“Concentrate on what cannot lie. The evidence.”
– Gil Grissom to Warrick Brown, CSI
“It’s a scientist’s right to re-examine his theory with each new piece of evidence, Nick.”
– Gil Grissom, CSI
So what do we non-scientists do? Essentially, pursue the paths scientists would take, anyway. This morning, I gave a talk to high school and college students from the various La Salle schools, and one student asked my opinion on the Glorietta blast. And so, I quoted from CSI.
I told the students that as students, they should try to make sense of what happened, by starting with the realization that there is a lot more we don’t know, than we actually know at this point. the little that we know can be gleaned from three main sources. First, eyewitness accounts. Second, photos and videos showing the damage. Third, what our officials tell us.
At the end of the day, whatever official explanations emerge will have to be convincing to the many eyewitnesses, and match what they’ve related and what the pictures show (an interesting entry, with pictures, is in sane psycho, who’s mother is apparently the architect of Luk Yuen; Hueco Mundo says the owner had a close call indeed). Our job as citizens, I told them, is to be unafraid to insist that any explanation given makes sense. I told them that people will of course have preconceived notions or assumptions about what took place, but a sober and thorough investigation -and explanation- should hopefully end up convincing your average, reasonable, person.
And if it doesn’t, ask, ask, ask, until you’re satisfied it all makes sense. The opinions, even instincts, of people who were there, will matter. As will the views of ordinary citizens who try to make sense of the tragedy by comparing official explanations (or theories) with their own personal experience. See delai’s realm, for example, who, when the LPG explosion theory was first proposed, wrote,
they said it was just a gas tank leak. what the hell? when i saw it on tv, i had to say “wtf?” i’ve witnessed a house burn down because of lpg leakage. but it was nothing like it. there was a loud blast and then the house was eventually engulfed in flames. glorietta however was nothing like it. no fire at all. a blasted area of glorietta facing park square 2 flashed on tv. and when the inside of the mall was shown, there was no doubt that it was bombed.
In the end if they can be convinced, all of us should be convinced by whatever official explanation emerges. The trauma and confusion those who were there are going through (and their loved ones, who have just begun to count their blessings,) will naturally affect their attitudes and behavior.
Blogger Cindy.cIndy.ciNdy.cinDy.cindY who was fairly close to the blast, describes the process many others are going through too, I’m sure:
As soon as I arrived home last Friday, my father uttered the words “Military may pakana niyan. Sila lang ang may C4.” How can my father say that? I was disgusted to hear that the government might be behind the incident. And I was scared at the same time because the government can do that to their constituents. Then the news outlined several bombing instances in Metro Manila and all of them showed that the bomb used were home-made bombs. They believe that the ‘terrorists’ are the one behind the previous bombings. Anyway, we have to wait for the result of the investigation before we make accusations, right? So I watched the news and red the newspapers. It has been 3 days since the incident happened but still they don’t have a concrete idea what kind of explosive was used. Some were saying that it was indeed C4 since some chemical components of C4 can be found in the area. But the police investigators alleged that these components are available in the drug stores, therefore, speculations about the military and government being behind the incident should be disregarded. Ganon na ba kadali gumawa ng bomba?!
And the questions that are emerging in their minds:
And guess what, there are no security guards who died that day. Come to think of it, 2 passengers from a taxi died and the taxi driver was thrown off his own taxi because of the explosion but the guard on duty managed to stay alive. Another thing with the security guards in the mall is that they just stand there and tell the people don’t panic. The hell!!! Why don’t you just show the people where’s the safest way to go so that they won’t panic?! So much for the guards…
She also then tackles, next, the kind of talk going around and where officials could do some good by stepping in to squelch such talk, if it’s unfounded:
Yesterday the father of my brother’s friend, which is a Colonel in the military, warned us to stay away from malls because according to him there are 3 more bombs. They do not know yet where the other bombs are located. And according to him, the bomb used in Glorietta is indeed a C4. He also added that the C4 used in Glorietta was less than 2kgs and the purpose was just to scare the people. Then last night I received a text message from my friend saying, “This came from my brother Henry from the army. Wag kayo pumunta sa Global City Market Market and Makro Bicutan… All Ayala Corps subject for bombings. Ocean liners hindi pumutok kanina. Intel info yan, high alert kami…”
I don’t know whom to believe because the news hasn’t disclosed this information yet or they haven’t received the information. And the military hasn’t given any statement regarding this information. But it seems that the info is quite correct in saying that there are still 3 bombs scattered in Metro Manila. Nevertheless, I wrote this to warn other people to be vigilant.
