FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - November 3, 2018 - 12:00am

Again, another landslide happens as a typhoon passes.

Typhoon Rosita might have passed without incident save for the usual damage to crops. But a landslide hit Natonin, Mountain Province.

Ironically, the landside hit an outpost of the DPWH, the agency responsible for assessing the suitability of areas for civil works. Many sought refuge in the sturdy government structure as the storm approached. Many days after, we are still trying to determine how many perished when the soil slid and buried the outpost.

Many parts of the Cordilleras are prone to landslides. The slopes are steep and the mountains high. Landslides and rock falls regularly block roads and interrupt commerce.

The topography is made even more perilous by excessive settlement and virtually unregulated small mining activities. Baguio City, particularly, has long exceeded its carrying capacity. Its narrow roads could no longer carry the traffic load.

Once before, Baguio City’s trash pile crumbled during heavy rain. The city remains without a solid waste management system that is up to standards. It is swamped with the continuous inflow of new residents and tourists. It is easy to see how this congested city moves closer each day to a dangerous breaking point.

The tragedy in Natonin is the second calamitous landslide to hit the Cordillera region this year. We are not sure if the authorities are keeping track of the frequency and scale of landslides happening in the area, those that do not make it to the headlines because no one died.

Earlier this year, I recall, a large rock crashed on an SUV along one of the roads leading up to Baguio. I suppose it is impossible to keep an inventory of loose rocks that may roll down on motorists at the slightest provocation. Since that incident, however, I decided motoring up to Baguio is a high-risk effort not to be undertaken unless absolutely necessary.

Nevertheless, it should be possible to develop a more detailed hazard mapping of the Cordilleras. If landslides could not be prevented, at least settlements should be moved away from where they are most likely to occur. This is what disaster risk mitigation is all about.

I am sure relocating whole communities from the most perilous areas will cost money we do not have on hand. Unlike Boracay, a small island that can be easily sealed, the Cordilleras is a large area that cannot be closed down and rehabilitated. 

The best we can do is to use the most advanced technology available to identify and monitor the riskiest areas. Those who insist on staying in the most prone areas will at least be forewarned. It becomes their responsibility to configure the risk probabilities of their continued stay.


We need a revolution in the attitude of our bureaucracy when it comes to acquisition of technology. Our bureaucrats need to understand that it is more expensive in the long run to purchase inferior technology that not only fail to accomplish their intended missions but become obsolete nearly the day they are installed.

For many years, for instance, we relied on hand-me-downs to protect our long coastline. This year, we decided to purchase state-of-the-art fast craft for the Bureau of Customs and the Coast Guard to better intercept smugglers. The improved competence will make the investments worthwhile in the longer run.

This month, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is scheduled to bid out a P2.1-billion contract for an Integrated Marine Environment Monitoring System. The system will allow our fisheries and coastal authorities to monitor the movement of vessels in our seas to better protect the country’s marine and aquatic resources.

Even before the bidding is concluded, however, several parties have taken issue with the technical specifications issued by the BFAR. They claim the specs are tailor-fit to favor one particular bidder.

Specifically, they complain that the state-of-the-art for monitoring systems like this is reporting in real time. That means any movement of vessels in our waters in reported instantaneously by the system.

The specs issued by the BFAR, however, require a technical specification of “1 position/per hour or 24 positions per day.” This is way below the state-of-the-art, way behind the technological curve. Critics say this is not the best industry practice and will defeat the very purpose for which this expensive acquisition is being made.

There is suspicion this system is being rigged – not only because it was adjusted to accommodate a technologically inferior bidder but also because the specs were leaked to that particular bidder.

The problem besetting this particular procurement is a common one. Powerbrokers come in and push aside the experts. As a consequence, we often end up procuring inferior technology at inordinately high price.

We can only hope it is not too late to delay the bidding and restore the best practices standard to the specs. If we are investing in technology anyway, we should go for the best. Otherwise, early obsolescence will make the procurement more costly eventually – if not a total waste of taxpayer money.

More than that, it will make other investments in other capabilities useless because of inferior technology.

Having invested in modern fast craft for our Coast Guard, will they now rely on a vessel monitoring system that reports only intermittently? We might as well limit our Coast Guard to the use of analogue phones.

It should not be an issue if cutting-edge technology costs a bit more. In the long run, it will accomplish more.

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