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Property rules

Atonement in the time of an earthquake

/ 05:48 AM September 23, 2017

On September 19, the ground violently shook. Infrastructure collapsed, churches crumbled down, and buildings buried men, women, children, and pets alive.

An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.1 roused Mexico, killing hundreds of people and leaving its survivors with a mound of debris they used to call their towns.

Around 50 years ago, the Philippines held the same fate.


On August 2, 1968, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 hit the City of Casiguran, Aurora. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvolcs) reported that 270 persons were killed, while 261 were injured. Meanwhile, the cost of property damage was estimated to be several million dollars.

While the City of Manila is relatively far from Casiguran, it was not spared from the wrath of the earthquake. According to Philvolcs, several buildings in the Binondo and Escolta areas “sustained varying levels of structural damage,” including the six-storey residential building Ruby Tower which instantly collapsed during the earthquake.

The collapse of the Ruby Tower killed 268 of said 270 fatalities and injured 260 of the 261 persons reported by Philvolcs.

In its Resolution No. 04-03 dated January 29, 2004, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) recognized that the Philippines is exposed to high risk from a strong-magnitude earthquake and thus, enjoined local government units to revitalize their respective Disaster Management Councils and implement disaster preparedness and mitigation programs, among others.

As an impending strong-magnitude earthquake haunts us, the government continues to conduct nationwide earthquake drills and advocate disaster preparedness. But, these efforts cannot prepare us from the damage caused by said earthquake to subpar infrastructures and defective roads.

Can we claim damages for injuries incurred from said infrastructure and roads which were destroyed by a strong-magnitude earthquake?

Yes, but subject to conditions specified in pertinent provisions of the Civil Code.

For instance, damages may be claimed from the concerned province, city, or municipality for the death of, or injuries suffered by, any person by reason of the defective condition of roads, streets, bridges, public buildings, and other public works under their control or supervision.


Meanwhile, the proprietor of a building or structure shall be held responsible for the damages resulting from its total or partial collapse because of the lack of necessary repairs.

The engineer or architect who drew up the plans and specifications of a building may be held liable for damages if within 15 years from the completion of the structure, the same should collapse by reason of a defect in those plans and specifications, or due to the defects in the ground.

The contractor may likewise be held liable for damages if the edifice falls within the 15-year period because of defects in the construction or the use of materials of inferior quality furnished by him, or due to any violation of the terms of the contract. If the engineer or architect supervised the construction, he shall be solidarily liable with the contractor.

Persons who incurred damage from such defects are not deemed to have waived their cause of action against the architect, contractor, or engineer by simply accepting the building after its completion. Said action, however, must be brought within 10 years from the collapse of the building.

The liability of the above-mentioned entities and persons under these conditions cannot be denied. In Juan F. Nakpil & Sons v. Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court affirmed the liability of the contractors for the collapse of the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) Building during the 1968 earthquake.

In said case, the Supreme Court affirmed the commissioner’s finding that the proven defects, deficiencies, and violations of the plans and specifications of the PBA Building contributed greatly to the damages which resulted during the earthquake.

Thus, one who negligently creates a dangerous condition cannot escape liability for the natural and probable consequences thereof, although the act of a third person, or an act of God for which he is not responsible, such as an earthquake, intervened to precipitate the loss.

Sara Mae D. Mawis is an Associate at Esguerra & Blanco Law, and a Lecturer at the College of Law, Adamson University

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TAGS: Atonement, Business, Earthquake, property, Property Rules
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