. If it followed the Building Code, it should not have collapsed. Only cracks, minor damage are expected.”

Uniform regulations and enforcement

And there lies the crux of the matter, the implementation and enforcement of regulations concerning construction and land use. Most high rise development benefit from structural engineering with earthquake and typhoons in mind. Many existing buildings, however, need to be retrofitted. The problem is exacerbated outside the Metro Manila area where even though there is a preponderance of low rise buildings, these and residential buildings, are built in violation of the original approved building permit and without the application of proper structural design.

The conference reached important conclusions which support this reality where science, policy, and practice do not work in conjunction, particularly in the Philippine context.

  • While scientific data is available to aid risk assessment, there is a need to further localize data and to reduce this to language understandable to the layman. Although information is available, sharing and reach are limited. Universities, research institutes, and professional associations are largely untapped as sources of expertise. We can also learn lessons from the expertise and experience of our neighbors in the Pacific Ring of Fire.
  • Attempts to capacitate and communicate risk, however, do not always guarantee results. Knowledge is not translated into action by community due to lack of ownership. It does not facilitate a shift in mindset. Local knowledge is not fully embedded in the decision-making process and capacity-building is limited to training. There is hardly any monitoring and evaluation of how the training is consumed and applied over time and in the local context.
  • Although enabling policies abound for earthquake engineering (RA 10121, Building Code, etc) enforcement is weak at the local and national level. Policies need to be contextualized at the local level. Policies are also duplicating and conflicting to some extent. Public and private partnerships and investments in science to those exposed and vulnerable members of society need to be highlighted and proper enforcement needs to be jointly monitored and validated.

Department of Disaster Resilience

It became apparent during the discussion that there were many national and local authorities involved, sometimes at cross purposes. It was proposed that the National Resilience Council (NRC) may act as the facilitator in linking science, policy formulation, and implementation and practice. It was recommended that the immediate next step is to convene the academic institutions, professional associations, CSOs, and the private sector as a resource pool and plot the roadmap for multi-stakeholder partnerships for community resilience.

This might do for now, but my personal view is that it urgently requires a Cabinet level authority. Ideally, this should reside in a Department of Disaster Resilience. It has almost been two years since President Duterte’s enjoined “both houses of Congress to expeditiously craft a law establishing a new authority or department that is responsive to the prevailing 21st century conditions, and empowered to best deliver an enhanced disaster resiliency and quick disaster response” during his State of the Nation Address on July 24, 2017. Both the Senate and the House have filed various bills answering the President’s clamor, but so far none has been enacted into law.

It was heartening to see the level of importance that the national government and LGUs attached to good earthquake resilience by their participation in the conference. Fifteen national government agencies participated, as did 12 LGUs. The LGUs are the vanguard of earthquake preparedness and resilience. Residents of those areas covered by the LGU participants should find comfort that their public officials are on the ball. These include: Cagayan de Oro City, Naga City, Zamboanga City, Iriga City, Iloilo City (who are all NRC partners) as well as other LGUs – Rizal Province, Quezon City, Mandaluyong City, Bulacan, Muntinlupa, Marikina City, and Taguig City. The private sector was also well represented by major developers including Araneta Group, Ayala Land, Vista Land, Meralco and Robinsons Land Corp. Representatives from CSOs, university faculty and students as well as structural engineers, urban planners and architects were in attendance. We expected 150 participants, but the final count was 200.

The conference and workshops were organized by the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation and the NRC, which is co-chaired by Mr. Hans Sy and DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. It was held with the cooperation of Phivolcs, MMDA, the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Resilience of Japan and the National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction of Chinese Taipei. Experts from Japan, the US, Chinese Taipei, Indonesia and Singapore, as well as from ADB, shared their knowledge with the participants.

A more detailed presentation of the conference and workshop outcomes will be published shortly.

Romulo, R. (2019, May 3). Aftermath of earthquakes: Immediate focus, Filipino Worldview. Retrieved from

The shock of earthquakes

By Amb. Roberto R. Romulo

It is pure coincidence that our conference on “Megacities at Risk” takes place two days after the Zambales earthquake which affected Metro Manila.  Personally, I was just as shocked as the rest of Manila. Many hotels, apartments and office buildings had evacuation procedures in place and they should be commended.  On the other hand, many were unprepared and in a state of panic.

According to official sources, Manila experienced a 4.0 earthquake magnitude.  Imagine if we are hit with a 7.2 magnitude as estimated (in 2013) by Phivolcs director and now DOST Undersecretary Rene Solidum.

The most important concern is the number of deaths as a resulted of an earthquake.  In 2010, Chile was hit by an 8.8 earthquake that result in 700 deaths. In the same year, Haiti was hit by a 7.0 magnitude that resulted in 200,000 deaths. The difference in those death tolls comes from compliance and building construction and technology.