This is the problem: much as the stories being passed around bothers people (see Oodles of Goodles and love-andy and Willie Galang.COM for examples of those who feel bothered) in the absences of official reassurances to the contrary, passing around information may be the only way the citizenry has to cope with the possible implications of the blast. Put it this way, even if the blast wasn’t due to terrorism, it raises troubling questions, as Mara Finds points out:
[B]ut what is being stored there and why it wasn’t being audited and regulated by Ayala Center is a little bit questionable because, allegedly, there is a big gasoline tank sitting right under the mall and empty fuel cylinders being stored there.
What, they can’t find alternative storage solutions that they have to choose storing explosion hazards in the basement of a very busy mall?! While the investigators have not released a definite cause of the blast, whether it’s an accident or work of terrorist groups, it’s idiotic to give anybody or anything undue access to a large cache of volatile fuel.
There are others firmly convinced any official responsibility is improbable, even unthinkable, see Postcard Headlines.
When the soldiers were beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf, we were disgusted, violated, but we could push past it and say it’s the risk a soldier takes. It is the same for the activists and journalists, the leaders and politicians. They’re only names, mourned now, replaced by someone else’s story tomorrow. But what’s different about the Glorietta blast, in the reactions and confessions and the dozens of entries in blogs all over the Internet, is the uniform mix of fear and relief. There is no forgetting this one. The words that are repeated, in murmurs and whispers down the alleyways of cyberspace are the same. It could have been my brother. It could have been my boyfriend. It could have been my mother. It could have been me.
It could have been the girl and her father who had lunch in Luk Yuen. It could have been the boy who was planning to go to Toby’s to look at sports equipment. It could have been any of the thousands who pour out of the Ayala MRT station and flood the crossing into Glorietta. There’s no longer any sense of safety–it happened in a mall, that safe haven of the 21st century. It is the same mall where young couples hold hands while walking, the same mall so many of us who were raised in Manila have wandered into dozens of times without a thought. And in Glorietta 2, where the bomb struck, there were play areas, and toys, and children’s books, and stores for mommies-to-be. Safe? We don’t know what that means anymore.
But in my own space I had to point out one troubling aspect of the whole tragedy is that it shows no one is capable of rallying the country even in times of disaster, when the normal (and healthy) instinct of a population should be to rally around the flag. I’ve learned that readers only react to columns when they disagree, and so I wasn’t surprised when some readers took exception with my generally praising the police: but it is really too soon, to my mind, to come to any conclusions about how they’ve handled things.
As things stand, last Sunday’s Inquirer editorial asked readers to brace themselves, and pointed out something blogger Pwede Na, who has a must-read blog entry which begins with a meditation on our mall culture,
There is a direct relationship between the noise levels in a mall, the frigidity of the aircon, and the income levels of the shoppers — the poorer the clientele, the colder and louder the mall. Poor folk come to a mall to cool down, and to be entertained. They want their money’s worth!
SM North Mall leaves one half deaf after an hour, and you had better bring a sweater if you’re planning to take in a movie. The Rockwell Mall, which you can’t even get to on public transportation, goes for the very upscale shopper and is nearly silent. So, if you want powerful aircon, well, you can get that at home.
A few weeks after the new TRINOMA mall opened I realized it was not going for the same demographic as the Ayala’s Glorietta Mall in the City of Makati’s financial district. TRINOMA now leaves me almost as hearing impaired as SM North. Adjacent to a new cross-country bus terminal, TRINOMA advertises itself as a “regional mall” capturing shoppers from the provinces a few hours north of Metro Manila. You can see the probinsyanos wandering the mall, wide eyed, and hanging on to each other. ATM machines every 50 meters insure that they won’t come up short on cash before they head back to the bus terminal and the return trip to Bulacan, Tarlac, or Pampanga.
And why the public has reacted the way it has:
What is interesting is how quickly we absorb the shock, those of us who did not lose a loved one and who were not injured. On Sunday, two days after the event, we were in the SM North Mall to get some gardening supplies. The mall had about half the number of people one might normally expect for a Sunday. Barring any new bombings, I suspect the crowd will be back to normal by next Sunday.
