The 7.8-magnitude earthquake last week that devastated parts of Turkey and Syria, and claimed more than 40,000 lives, has triggered calls to amend the 46-year-old National Building Code to prepare the country for the much-feared “Big One.”
Several towns and cities in the country are within the major fault lines, therefore, they are in peril during earthquakes and other tectonic movements.
Lawmakers are pushing to amend the building code as it is crucial to ensure the structural reliability of our buildings, including high and medium rise structures, commercial establishments, and the like to mitigate impacts in case a devastating quake hit in Metro Manila and other cities in our country, where most high-rise buildings are located.
This call is not entirely new. This is the same sad refrain that resurfaces every time a strong tremor strikes.
Among the proposed reforms include the streamlining of the building classification and permit application process, regulations for the assessment and maintenance of old buildings, and the grant of incentives for the use of environmentally sound and sustainable materials and technologies, among others.
Unfortunately, any sense of urgency on the issue was not given urgent action in the Congress, which is currently preoccupied with Charter Change and the sovereign wealth fund. But such indecisiveness is something that we can no longer allow, given the country’s geographic location within the Pacific Ring of Fire, and the natural decline of buildings and other structures from continuous use through the years. Planning for the “Big One” should be given consideration, as the consequences of failure are too alarming to expect.
Presidential Decree No. 1096 or the National Building Code of the Philippines enacted in 1977 remains in use, despite the clear and present risks created by altering conditions: buildings getting higher, occupancy becoming larger and temperatures getting warmer. Lawmakers should immediately get started on updating the building code, and the government must warrant that its rules and regulations are strictly enforced and complied with by the public, otherwise endeavors and initiatives to cushion the impact of disaster would be meaningless.
The national government should be proactive rather than reactive. The Department of Public Works and Highways should conduct the necessary inspection of buildings, bridges, infrastructure projects and other structures to at least immediately make remedial measures and to save lives and properties during tremors and earthquakes.
Palawan, which has no major reported major earthquake in the past was hit by 4.6 earthquake last October 2022, but its epicenter is somewhere near Cagayancillo town and not in mainland.
Studies said that this island province is the only earthquake-safe area in the Philippines because it sits on a stable continental shelf and is not bounded by fault lines. While PHIVOLCS said that Palawan has no active fault lines, no active volcanoes, and no deep trenches, it is still vulnerable to earthquake hazards particularly tsunamis.
Hopefully, the cases of failed compliance with building regulations, and the agonizing pictures of devastation in Turkey and Syria, be taken into consideration immediately by our leaders and lawmakers. We should wake up and immediately roll our sleeves to start the updating of the National Building Code. Thousands of lives of our countrymen, and even us, depend on it.