It is fortunate that we can learn from past earthquakes and start preparing for the “Big One.” Our conference last Thursday is the beginning of such an endeavor.  It is not a one-off event. We plan to have more implementing what will be the result of the conference. On behalf of the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation and the National Resilience Council, I would like to express our gratitude for the support of the Japanese and American ambassadors as well as the all-out support of Prof. Haruo Hayashi of the NIED from Japan and Dr. Wei Sen Li of Chinese Taipei. Without them, we would not have had the presence of the distinguished scientific experts who will share their experiences with us.

Further, I would like to express our thanks to the following private corporations who are generously supporting our endeavors in resilience: Araneta Group, Ayala Land and Ayala Corp., Meralco, Vista Land, AIG Philippines, Asian Development Bank and the Government of Canada, Green Event Technology, Metro Drug and Zuellig Pharma, Starr International Philippines and Robinsons Land Corp. A special thanks to Philippine Airlines, our official airline partner who ensured the participation of the nine scientists from Chinese Taipei, Japan, Indonesia and Singapore. We will continue to focus on the challenge of earthquakes. Once again, I appeal for the generous and conscientious private sector to support our ongoing programs. All of us now understand the imperatives of being prepared for the “Big One.”  A “bahala na” attitude is unacceptable.

The columnist with Japanese Ambassador Koji Haneda, American Ambassador Sung Y. Kim and Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga, president of the National Resilience at the Megacities at Risk conference yesterday.

Romulo, R. (2019, April 26). The shock of earthquakes, Filipino Worldview. Retrieved from

Earthquake conference highlights importance of collaboration

Ambassador Roberto Romulo, Carlos P Romulo Foundation (CPRF) Chair and National Resilience Council (NRC) Convenor, delivered the welcoming remarks at the Megacities at Risk Conference. He stressed that the occurrence of a 6.1 earthquake which rocked Metro Manila and Pampanga provided the urgent food for thought on how the Filipinos should plan and prepare for the Big One.

CPRF Chair and NRC Convenor Amb. Roberto Romulo at the Megacities at Risk Conference.

NRC Co-Chair and SM Prime Executive Committee Chairman, Mr. Hans Sy, also saw the importance of the conference in starting a critical conversation among decision makers and stakeholders involved in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience building. “It was driven by the main concern for the survival of the estimated 25 million people in the socio-economic and political centers in Greater or Mega Manila, and the importance of sharing knowledge and learning from the expertise and experience of our neighbors.”

NRC Co-Chair Hans Sy addressed the audience via video message.

CPRF, in cooperation with NRC, National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Resilience of Japan, the National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction (NCDR) and the APEC Emergency Preparedness Capacity Building Center (APEC-EPCC) of Chinese Taipei organized Megacities at Risk last 25 April 2019 at the Manila Polo Club in Makati City.

CPRF Chairman Amb. Roberto Romulo and NRC President Antonia Yulo Loyzaga with Japanese Ambassador Koji Haneda (leftmost) and American Ambassador Sung Y. Kim (third from left) at the Megacities at Risk conference.

With the theme “Engineering Resilience to Seismic Hazards”, the conference focused on the seismic risk in megacities and how resilience is a goal that needs a whole-of-society effort. It highlighted the private sector’s role in achieving resilience through risk-sensitive investments and allowed participants to assess the country’s progress in addressing the priorities of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, as well as other agreements to coincide with Philippines’ commitments for the Sustainable Development Goals. It aimed to contribute to the work done by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) through the Global Science and Technology Advisory Group, the Private Sector Alliance for Resilient Societies (ARISE) and other multilateral and bilateral partnerships.

The conference featured three plenary sessions—Identifying, Understanding and Reducing Risk—with corresponding workshops. Each plenary session consisted of leading local and international disaster experts and policy makers—specifically hailing from the Philippines, Japan, United States, Chinese Taipei, Indonesia and Singapore—who shared their experiences and DRR technologies. These sessions explored the context, complexity and dynamics of hazards and risk while also tackling the capacities needed to identify exposure and vulnerability. The sessions also provided an avenue to consider organizational behaviors, cultures and local knowledge and attitudes of stakeholders and leaders towards risk. After every session, the participants were welcome to ask experts for further insights during the question and answer (Q&A) portion.

Plenary Session 1: Identifying Risk

Session Speakers—Prof. Naoshi Hirata, Mr. Yih-Min Wu, Dr. Nicolas Luco and DOST Usec. Renato Solidum—and Session Moderator, DPWH Usec. Maria Catalina Cabral, engaged in a discussion for Identifying Risk.

