Home away from (the West Valley) fault

Worry transforms time into a burden.

When Phivolcs rolled out their atlas of the West Valley Fault, it was hard not to imagine being found in a heap of debris when the Big One takes the metro. Living in low-cost condominium whose walls are decorated with cracks the length of lightning, I’ve been racing against time looking for a new apartment.

I expected to find 5,000-peso studios all over Quezon City, but I had forgotten that inflation had pushed them to the perimeter of La Mesa Dam in Quezon City or Muntinglupa at the lip of Lagunda de Bay. Instead, I have found 15,000-peso 23 square-meter shoe boxes which opposite walls your hands can almost touch if you spread your arms across the room.

But there have been exceptions, big enough spaces at prices that don’t make your knees weak.

There is the 38-square-meter unit in a high-end condominium built by a reputable developer which is in the market for P 13,000 a month. It needs some cheering up — a fresh coat of paint, house plants –, and it would be a dream to live there. It has a balcony looking out to a quiet street in a residential-meets-commercial neighborhood. I was going to sign the reservation contract (taking a leap of faith because I still had to look for the deposit and would no longer have money for anything, after rent, besides food) when the building administration could not show me a copy of the structural soundness certificate.

I have asked about this certificate of every building administrator or developer I have spoken with. Either they didn’t know where it was or they heard it for the first time. Reading up on earthquakes, I had come across an article where Phivolcs director Renato Solidum said this is the document one had to ask from a developer before moving into their property.

The friendly woman from Fairview who showed me her condo unit in New Manila didn’t know what it was. Her condominium is along Aurora Boulevard, which is prone to floods. It is close to the LRT; every time a train passed by while I was there, I couldn’t help but remember Angelica Panganiban in Santa Santita. She, the woman, not Angelica, gave me a huge discount and offered to buy any missing appliance or fixture I needed. Rent would only be P13,000, inclusive of association dues and water, for a unit that is furnished and has a balcony. Should I get her unit, she told me I’d have to live with the ruckus of the next-door neighbours, several spa therapists bundled up in one unit by their employer.

The broker of buildings in the Timog area told me she’d ask their architect about the certificate. I was looking into her unfurnished 25-square-meter studio housed in a five-storey condo. When I followed up a few days later, she said that the certificate is part of the occupancy permit, which means that it had been complied with, but the P13,000-unit I was asking about had been snatched away from me.

She was telling the truth because an employee of a condotel in the same area would tell me day later that construction for buildings with more than three floors requires a structural stability certificate, which is the mother document that includes the structural soundness certificate. The structural soundness certificate involves something about seismic analysis. Hurray. This was the very first time I heard something specific and technical.

She narrowed the field for me. The low-rise apartment I spotted in Teacher’s Village, which is under two kilometers from the fault line according to Tremors.com.ph, is no longer an option. Most two-storey houses or low-rises are built, because undertaken by private homeowners, without construction engineers who often (let’s hope) comply with the 1992 or 2010 National Building Codes, which include provisions for the construction of earthquake-resistant buildings. It is the high-rises, bankrolled by property developers and developed by construction engineers, which are likely to have been built with steel reinforcements and used sementong buhos.

My choices now come down to two condominiums which rental prices are within my budget because will be borne with a friend whom I hadn’t known could be persuaded to move back in with me. One was built a few years ago, the other in 1996. The first has a 38-square-meter two-bedroom that has been repainted, and has a command of the city skyline. The bathroom though is so small the shower is right above the toilet, which means the entire bathroom is going to take a bath when one does. The only drawback to this condominium is the building manager who talked to me as if I wasn’t going to be able to pay the rent. She asked my friend who went with me about my background, in Mandarin, right in my presence.

The other two-bedroom is 68 square meters, in a building that was built with sturdy materials according to the building manager, unlike today’s low-cost high-rises. It has two bedrooms, one of which has a balcony, and the other, a four-door closet perfect for my fashionista friend. It has a sprawling common area, a kitchen, a bathroom (with a clear division between shower and loo), and a laundry area I can already picture in my mind will be the home of my hanging plants.

The owner is an amiable Chinese woman who didn’t make a face when I asked about my urban-legend soundness certificate. The broker is one of the nicest brokers I have met ever since I embarked on my paranoid search for an earthquake-ready house. My friend, who was abroad when I went to view the unit, wants to see it before we sign the lease. The building is 5.53 kilometres from the West Valley Fault, half of the prescribed 10-kilometer distance according to my disaster risk reduction expert officemate, but because it was probably built with a conscience, it is looking to be home.

Yesterday, I called Phivolcs and a man named Tolits gave a short but helpful lecture on the phone. He said some of the things we worry about, like the West Valley Fault swallowing up entire villages, are “Sa pelikula lang.” At the worst, the earth will crack open by three meters. Tall buildings which followed the building codes will not crumble to dust. One will definitely feel the shaking though. It is important to secure fixtures because while one’s building may not shatter into pieces, a falling cabinet will most assuredly smash one’s head in. He reminded me that when the Nueva Ecija Fault moved, Manila and Baguio felt it. We cannot escape it, one way or another, he seemed to say.

Postcript

I wrote this two months ago, and I still have not moved. My friend found the condo too far from her place of work and I, my present address peerless.

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