The October 21, 2007 editorial in the Philippine Daily Inquirer notes the sadness of our country, the fact that there are so many suspects in this bombing. The real tragedy, however, is that for a great many Filipinos and other residents, including this one, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her government are among the suspects. This is not the assessment of wild-eyed conspiracy theorists, but of average work-a-day people.
Similar thoughts were echoed in today’s Inquirer editorial, too.
A day prior to this story, Investigators not discounting accident in Glorietta blast, word was already going around that the police were rethinking the accident angle. As well they should, since all possibilities have to be looked into. But a hypersensitive public will tend to pore over every official comment to see what it may mean when police officials say US experts unable to detect C-4 component from blast site, when perhaps all the cops are doing is trying to be more nuanced:
However, Razon said the test results could have varied because Philippine and American authorities swabbed different areas.
“The [US] tests are negative because when the US experts arrived at the blast site, they swabbed the exterior portions or the portions that were not directly at the center, or at the seat, of the explosion. That’s why it tested negative,” Razon said in Filipino.
Razon added that, “But when the PNP Crime Laboratory personnel conducted their swabs, it was in the general vicinity of the seat of the explosion.”
“That is the explanation why the swabbing of US experts showed negative results for RDX,” he said.
As it is, even as the latest is, PNP: Accident in Glorietta becoming more and more likely: No bomb components found, they better be doing their homework and dotting every i and crossing every t (and here’s how things can get misconstrued: some would ask, why doesn’t the FBI say something, then; others will say, that’s protocol, they’re guests so only Philippine officials will talk; how to resolve it? Officials should say if protocol’s at work or what to expect by way of an official statement from foreign observers).
Inner Sanctum explores the accident theory, which he says “geek friends” proposed even when official statements started focusing on that possibility:
Over the weekend, several geek friends of mine have put forward deflagration as the probable cause of the Glorietta blast, especially after The Inquirer published a composite image of the blast site inside the Glorietta 2 lobby.
According to them, deflagration is just like a gigantic fart, wherein tremendous gas pressure is released similar to a gas-powered canon–meaning, in one direction–as opposed to the ripple effect of a bomb.
Philippine Commentary who seemed morally convinced the blast was terrorist-related, goes to greater lengths and points to GexCon, a gas explosion consultancy, whose handbook does make interesting reading. but not everyone is quick to embrace this possibility.
However, Chemical experts doubt new blast theory:
Ernesto dela Cruz and Wilfredo Jose, both professors in chemical engineering, faculty members and students said it was unlikely that a leak from the tank containing thousands of liters of diesel at the mall’s basement caused the blast.
The engineers said diesel is not a volatile substance and will not explode as a liquid at any rate. They said it has to be in a gaseous state and has to vaporize before it can explode.
They said that for diesel to vaporize, it has to be heated to up to more than 200 degrees Celsius inside a diesel engine.
Dela Cruz, Jose and the others also said that it would also be impossible that methane gas that allegedly leaked from the mall’s septic tank caused the blast.
The experts, however, said that methane explodes only if ignited. They said a mixture of five to 15 percent methane and 85 percent oxygen may explode when lit.
They added that the mixture should contain a substantial amount of chemical components to reach a blast magnitude similar to the one at the mall on Friday afternoon.
The professors said they doubt that there was enough methane inside the Glorietta 2 sewer to fuel the explosion that reached up to the building’s roof three stories from the basement.
They also said that the rate of reaction would have to be quick to attain an explosion with impact. There should also have been a bad odor, much like that of rotten eggs, if the cause of the blast was indeed methane gas.
More convincing is Tongue In, Anew:
If the diesel tank, which by the way is almost always filled especially in applications such as malls and other establishments frequented by many people, did cause the huge explosion, it should have been blown beyond recognition. Generators used for critical applications such as Glorietta’s are typically run with and without load weekly both automatically then manually for about fifteen minutes just to make sure the Genset (engine + alternator/dynamo w/ Auto-start/Auto-shutdown circuits) and the electrical controls (Automatic Transfer Switch, Paralleling Switchgear, etc.) will work in the event a real power interruption (brownout) does occur. It also ensures that the batteries are recharged regularly. Without batteries, generators are worthless. This regular process, called Plant Exercise, makes it imperative that the fuel tank/s are always filled to its upper limits. Meaning very little space for compression and combustion in the tank’s upper chamber.
