A man offers candles to his loved ones who perished in the massive landslide in Naga City a year ago yesterday.
Aldo Nelbert Banaynal
Special Report: Lessons from a monster slide
Grace Melanie I. Lacamiento (The Freeman) - September 21, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines —  Everything about the Naga landslide is massive – the number of deaths, the area covered by the slide, the rehabilitation efforts required.

But regardless of the massive rehabilitation task, there seems to be actual progress.

Part of the rehabilitation is to implement a hazard reduction plan (HRP) to prevent further damage on surrounding areas.

It aims to stabilize the slopes left by the landslide, restore the natural course of the Pangdan River, and establish drainage systems to mitigate risks associated with the hazard debris remaining in the landslide-prone areas.

Started on November 30 last year, the HRP is a two-phase project approved by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and funded by Apo Land and Quarry Corp. to the tune of P150 million.

The first phase entails the construction of a safety wall, stabilization of slopes along the Pangdan River channel, and clearing of debris, among others.

The second involves more slope stabilization efforts.

Despite incurring delay in completion, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau-7 has assessed that the HRP so far has lived up to its purpose.

In its latest monitoring report, the MGB-7 noted that the first phase is almost finished.

The construction of the Sindulan safety wall (costing P24.9 million), slope stabilization of the Pangdan River (P21 to 22 million), installation of the drainage system (P4.6 million), and the clearing of debris and restoration of Pangdan River channel (P16.5 million) have been completed.

What remains to be done is the flattening of debris at the coal area of Sindulan and Upper Sindulan.

The safety wall has been built at the periphery of the landslide area in Sindulan to avoid risk of possible mudslide, especially during heavy rains.

Bamboo trees have also been planted along the Pangdan River bank.

The second phase, which includes cut-down and slope stabilization and Greyrock push back and slope stabilization, is also being implemented.

The first phase was supposed to be completed in August this year while the second phase in April next year.

But by the way things are going, the MGB said debris may totally be flattened by mid-2020 or roughly two years after the tragedy.

Engineer Armando Malicse, chief of MGB-7 Mine Safety, Environment and Social Development Division, said that with the HRP in place, the area is now 40 to 60 percent free from risks.

The figure will reduce further to 20 to 25 percent once the slope stabilization works are completed.

MGB-7 keeps track of the movement of land around the area, and the monitoring has so far showed no movement.

TEPO Denied

But not all quarters are satisfied.

Environmental lawyer Benjamin Cabrido lamented at how concerned government agencies and private businesses continue to still set apart economic goals from environmental protection and hazard prevention.

“This short-sighted policy and way of thinking is criminally and morally unfair to the present and future generations of Cebuanos,” he said.

“We shall continue on with the struggle to protect whatever remains of our natural environment and our mountains even if it would mean, so to speak, getting our skin becoming as thick as the bark of a pine tree,” he added.

Cabrido, chairman of the board of trustees of the Philippine Earth Justice Center (PEJC), is the lead counsel of the 39 residents of Barangay Tinaan and the PEJC in the P4.5-billion suit for restitution of damage on natural and human environment and issuance of environmental protection order filed in the wake of the tragedy.

The defendants are Cemex Holdings Philippines Inc., Apo Land and Quarry Corp., Apo Cement Corp., Mines and Geosciences Bureau Regional Office-7, City Government of Naga, and Cebu Province.

The plaintiffs asked for the issuance of a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) for Apo to cease and desist from engaging into quarrying during the pendency of the class suit. This was after the 72-hour TEPO issued by RTC Brach 65 of Naga on November 9 last year had expired.

But the same was denied by RTC Branch 23 Judge Generosa Labra in his 14-page order dated August 16, 2019, citing lack of merit.

Labra said the plaintiffs failed to present any evidence and memorandum to support its allegations that there is a newly found further aggravation of the cracks in the ALQC’s quarry site that will result to soil erosion or landslide in the barangays of Tinaan, Naalad, Inoburan, Mainit and Cabugahan.

The alleged cracks appearing at the crown of the landslide, according to ALQC, are natural consequences of the landslide incident and are mere surface cracks being addressed by the HRP.

ALQC defended that the HRP is now in its advanced stages of slope stabilization, such as the benching of high walls.

