by Alito L. Malinao
MANILA, Oct. 22 (Xinhua) -- Government officials here said the impact of the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that hit the island- provinces of Bohol and Cebu in central Philippines on Oct. 15 has been negligible even if the total number of fatalities has risen to 188.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council ( NDRRMC) on Monday said aside from the fatalities, scores are still missing in the island of Bohol, where the quake's epicenter was pinpointed, and could be dead by now. Most of fatalities were from Bohol while only 12 were from Cebu and one from the neighboring island of Siquijor.
According to Bohol Governor Edgar Chatto, the damage caused by earthquake in the island-province has been estimated to reach 2.5 billion pesos (58 million U.S. dollars).
The damage to heritage churches in the province was also in the millions of pesos although the amount is based on the cost of restoring the centuries-old structures, Chatto said.
But Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan, also on Monday, said that effect of the earthquake on the country's economy, as measured by its gross domestic product (GDP), is only one-half of 1 percentage point.
"The impact is very minimal, it's less than one-half of 1 percentage point, or no more than one half of 1 percentage point of GDP growth," Balisacan told reporters on the sidelines of the interagency Development Budget Coordinating Committee (DBCC) budget hearing.
Balisacan said the impact was mainly on tourism, infrastructure and power that interrupted business operations in the affected areas.
Government economic managers are still confident that the Philippine economy would grow by more than 7 percent this year.
In Cebu City, the country's second largest city and the business and cultural center in the Central Visayas, the local retail sector has incurred losses due to the closure of most shopping malls and buildings for safety inspections but retailers downplayed business losses although they are worried on the earthquake's long term effects on tourism, especially in Bohol.
In an interview with a local paper in Cebu City, Philippine Retailers Association (PRA-Cebu) Chairman Jay P. Aldeguer said Bohol, which has a largely tourism-led economy, would be much affected by the aftermath of the earthquake.
"Bohol is largely tourism-based," said Aldeguer. "Bohol mainly relies on tourism for livelihood, unlike Cebu which is a center for commerce and where people depend also on a lot of industries that were not directly affected by the earthquake."
Bohol is a popular tourist destination because of its fine white beaches, pristine rivers and waterways and is home to tarsiers, the world's smallest monkey. Bohol is also famous for its Chocolate Hills, a cluster of bald mountains that turned chocolate brown on daytime.
Data from the NDRRMC showed Bohol province suffered the most in terms of damaged roads, bridges, schools, heritage churches, and other establishments. In Cebu City, the damage was minimal.
The NDRRMC said more than 3 million people, or 605,350 families, were displaced in the provinces affected by the quake. Some 109, 712 people or 22,113 families are still in some 100 evacuation centers.
Maj. Rey Balido, operations chief of the NDRRMC, said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had set up evacuation centers in the provinces of Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor, Negros Occidental, Iloilo and Guimaras Island, which were serving more than 109,000 people as well as 271,000 others who were seeking temporary shelter with their relatives or friends.
The Oct. 15 quake was the strongest to hit the group of islands in the central Philippines in 20 years, destroying not just infrastructure and houses but also historic churches, most of which centuries-old and considered national treasures.
According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology ang Seismology (Phivocs), the Philippines is within the sphere of the so-called "Ring of Fire," a region under the Pacific Ocean where most of the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.
The worst earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.9 that was followed by a tsunami, occurred in the Moro Gulf in the southernmost tip of the Philippine archipelago in August l976. Authorities said from 5, 000 to 8,000 people have perished from that earthquake.