What did the pictures show? A fuel tank standing perfectly by itself, except for a small hole and with a portion of the top cover appearing to me as intentionally pried open. The tank did not appear to have “bloated” or puffed out as it should be if it had exploded from inside. The small hole? It looks to me like it was there all the time. Maybe a vent punched out by maintenance for pressure release. This is necessary especially if the fuel delivery pipes to the engine operate by gravity (think pressurized water tanks vs. gravity tanks).
Or it could have been used as inspection hole to check fuel level either visually or by using a dipstick. Some tanks usually have level indicators using a transparent plastic tubing stretched vertically outside with both ends connected to metal tubes welded at the top and bottom of the tank’s side. The level outside is the same inside since liquids seek their own level. But since this type of indication is neither rigid nor durable, at some time maintenance people disable this and use the more reliable dipstick method.
Again, the metal plate that this hole was created in did not look dented in nor puffed out that would have indicated any explosion either coming directly from the top or from the inside, respectively.
I now also remember talking to military officers from the Electronics group called AFPCES some years back who wanted me to design and build diesel tanks thick enough to repel bullets. I was told the NPAs use AFPCES’ tanks for target practice (including soldiers climbing their antenna masts) but when I asked how many have died in the explosions, I was told the bullets just punctured the tanks and at worst, it would deprive them of a week’s supply of diesel but no explosions. Either I was watching too many cowboy movies at the time or totally ignorant to have asked that.
Who also explores the sewage tank angle:
From what little I know about sewage treatment plants (I designed and installed electrical controls including semi-automation modules for, what do you know? A high-rise 5-star Hotel and a mall complex!), the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA)- if your establishment spills a huge volume of effluent towards the Laguna Lake or any of its tributary rivers, or the DENR – if your sewers lead to floodways or esteros flowing to any of the seas in Luzon, sewage treatment plants (STPs) ARE required by either gov’t offices before Environmental and Sanitation Permits are issued, thus construction permits are withheld in their absence. A mall the size of Glorietta, or the whole Makati Commercial Complex or Ayala Center as it is now called, IS required to operate a Sewage Treatment Plant.
Two possibilities, therefore. Either Glorietta has its own or it pumps its sewage into a central STP operated by Ayala Center. If not, then either LLDA or DENR did not do its job here. Or were bribed. In the late nineties, 2 or 3 malls/condos in the Ortigas-Shaw corridor were issued Cease and Desist Orders by LLDA because they were found pumping sewage straight to the city lines. They were heavily fined and closed temporarily until they constructed their own STPs. At least, that’s what the papers said.
What does an STP do?
To simplify, it first screens solids out of the influent waste from the mall, breaks down into “digestible” size large sediments like a giant blender with many agitator blades at the bottom of the tank; then pumps all of it into an aeration tank where air produced by big fan blowers is pumped from under the sludge, making aerobic bacteria digest organic waste. The next tanks would separate liquid from the remaining sludge. Liquid undergoes chlorination before the effluent is released to the city sewers while the remaining sludge repeats the process. This is where methane gas is produced. In large quantities, it may be dangerous as 14% methane mixed with oxygen explodes when ignited. Some large STPs use the gas to heat and dissolve the sludge but in this size (Glorietta’s) there is not enough methane produced to install a collector-burner stage. Abroad, it is common in city-size STPs but of the 3 private-owned medium-sized STPs I’ve worked on in the past, I have not seen one with a methane collector-burner stage, much less one that exploded.