The court therefore ruled that there was no extreme urgency and no present or imminent danger or threat that could result to grave injustice and irreparable injury of the plaintiffs and thus denied the TEPO.

Meanwhile, the suspension orders issued by Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in September 2018 remain in full force to date, contrary to claim of the plaintiff that ALQC and other quarry firms are now back in business.

Unfazed, the plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration on September 16, citing gross misapplication of the rules.

They said the court committed “gross error” in ruling that they failed to present any evidence to support their plea for TEPO for their failure to file a memorandum since documentary and object evidence “are aplenty.”

They claimed their witnesses, the heads of the provincial and city disaster risk reduction and management offices, were prevented by the defendants to testify.

The defendants also allegedly did not bring the court to the actual ground zero but atop the balded mountain above the sitios Sindulan and Tagaytay.

The order of denial by the court is inconsistent with the rules established by the Supreme Court, such as the application of the precautionary principle, the plaintiffs said.

They added that by the court's reliance on alleged existence of a suspension order from MGB, although not corroborated by testimonial evidence, the court abandoned its duty that in case of doubt, thus it should be biased in favor of plaintiff’s right to balanced and healthful ecology.

The motion for reconsideration was heard yesterday afternoon. The court required the other parties to comment within 10 days from today.  Then, the issue will be submitted for resolution.  The main case, on the other hand, is still ongoing.

Apo Speaks

For ALQC, the court was correct in denying the TEPO application and its decision “recognizes the efforts of ALQC and the other government entities in making the area safer for the community.”

Joseph James Cornejo, who handles the public relations of ALQC, clarified that the company has not resumed its quarrying operations in the city amid the suspension order.

ALQC said it donated propagules and participated in the bamboo planting initiative of the city government to stabilize the mountain slopes.

It added that the Pangdan River was also cleared and strengthened using boulders to prevent soil erosion.

The firm also donated to the city a one-hectare property to serve as a relocation site.

Cornejo said the company rolled out livelihood projects in Barangay Tinaan and gave kitchen equipment, materials and ingredients for food processing ventures.

“More importantly, ALQC is undertaking efforts to boost the capacity of Nagahanons to deal with emergency situations and natural disasters,” he said.

Lessons

As the plaintiffs and defendants are mired in a tug of war, other sectors have found somehow a good side to the tragedy.

Acting City Mayor Kristine Chiong said the slide may have claimed lives and dashes dreams, but it also brought out the spirt of unity among her people.

After the concelebrated Mass held at the City Hall yesterday morning in honor of those who died, Chiong recalled how different individuals and groups came to send their donations and assistance for the victims.

Yesterday, the assistance continued to pour in with Governor Gwen Garcia turning over to Chiong the P3 million in financial assistance to the city government.

The money, according to Chiong, will be used to build drainage system at the relocation site constructed by the city government in Barangay Tinaan and to develop the site.

“The best way to honor those who have perished is to live a life and to commit to rebuild Naga,” she said. “I enjoin everybody and call for unity and cooperation and renewed commitment nga mobangon gyod ang Naga.”

But Chiong also understands the more important lesson, and that is for a local government unit to better equip itself for disasters.

To improve its competence in responding to calamities, the city will revise its master plan for disaster preparedness and management and install a command center and early warning system.

The acting mayor also stressed the importance of proactive relocation.

At least 1,500 students of the Cantao-an elementary and high schools who are temporarily staying at the barangay covered courts due to cracks found in their school buildings will soon be transferred to their permanent relocation in the same barangay but in a safer area.

The funding request for the school project that costs P170 million is now pending at the Department of Education.

While some have complained over the city’s “delayed” action, Chiong has learned to just brush them aside.

“Humans are unique beings. [They] can never be satisfied. The city is doing its part, even going beyond its duty. We have always extended the necessary compassion, transparency, and accountability,” she assured.

Back in Purok 3, Sitio Sindulan, The FREEMAN found landslide survivor Constancia Campanilla sitting idly outside what remained of their house after the tragedy. She was accompanied by her daughter, also a survivor.

On the slopes of the hill that caved in, the grasses have grown back, and they were vigorously green. — with Decemay P. Padilla, JMD (FREEMAN)

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