Quake drills all for naught if land reclamation continues, says expert
NATIONWIDE drills and other government initiatives to prepare the people for a magnitude-7.2 earthquake—“the Big One”—would not be of much use if construction on reclaimed land, particularly in the Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay areas, is allowed to continue, said a Filipino-American marine geologist.
The government should “stop playing games” when it comes to the safety of the people—which would definitely be in jeopardy if reclamation projects such as the proposed airport either at Sangley Point in Cavite or the west Laguna de Bay area, or the Laguna Lake Expressway-Dike are allowed to proceed, said Kelvin Rodolfo in a talk organized by the Save Our Shores Manila Bay Coalition at Malate Church Saturday.
He raised three safety concerns: Land subsidence, storm surges and liquefaction. The last is the deadliest hazard during earthquakes, said Rodolfo, professor emeritus of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
He said the government had two choices: Either take the earthquake threat seriously by not adding to the potential disaster; or just “pretend the earthquake will never happen” and push through with construction.
Joselito Gonzales, the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) assistant general manager for reclamation and regulation, said Rodolfo’s statements were “sweeping” since reclamation projects undergo rigorous geotechnical investigation, which includes testing for earthquake risks, a standard operating procedure of the agency.
“We also know the risks and environmental concerns. We may be a government agency, but we are balanced. Yes, Rodolfo is a scientist, but they have to submit a formal study. If it turns out that they have a strong case, then why wouldn’t we oppose the projects?” Gonzales said in a phone interview.
Gonzales clarified that he could only speak for the Manila Goldcoast Development Corp. (MGDC) and the proposed airport since it was the Laguna Lake Development Authority, together with the Department of Public Works and Highways, that is in charge of the Laguna Lake Expressway-Dike, a major highway which would follow the lake’s shoreline from Bicutan to Los Baños.
“To non-technical people, [the possibility of] liquefaction comes as a shock. But it doesn’t follow that it will happen just because the land is reclaimed. There is always that potential anywhere,” Gonzales said, citing the areas of Bohol which experienced liquefaction in the 2013 earthquake even though it wasn’t reclaimed land.
“My point is that if the quality of sand used in a reclaimed area is excellent, and it is thoroughly compacted and treated against liquefaction using the best technology, the risk is greatly minimized,” he said.
Gonzales said Rodolfo and others who strongly oppose the reclamation are free to submit their own technical studies to the PRA like the proponents of these projects—the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) for the airport, and MGDC and the Manila government for Solar City.
The DOTC commissioned the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) to conduct a feasibility study of Sangley Point and the west Laguna de Bay area to determine which would be a better airport site.
Approval of local entities
The MGDC and the Manila city government are in the process of fulfilling preconstruction requirements such as engineering studies and geological modeling for the PRA’s review.
Rodolfo stressed at the forum that the government should be consulting with local marine and geology experts, not foreign entities like Jica.
The DOTC is still for President Aquino and the National Economic and Development Authority to approve the airport project, while construction of the MGDC’s Solar City is on hold since the company is still subject to a 1992 suspension order from Malacañang, Gonzales said.
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