Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Knowledge Is Power

The earth twerked at past 8 in the morning sending two southern provinces in a state of shock. 

The tectonic bang was so violent that flimsy houses tumbled, centuries-old churches crumbled, and scores of souls were forcefully taken to the afterlife after being squished, like pancakes by collapsed buildings. It was a magnitude 7.1 earthquake; the strongest the country has felt in more than a decade, and being a survivor of the July 1990 temblor, I offer my sympathies to those rendered sleepless by this unannounced jolt.

I look back a day later at the ground shaking sleeved with cold consolation. Though it was only felt in the Visayas and parts of Mindanao, catastrophe was averted because the country was observing the Id-ul-Adha feast. Being an important Muslim festival, the government declared a national holiday. The event also happened early in the morning, and most of the people were still asleep. Had it been on a Sunday afternoon, the collapse of the churches and the resulting stampedes alone would have injured thousands.

As government relief efforts go into full swing, and the Cebuanos and Bol-anons cope with the ceaseless aftershocks, a tweet reply to a news organization posted by a 12-year old girl from Cebu left me unsettled and on the verge of disbelief:

I won't deny the malicious intent of the re-tweet. That I was stirring a hailstorm of reactions from those who follow my Twitter account. So tempted was I to join the cyber bullying that my follow-up tweet would have sounded like "aral-aral rin hija kapag may time." for I was really incensed. Ignorance to natural calamities should never be allowed in these corners, and to find a person making a joke out of it deserves the strongest of comeuppance.

But then, was it the pre-teen's fault that she knew nothing about earthquakes? Or worse, made fun of it?

Or was it her science teacher?

The first time I experienced an earthquake was when I was in Grade I. I had just arrived home from school and was about to feed my pet dog. Suddenly, there was ground shaking and the house began swaying. I was scared - yes - because the natural phenomenon was new to me. It was a good thing my dad was nearby, and was calm all the time. Though I no longer recall what he said as the ground shaking went on, the seismic waves caused by the rupture in Earth's fault triggered my interest to exhume any knowledge I could find about quakes.

According to Japanese folklore, earthquakes were caused by a giant catfish whose name was Namazu. The bottom-feeder lives in the mud beneath the earth, and is guarded by the god Kashima. He restrains the fish with a heavy stone, and when the god lets his guard fall, Namazu wiggles causing the ground to shake.

Modern science, however, tells of a different story. That the earth's interior is made up of plates, similar to pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, whose edges we call fault lines. Beneath these plates is magma - that free-flowing stuff that get spewed out of volcanoes. I won't go into details of how earthquakes occur. But when two fault lines get jammed because of magma, the rupture caused by the sudden slip releases seismic energy causing the earth to move violently. In retrospect, people die not really because of the tremors. It is because of the structures they built, but could not withstand the jolt.

I do not know the number of science teachers who include this topic in their lecture. I don't even know if the current generation of teachers in Elementary and High School could still describe the terror caused by a temblor. One thing is certain, and should be implemented at once: If we are to survive the next big one striking Manila, preparation must not only focus on the first responders. Civilians - especially students have to be informed and take part, when drills happen.

Because the truth is, I didn't get the facts from my Science teachers. Not even after the July 1990 earthquake sent me running towards the school's quadrangle. They were self-learned from a single coffee-table book I found at home when reading still consumed a huge chunk of my free time. I learned not only the legends, the cities reduced by past earthquakes and ways how to withstand one - and predict it - if possible.

Out of my strongest desire to understand - the thing that would haunt me for the rest of my life, I taught myself to learn why the ground shakes.

Learning somehow diminished the fear I felt within.



Javes said...

Yeah, what we've been taught in school are merely for academic purposes. How timely that we just had an emergency preparedness seminar this morning (which was planned even before the earthquake last Tuesday). And we've been told that earthquake drills will now be part of the curriculum for our students.

JM said...

@javes Interesting. Nasa academe ka pala. And I thought you work in the IT (based from your last blog entry)

Geosef Garcia said...

Di talaga maiiwasan na may mga taong ganyan kapag may napapanahong issue. Haynako. Yamot lang. *haha*

JM said...


Oh well. Nag apologize naman siya after niya maging social media celebrity for a day. Hehe.