It would be stupid likewise that Glorietta, or Ayala for that matter, would maintain a large septic vault holding raw sewage under one of its public buildings. They employ the finest architectural firms in the world to design their projects, any firm of that caliber would definitely not skip the basic requirements in their designs. So will sanitation and safety engineers, too. Even our houses’ pozo negros have vent pipes with which to “breathe” out the gas. Further, Methane does not stay stable for long. It breaks down into Hydrogen Sulfide which is a very toxic gas. We haven’t heard anyone die of gas poisoning in Glorietta prior to the incident, have we? Instead, what many witnesses and victims smelled was a gunpowder-like odor. Or in one victim’s words, “amoy-paputok”, which is characteristic of a C4 blast. A explosion caused by methane could be preceded or followed by flames and we haven’t heard of any such thing in Glorietta. Let’s take a look at the simplified chemical equation of burning methane in ordinary air:
CH4 + 2(O2 + 3.76N2) = 2H2O + CO2 + 2(3.76N2 + energy
where energy may be all or combination of Sound/Heat/Light/Shockwave
It is standard that explosion relief vents are constructed in STPs, more so one under a Generator room. The Generator Room itself, depending on the size and quantity of gensets, may have several exhaust fans to evacuate the hot air around the engines, the cooling system’s radiators (or water pipes to the external cooling towers for large installations), and the exhaust mufflers. I will not accept any excuse that the generator room is a totally contained/enclosed one, meaning a sealed vault where the operators can die from fumes inhalation either from the fuel or the engine exhaust. It is therefore safe to conclude that the generator room was well ventilated. Blast waves and shock waves cannot be produced like that as in Glorietta (blasting through the flooring up to the 4th floor) if it was not a sealed container.
Now, a room that has many vents and openings, doors, windows, vents, etc. should have allowed the smell at least of the foul-odored sewage, or methane gas, or hydrogen sulfide (when methane breaks down) and it would have been detected earlier by Ayala personnel or reported by shoppers. Any reports? Nothing I’m sure.
That being the case, and all the foregoing arguments here from my raw experience and stock knowledge, all debunks either the methane or diesel theory or the combination of both.
And from the layman’s point of view, Uniffors points out, however,
Remember a few years ago, there was a methane gas explosion from an underground sewage pipe in the street fronting the DFA office in Roxas Blvd. The blast was so powerful it tore up the pavement and sent a car a few feet airborne, but there was [no] fire.
Journal of the Jester-in-Exile tries to tie all the information together (read the whole thing):
Back to wrapping up a few things. In the next episode of CSI: Makati, I’ll be talking about my hypothesis on the why, as a follow-up to the how, the Glorietta blast occurred. Let’s face it — it takes a lot to ignite diesel and methane vapor, even in a confined environment, and the confined environment itself has factors that militate against the ignition of the flammable vapor (e.g., the velocity of the aircon exhaust roiling and disturbing the air inside the confined environment, the absence of any pressurization in the diesel tank or septic tank that would cause flammable vapor to accumulate much too rapidly for the vapor to be dispersed into outside air). Thus, it seems to me that it’s fairly unlikely that this was a simple case of an industrial accident.
Okay, it MAY BE an industrial accident, but it was probably STAGED.
American blogger Left Flank says American troops here on exercises might be playing it too cool (while prudently keeping safe) but also says,
The most ridiculous commentary on Filipino politics, though might be this: “An alternative theory in the investigation into the Makati bombing is that it was accidentally set off by incendiary material inside the building.”
Make that clumsy employee president!
One news item shows how intense emotions have gotten: Kin of Glorietta victims ask Arroyo for justice, not cash. And Twilight Zone news stories just adds to the unease: Calls to Rajah Solaiman diverted to Rep. Biazon’s cell phone.
In the end, I have to say ahnnabanana makes a good point:
A lot of friends overseas are writing about how glad they are that they left because they heard about the recent Glorietta bombing. How the Filipinos have grown apathetic and indifferent to such tragedies. That they’re so safe in America blah blah blah. I don’t think we’re apathetic. We feel bad about it, yes. But realistically, what is there to do about it? Protest with signs that say “STOP THE BOMBINGS”? Stay in our houses and not go to malls forever? Cry to show that we’re affected? Hold prayer rallies? Of course people will still go to work. Of course life will go on. When it happened I was doing a show in Greenbelt, the mall right beside Glorietta. Yesterday I had one, today I had two shows. Something like this can happen anywhere. A bomb can be assembled inside a mall with materials bought inside a mall. And where did the Columbine and Virginia tech shooting happen again? America, right? I’m not trying to go on this self-righteous, nationalistic high horse. My point is NO PLACE IS SAFE, not even first-world countries. It pisses me off when people are proud to be Filipino when something good happens like Pacquiao winning some boxing match then disown the country when something bad happens.