Metro Manila was “rocked” by a powerful earthquake. All hands were on deck to make sure everyone’s safe and casualties were attended to right away.
But after participants in Thursday’s earthquake drill went through the “drop, cover and hold” routine and all rescue equipment were stowed back in place, a burning question was popped through the social media: Where’s the President?
Malacañang on Wednesday issued a memorandum enjoining both the public and private sectors to actively participate in the drill, which was meant to raise awareness on the possibility of a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hitting Metro Manila (National Capital Region or NCR) and nearby provinces should the West Valley Fault system make a movement.
In Malacañang, TV cameras were focused on the main entrance of the presidential palace but President Benigno Aquino 3rd failed to emerge from the door where officials, employees and members of the media passed through as they filed out to simulate an earthquake evacuation.
A seemingly clueless Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. was immediately bombarded with questions on the whereabouts of the President and Coloma said he will go find out and check.
Later, Malacanang deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said “the President was monitoring the progress of the drills conducted by government agencies.”
Coloma, in a briefing after the drill, said the President monitored the drill in his official residence at the Bahay Pangarap in Malacañang Park, which is across the main palace, and was given an update by officials of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.
When asked if the President did not find it necessary to participate in the drill, Coloma stoically said: “Ginawa ng Pangulo ang nararapat ayon sa kanyang pagpapasya [The President did what he thinks is the right thing to do].”
In Camp Aguinaldo, the military’s main headquarters, in Quezon City, members of the NDRRMC who were monitoring the drill, dropped to the floor and sought cover from under their desk as an alarm signaling the exercise was sounded off.
Secretaries Voltaire Gazmin (Defense), Manuel Roxas 2nd (Interior) and Corazon Soliman (Social Welfare); NDRRMC executive director Alexander Pama; and Chief of Staff Gen. Hernando Iriberri of the Armed Forces of the Philippines did the “duck, cover and hold” routine.
After the 45-second alarm, the officials marched out of the building and went to the grandstand, which served as command post, and continued monitoring the drill.
At the Senate, not one senator joined the hour-long drill conducted at the seven-story GSIS building complex in the Pasay City (Metro Manila) reclamation area.
The drill did not follow the original evacuation plan drafted by the Office of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms that was disapproved by the Office of Civil Defense (OCD).
The original plan calls for the shepherding of the Senate staff to the roof deck, but the OCD red-flagged the plan as the building, which was built on reclaimed land, is prone to liquefaction and could collapse should a powerful earthquake strike.
At the House of Representatives, only one congressman out of 292 showed up for the drill, which simulated a scenario where eight members of Congress would get killed.
Only Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte participated in the drill. Belmonte, however, functioned not as a lawmaker but as one of the rescuers during the drill.
House Secretary-General Marilyn Yap said they will schedule another drill in two weeks during a regular session day to enable congressmen to participate.
“We’ll be having another drill with the lawmakers. We can’t have it unannounced because we don’t want to risk the lawmakers who have heart problems. We don’t want them being sent to the hospital or worse with a sudden earthquake drill,” Yap expalained.
Chairman Francis Tolentino of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) gave the drill a grade of 9 out of 10.
“This daytime exercise is a success. For the first time, this is not just a drill fulfilled, but a dream fulfilled,” he said after emerging from a conference with officials of the Metro Manila Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council where they assessed the exercise.
A night-time drill was being held at the Ortigas Central Business District in Pasig City [Metro Manila] at press time.
Tolentino considered the drill successful as it achieved its objective of making people prepare and be aware on what to do in case a major calamity like an earthquake hits Metro Manila.
Director Renato Solidum of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology echoed Tolentino’s observation that the drill was a big success.
He said the regular conduct of earthquake drills will allow people to prepare for actual tremors.
This will also allow people to know what to do before, during and after earthquakes so that they can better protect themselves, Solidum added.
“No one can predict when will it happen. So, we must be prepared before it happens from this event… Our safety is really dependent on our awareness and preparedness during an earthquake,” he said.
Solidum proposed that similar massive drills be also conducted in nearby areas like Bulacan, Laguna and Cavite that al lie in areas traversed by the West Valley Fault.
Gazmin said there are “gaps” in the preparedness and capabilities that need to be bridged.
“[There are a lot of gaps that need to be addressed. We will have a simulations [Thursday] night, we will know the drawbacks and after that we will have a general critique and we will know and fill in [those]gaps],” Gazmin told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo.
Education Secretary Armin Luistro also cited the importance of getting the right information and cooperating with community leaders in preparing for earthquakes.
“All schools should prepare for the Big One. Don’t think that if your school isn’t near the West Valley Fault, there is no need to prepare,” Luistro said.
The drill in Manila simulated a scenario where the city was isolated with the collapse of four of the bridges spanning the Pasig River.
Guests in a hotel that caught fire were herded toward the Intramuros golf course, which had been identified as an evacuation area, while six people who needed medical attention were taken to the Santa Ana Hospital via a ferry boat, which had docked at the back of the Bureau of Immigration building in Intramuros.
Volunteers who played the role of “fatalities” were slipped in body bags and transported to the Aseana open field in Parañaque City which was identified as a burial ground should a major calamity strike.
Patients and staff of the East Avenue Medical Center (EAMC) in Quezon City were safely evacuated according to a procedure that the hospital repeatedly reviewed and rehearsed prior to the Metro Manila-wide drill.
According to Dr. Alfonso Nuṅez, head of the hospital’s emergency and trauma department, they conduct fire and earthquake drills at least twice a year, hence, the staff already know what to do in case of emergencies.