Compostela Valley landslide death toll now 25-A A +A
Thursday, January 5, 2012
DAVAO CITY (5th update, 7:22 p.m.) -- A landslide buried dozens of people Thursday at a small-scale gold mining site in Compostela Valley, leaving at least 25 dead less than a month after heavy rains hit the area.
Governor Arturo Uy said the landslide struck around 3 a.m. in Barangay Napnapan, Pantukan town when most residents were asleep.
Aside from those confirmed dead, more than 100 people are believed to be buried.
Army Lieutenant Colonel Camilo Ligayo said about 120 soldiers were heading to the area to help dig for survivors and bodies.
Saul Pingoy, a local resident, told dzMM radio that he was sleeping in a house about 50 yards (meters) away from the landslide when he felt the ground shake and heard rocks falling on roofs.
It wasn't raining at the time, he added.
"The mountain itself was already sending a warning with falling rocks. That's why we were woken up ... and then it collapsed," he said. "Big boulders and the ground from the mountain covered the area."
Compostela Valley is on the main southern Philippine island of Mindanao, where flash floods triggered by a tropical storm killed more than 1,250 people in December.
Uy said miners and their families had been warned that the heavy rains made the small tunnels more dangerous.
Thousands of poor Filipinos dig and pan for gold in the area, hoping to strike it rich despite the dangers of largely unregulated mining. The tunnels are often unstable and landslides and accidents are common.
Uy said authorities advised residents as early as December 16 when Tropical Storm Sendong (international codename: Washi) was sweeping across Mindanao to leave their tunnels, "but unfortunately some have not responded to our advisories."
Hundreds of residents near the site of Thursday's slide were forced to evacuate last April after a landslide killed about 20 people.
Uy said it was difficult to monitor the "extremely high risk area" because it is so remote and some residents who were evacuated in April may have "sneaked back."
Search and retrieval operations are ongoing.
Aquino orders probe into Compostela Valley landslide
In Malacanang, President Benigno Aquino III on Thursday ordered an investigation into a landslide, Presidential spokespeson Edwin Lacierda said.
He added that Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo will be going to Compostela Valley on Friday to personally assess the damage and meet with the local government officials.
The government has been conducting search and rescue operations for those people feared to have been buried alive when the landslide occurred at Barangay Napnapan in Pantukan town around 3 a.m. Thursday.
Besides military personnel, a geological assessment team has been dispatched by Environment Secretary Ramon Paje to the area to ensure safety of the search and rescue teams, Lacierda said.
Barangay Napnapan has been declared as a hazard zone by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), according to Lacierda. Local officials were previously warned about the danger of living the area before the tragic accident happened, he added.
"Last April, (Environment) Secretary Mon Paje, (Interior) Secretary (Jesse) Robredo and (Defense) Secretary (Voltaire) Gazmin had a meeting, [during] Holy Week, with the local government officials and they presented a geohazard map of that area. And they categorically informed them, the local government officials, that there were already fissures in the ridges in this particular area and they strongly warned the local government unit that they have to evacuate the residents in those areas," Lacierda said.
However, he said that local government officials had difficulty monitoring residents' evacuation due to the remoteness of the area.
"According to Governor (Arturo) Uy, upon the recommendation of MGB (Mines and Geosciences Bureau), the miners started vacating but the miners [later] went back to the areas," he related.
He also noted that the DENR last April issued a suspension of the environmental compliance certificates (ECC) on small-scale mining but operations continued.
"There’s always the problem with small-scale mining. Not only do they degrade the environment—and this is what the situation is—they do not use safe means of mining. Part of the effort previously was to cancel their ECC. When you suspend the ECC, local government units are not supposed to issue mining permits anymore because that is a requisite of an issuance of a mining permit," he stressed.
Similar landslides happened in Kingking village also in Pantukan town April last year that killed about 20 people.
Lacierda said Thursday's incident was "unacceptable" for the Palace and an investigation will be held to determine who's accountable for the tragedy.
"It’s unfortunate that it happened...The difficulty of reaching it (landslide area) is very, substantially, very difficult and it is a reason that they pose. But, again, it is not enough for us to accept that especially when lives are lost. And that’s the reason why Secretary Robredo is going there to confer with the local government officials," he said adding that the DILG will be leading the probe.
In the wake of the incident, the DENR will be providing geohazard maps to all local government units and the media to educate the public on hazardous areas in the country.
President Aquino will also be meeting with the Climate Change cluster to discuss geohazard mapping and ensure that evacuations in areas declared as hazardous are properly and strictly executed.
Use geohazard maps, LGUs told
For her part, Senator Loren Legarda said that the government must make sure settlers stay away from landslide-prone areas, especially those near mining zones.
"This is not the first time that a landslide occurred in the town of Pantukan. In April last year, a landslide that was triggered by heavy rains occurred in a small-scale mining community in Barangay Kingking. In May 2009, a mudslide in Barangay Napnapan killed at least 16 people. We must stop this cycle of disaster," she said.
Legarda said local governments should use geo-hazard maps as a guide to determine where people can be allowed to live.
"As many would certainly ignore the call since they would have no other place to go to, the government must strictly enforce its policies and initiate the relocation of families in landslide-prone areas not only in Compostela Valley but all over the country before they are all engulfed by the very place they call home," she said.
Failure to use geo-hazard maps has also been cited in floods that killed more than a thousand in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City late last month. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources said the maps had already been distributed to 1,600 municipalities and cities and around 4,000 barangays.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III has filed a resolution asking the Senate committee on the environment and natural resources to hold hearings in aid of legislation to prevent a repeat of flooding in Northern Mindanao and the Visayas that killed thousands last month. He noted a lack of coordination between the national and local governments before and after Tropical Storm Sendong caused massive flooding in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City.
The country already has a law on reducing disaster risks and only lacks implementation, Legarda said Thursday.
Legarda, in a text message to Sun.Star, said "We already have the law in place. What's needed is the political will to be pro-active and invest in disaster mitigation activities." Among those activities are setting up early-warning systems, holding regular evacuation and emergency drills, reforestation, and a ban on building homes in hazard-prone areas, she said.
She was referring to the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management which requires disaster plans on the national and local government levels. The law creates Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Offices in local governments that will identify hazards in their areas, inform residents of these hazards, and train local emergency response teams in case calamities strike.
In a separate report, Paje also reiterated his appeal to all local government officials to revisit the geohazard maps distributed by the agency and institute mitigating measures to shield communities from danger.
The environment chief raised the possibility of further landslides due to the condition of the soil as well as holes caused by small-scale mining.
Republic Act 7076, otherwise known as "Peoples Small Scale Mining Act of 1991", defines small-scale mining as operations with heavy reliance on manual labor and without the use of explosives.
According to Paje, the geohazard maps that were distributed to LGUs in 2010 not only identify the areas susceptible to landslides, floods and flashfloods but also the level of their susceptibility such as high, moderate or low.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), which crafted and distributed the maps, had also indicated in the geohazard maps possible relocation sites which the LGUs may consider in their resettlement program.
Under the existing protocol, LGUs shall evacuate inhabitants living in flood-and landslide-prone areas to relocation sites in times of impending typhoon or other weather disturbances that could bring heavy rains.
However, the areas "continue to act as a magnet to as many as 200,000 individuals during a gold rush," Paje said.
In this case, Science and Technology Undersecretary Graciano Yumul said the unrelenting rainfall in the past few days caused the saturation of soil.
“The geology of the area is also highly mineralized, clayey soil that caused it to easily erode,” he said in a text message. (AP/Jill Beltran/Virgil Lopez/Jonathan de Santos)