Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lessons from Japan’s big quake

The Japanese have accepted the reality of earthquakes perhaps like no other people on earth;  it is said that earthquakes occur every five minutes in that country in varying intensities. Hence, last Wednesday, when I emailed my son-in-law, Keiichi, an investment banker based in Tokyo, that I was worried about the 7.3 magnitude earthquake that hit 380 kms. northeast of Tokyo earlier that day, he emailed back and said not to worry, as “it was a minor quake for Japan.”  He related that he felt it while lunching in his office, but that his wife Christine, their daughter Tamako and a visiting cousin of his, all across the city, didn’t feel it at all.   In other words, quakes in the vicinity of 7 plus magnitude are no big deal to the Japanese.
 The big ‘scary’ quake

But the 8.9 quake that hit the eastern coast of Japan, some 2,100 km. away from Tokyo,  earlier this afternoon was something else. It was, as my son-in-law described it understatedly, “BIG.” But perhaps so as not to alarm his mother-in-law in Manila whom he could sense was already getting hysterical in her emails, Keiichi also later added that "it was scary but we are all fine here." He thoughtfully kept up the emails to me through the evening, narrating in one that Tamako and Keiichi's cousin, whom he left to baby-sit her, hid under the table during the seemingly interminable quake. The consoling part was that every time the apartment shook, my  half-Japanese, half-Filipino grand-daughter, whom we fondly call "Tam-Tam," would laugh and laugh under the table, thinking perhaps it was another one of those horsy-horsy games she'd often play even with her Pinay lola (bless the innocence of children!).  

                  Christine sleeps on Narita's floor in JAL sleeping bag

On the other hand, my daughter Christine, who publishes the beautiful glossy travel magazine TraveLife in Manila was on an airport bus enroute to Narita airport to take the plane to Manila;  when the quake began to rattle like mad, the bus was perched atop a bridge and Christine emailed later that she thought she was going to die at that moment. 

My son-in-law managed to get home after seeing everyone else in his office safely enroute for home or staying in someone's place, and braving four hours of horrendous traffic (there were no subway trains running and power was out). Keiichi had a good dinner and a relatively uneventful sleep with his baby daughter and his cousin, while Christine was able to proceed to Narita, where she spent the night on a sleeping bag on the terminal floor, courtesy of Japan Air Lines, until flights could resume. 

I thanked the Lord that our little family in Tokyo was okay even as I extend my family's heartfelt sympathies to all our Japanese friends for this terrible tragedy that hit their country and people.

Sheepish Pinoy family returns to apartment

The Japanese indeed are so used to earthquakes that it doesn’t frighten them at all, unless it’s in the category of what Keiichi terms “BIG.”  In fact, I cannot forget an episode many years ago, when my daughter, by then still single, lived in an apartment not too far from the Philippine Embassy where she worked as press relations officer, and my husband and I and our two sons were visiting with her. One evening after dinner, the apartment building began to rattle and shake.  I got alarmed and told my husband that perhaps we better get out of the building. I could sense that he wasn’t too convinced about moving out, but when a  siren blared out into the night,  I quickly construed it as a signal to evacuate the premises;  the five of us hurriedly put on our coats and my husband picked up his small attaché case containing our passports and money and we all scampered down the stairs to the street below.

But soon we began to realize that we were the only ones in the street in the middle of the night, and that the neighbors were looking out of their windows at us, as they tidied up  their kitchen after dinner. The earthquake was absolutely a non-event to the Japanese. Sheepishly we Filipinos moved back to the apartment to get some sleep.

 Japan’s Friday’s quake its biggest in 1 ½  centuries

But the quake earlier this afternoon was the biggest to hit Japan in one and a half centuries, in fact since officials began keeping records in the late 1800s; it’s also said to be one of the strongest ever recorded in the world, with its effects felt as far as Russia and even Latin America.  Today’s quake, which triggered a devastating 23-foot tsunami, surpassed the Great Kanto earthquake of Sept. 1 , 1923, an 8.3 magnitude killer that snuffed the lives of 143,000 people, as well as the 7.2 magnitude quake that hit the port city of Kobe in 1995 and caused a $100 billion damage, making it the most expensive natural disaster in history. My son-in-law’s mother, Keiko, hails from Kobe, and when we visited there three years ago, her husband, Osamu, then still alive, took us to the Earthquake Museum in Kobe, where the horrors of that 1995 killer quake were so faithfully reproduced by modern technology, as though one were right there. It’s the only one of its kind in the world.
Lessons we Pinoys should learn from the Japanese crisis

The enormous devastation wrought by today’s 8.9 magnitude quake in northern Japan was caught on world TV, where huge boats, light planes, trucks and cars were tossed about like little toys in a kiddie pool by gigantic tsunami packing the speed of a jumbo jet; the usually stoic Japanese people were terribly frightened. 

But the lesson is clear to nations in the “Ring of Fire,” such as our country,  that urban planner and architect Felino Palafox and Phivolcs director Dr. Renato Solidum have  grown hoarse warning about:  we have to prepare for the worst eventuality, for our own big one.  If technologically advanced Japan, a First World country, can be so devastated (its latest crisis involves radiation leaks and the possible meltdown of a big nuclear power facility in Fukushima in the North, one of five troubled nuclear plants there owing to the quake), think of how our poor Third World country would fare if faced with such a big one. 

The prospect of a big quake is, of course, only one of the many crises our nation faces, which also include the possibility of oil scarcity and their skyrocketing prices owing to the political turmoil in the Arab world, the repatriation of millions of our OFWs from the troubled areas and their reintegration into the local labor force  already strained by the unemployed and underemployed, our food security problem owing to natural calamities here and abroad, the rising criminality in our midst, etc.

Our leaders should stop their political games in crisis times

Very much a part of this preparedness is getting our local government officials to seriously undertake continuous earthquake and fire drills among their constituents, especially in schools and hospitals, and getting local rescue operations ready. Part of it too, is to make sure that our national leaders truly lead us through the urgent preparations, and not divert our attention to the political games they like to play.

For instance, today the newspapers reported the Palace and the Senate as urging embattled Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to resign, so as “to spare the country of the pain of impeachment.” Given all the crises our nation faces, we need the impeachment circus like a hole in the head. But Gutierrez has repeatedly said that she will not resign, but prefers to submit to a trial before the Senate, as she claims that her conscience is clear about her having done her job judiciously.

  Many people are now asking:  what is so urgent about impeachment now, in the light of all the problems this country---and the world---face?  The growing feeling is that the politicians are just looking for another forum to grandstand, a circus to divert the people from the real as well as the potential crises our nation faces.

               Yes to crises solutions, no to political grandstanding

This realization is now dawning on an increasing number of people.  Reports from the House of Representatives indicate that a good number of members from various political groups are planning to abstain in the coming vote on Merceditas Gutierrez.  It’s only the LPs who are marching to their boss’ order and the militant  party-list reps who are obsessed with impeachment---for their own agenda.  The churches, civic organizations, student groups and other influential organizations should weigh in on this issue: yes to crises solutions; no to political grandstanding. 

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