Burial grounds

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At the rate deadly landslides are occurring, it seems there is a burial ground somewhere in the highland waiting to be filled with unsuspecting mortals.

About 80 souls were buried in a bunkhouse for miners in Barangay Ucan in Itogon, Benguet on 15 September following the onslaught of typhoon “Ompong” in Northern Luzon. Another 65 people were killed in Barangay Tinaan, Naga City, Cebu on 20 September and an initial three bodies were recovered from a Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) building in Sitio Imisan, Barangay Alonogan in Natonin, Mountain Province on Tuesday, 30 October. Mud, rocks and boulders fell on the building housing the DPWH’s Second District Engineering Office in the Cordillera Autonomous Region at the height of typhoon “Rosita.”

Three separate landslides reported also on Tuesday killed a man in Sitio Fotay, Barangay Lias Silangan in Barlig, Mountain Province; three children and their father in Sitio Higib in Batad, Banaue in Ifugao province and another child in Mabilong, Lubuagan town in Kalinga.

The typhoon rains that softened and loosened the ground causing it to fall were again being blamed for the landslides. But how about the lives lost? Can authorities hold “Ompong” and “Rosita” responsible? Or the dead victims who were forced by circumstances to be in the spot they never knew was unsafe?

Can someone be accountable for the series of natural disasters? Somehow, the landslides could have spared lives if authorities were really preventing casualties.

It was reported that the DPWH building served as an evacuation center for villagers and DPWH personnel on duty like the Itogon bunkhouse that was swallowed by the ground together with the people who sought refuge there for protection against the typhoon. Why would such structure serve as an evacuation site when it is not safe from landslide?

The Mines and Geoscience Bureau (MGB) declared Barangay Tinaan as a landslide-prone area as early as 2008 based on the geohazard map of the place. In August, the MGB found on the land surface of Sitio Tagaytay and Sindulan cracks, which are signs of imminent landslide. On 18 September, two days before the disaster, the MGB advised the city government to implement a forced evacuation after major cracks became visible in Sitio Tagaytay. However, the City Environment and Natural Resources Officer, Jehan Repollo, reportedly asked for an official assessment as basis for the evacuation and the MGB issued the memo the next day for sending to the local government of Naga City on 20 September, the day the disaster struck.

The evacuation procedure, including the issuance of an official MGB site assessment and recommendation memorandum, appeared to be flawed and bureaucratic. Moreover, local officials were amiss when they allowed the settlement of the sitios.

The MGB spends about P400 million yearly to create and update geohazard maps used for disaster risk reduction. But it is a waste of taxpayers’ money as such maps that indicate areas prone to earthquake, flood and landslide are being ignored by authorities and the people.

Under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Geohazard Mapping and Assessment Program being implemented by the MGB and the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority, the national geohazard map completed in 2010 indicated Benguet, Cebu and Mountain Province as among the top 10 provinces highly susceptible to landslides.
The other provinces in the top 10 are Marinduque, Rizal, La Union, Southern Leyte, Nueva Vizcaya, Batangas and Romblon.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council was supposed to disseminate a video on landslide safety produced by the MGB. Yet, houses were still built in disaster-prone areas and the mine workers went to the wrong shelter where they met their death.

There was a government project on the use of landslide monitoring system that warns of imminent landslide and prompt local officials to implement forced evacuation. The project involved the Department of Science and Technology, Office of the Civil Defense and the University of the Philippines. Funds spent for the project also went to waste with the deaths from the Itogon, Naga and Natonin landslides.

If the mentioned government agencies really know how and what to do to reduce casualties, then why are all their efforts go for naught. If they continue to be incompetent or negligent, Itogon, Naga and Natonin will not be the last “burial grounds” in the mountains swallowing innocent lives during disaster seasons.

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