Compostela ignored geohazard maps

Rhodina Villanueva - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - On geohazard maps and the environment department’s website, vast tracts of Compostela Valley are shaded in red, with New Bataan town in purple.

The purple areas are considered no man’s land – permanent danger zones where human settlement should not be allowed because of the “very high” susceptibility to landslides due to their proximity to mining areas. Many of the areas are also watersheds.

Yet neither local executives nor residents heeded the warnings, given as far back as 2006, and it’s doubtful if anyone bothered to look at the geohazard maps.

Compostela Valley bore the brunt of the fury of typhoon “Pablo” earlier this week, with New Bataan suffering the highest number of casualties.

Most of the dead were buried in mudslides and rampaging floodwaters that came down from the mountainous areas where small-scale mining is widespread.

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said his department had repeatedly requested several local government units (LGUs) to enforce a ban on human settlement in permanent danger zones.

Paje said the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) distributed nearly 70,000 copies of the geohazard maps to LGUs way back in 2006. The maps can also be viewed on the MGB website, www.mgb.gov.ph.

In the “landslide susceptibility map” for Compostela Valley, most of the province is marked red for “high” risk, with several portions marked purple for “very high” risk. Some portions around the center of the province are marked yellow, for “low” susceptibility.

Paje noted that New Bataan, particularly Barangay Andap, which suffered the highest number of fatalities in the town, is within the purple zone.

Andap was the site of a riverside village hall and gym that served as temporary shelter for evacuees at the height of Pablo. The evacuation center was washed away when the river overflowed.

MGB director Leo Jasareno said that based on the 2006 geohazard assessment, 25 percent of Compostela Valley was considered to be at high risk for landslides and 23 percent for flooding.

In New Bataan, 38 percent of the barangays were considered highly prone to landslides and 44 percent to floods. Jasareno said that outside New Bataan, over 60 villages were considered landslide-prone.

Paje noted that people may not want to leave even high-risk areas if they depend on mining sites for their livelihood.

“It’s not only an environment issue; it’s also a poverty issue,” Paje said. “We really have a strong coordination with the LGUs... we think the LGUs must have the political will to evacuate and... in the worst-case scenario, force evacuation in certain areas or communities that are within permanent danger zones.”

Former senator Juan Miguel Zubiri reminded LGUs yesterday that they have police powers under the Disaster Management and Preparedness Act to implement forced evacuation.

“Let us use the geohazard maps as guides for LGUs on how they should plan their municipalities, especially when allowing the construction of community sites,” Zubiri said.

Zubiri, who hails from Bukidnon, said drastic measures should also be considered, with President Aquino himself stepping in to clear danger zones, save lives and protect the environment.

Pablo was reportedly the first typhoon to hit Bukidnon in 60 years.

Natural forest cover

Meanwhile, Ricardo Calderon, director of the DENR’s forest management bureau, told reporters during the Rembrandt news forum in Quezon City yesterday that of the 468,000 hectares total land area of Compostela Valley, its 120,000- hectare natural forest cover is still intact and has been the target of illegal loggers.

“The natural forest cover of Compostela Valley, which is a protected area, was also devastated during the typhoon and we are still assessing the damage,” he said.

Calderon said the reported deforestation is only confined to areas outside the natural forest and it’s not accurate to blame illegal logging as the major cause of massive flooding and landslides in the area.

“Illegal logging was only an aggravating factor, it was an act of nature. The typhoon was so strong,” he said.

Calderon said the province is covered by the total log ban order issued by President Aquino last year. – With Perseus Echeminada



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