For Identifying Risk, experts explained how to create seismic risk profiles at city level and introduced Early Warning Systems (EWS) as effective and efficient measures to communicate risk through various channels, as applied in countries like Japan, Chinese Taipei and select areas in the United States. Speakers for this session tackled the following topics:

  • Tokyo University Earthquake Research Institute Professor Naoshi Hirata on Japanese hazard seismic and risk;
  • National Taiwan University Department of Geosciences Chairman Yih-Min Wu on the development of the earthquake early warning and real-time shake map systems using low-cost sensors;
  • US Geological Survey Research Structural Engineer Dr. Nicolas Luco on seismic hazard identification and risk reduction in the United States; and
  • Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Undersecretary for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change and Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) Officer-in-Charge Dr. Renato Solidum on earthquake scenarios for the Greater Metro Manila Area

Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Undersecretary Maria Catalina Cabral moderated the discussion for Session 1.

Plenary Session 2: Understanding Risk

NCDR Director Dr. Hongey Chen, DILG Usec. Bernardo Florece, Jr. and NRC President Antonia Yulo Loyzaga during the Q&A session on Understanding Risk.

Session 2 emphasized the importance of conducting earthquake scenario analysis to understand risk levels of lifeline systems (such as communications, water, power), therefore helping in the detection of highly vulnerable infrastructure and communities and determining coping capacities in the event of aftermaths. Speakers for Understanding Risk tackled the following topics:

  • Chiba University School of Engineering Professor Fumio Yamazaki on the Building Damage Analysis of the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake and its implication to seismic vulnerability of Tokyo Metropolis;
  • NCDR Director Dr. Hongey Chen on the intelligence-based information system used for building the common operational picture for emergency preparedness;
  • Urban/Regional Planner Dr. Arturo Corpuz on location and density trends as inputs to understanding seismic risk Metro Manila;
  • Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) International Center for Interdisciplinary and Advanced Research (ICIAR) Executive Secretary Irina Rafliana on real event lessons from the downstream of the Indonesian Tsunami Early Warning Systems;
  • Asian Development Bank (ADB) Principal Disaster Risk Management Specialist Dr. Charlotte Benson on lessons in enhanced understanding of disaster risk; and
  • Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary for Peace and Order Mr. Bernardo Florece, Jr. on understanding risk in the context of the Greater Metro Manila Area

NRC President Antonia Yulo Loyzaga moderated the discussion between speakers and participants for Understanding Risk.

Plenary Session 3: Reducing Risk

NTU-ICRM Executive Director Pan Tso-Chien, NEDA Usec. Adoracion Navarro and Maynilad President and CEO Mr. Ramoncito Fernandez during the Q&A session for Reducing Risk.

Experts in the third session explored the different policies and practices on national drills, insurance, pre-disaster recovery planning and business continuity planning that would guide future multi-sectoral collaborations. Speakers addressed risk reduction by presenting the following:

  • National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Resilience President Dr. Haruo Hayashi on the geographic approach to promoting science and technology for an integrated earthquake disaster risk reduction;
  • NCDR Secretary General Dr. Wei-Sen Li on performance-based continuity plans used for leading strategic measures on developing disaster risk management;
  • Nanyang Technological University Institute of Catastrophe Risk Management Executive Director Professor Pan Tso-Chien on natural catastrophe risk of Asia;
  • Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chief-of-Staff Mr. Michael Salalima (who spoke in behalf of MMDA Chairman BGen Danilo Lim AFP (Ret)) on the Metro Manila Earthquake Contingency Plan;
  • Maynilad Water Services, Inc. President and CEO Mr. Ramoncito Fernandez on seismic hazard management in the water sector; and
  • US Agency for International Development/Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) Regional Adviser Mr. Joe Curry on harnessing the power of the youth in disaster risk mapping in Metro Manila.

National Economic & Development Authority Undersecretary and Session 3 Moderator, Ms. Adoracion Navarro, summarized the speakers’ presentations during the Q&A for Reducing Risk.

Putting It All Together

In the last session, participants broke out into four different workshops: Identifying Risk, Understanding Risk, Reducing Risk and Multi-Stakeholder Framework on Joint Collaboration.   They reflected on the respective results of the plenary discussions and worked together to identify gaps, priorities for action, desired outcomes, possible partnerships and timeline. The simultaneous workshops also allowed participants to explore mutual assistance mechanisms for joint collaboration on research and public-private partnerships. Each workshop had experts who served as facilitators, a resource person from Phivolcs and documenters from NRC and the Ateneo de Manila University Master in Disaster Risk and Resilience (ADMU-MDRR) program.

Speakers and special guests gathered for a photo opportunity at the start of the Conference.

Facilitators presented their respective outputs which were later synthesized by Zuellig Family Foundation Executive Vice President Austere Panadero. NRC President Antonia Yulo Loyzaga, meanwhile, summarized the sessions and discussed ways of moving forward.

In his closing remarks, Amb. Roberto Romulo reminded the participants that addressing DRR and resilience is not a one-off affair. He said that the true challenge lies in developing an understanding that everyone must work together to make a change.

Photos courtesy of the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation.