TWO days before a landslide wiped out an entire sitio in the City of Naga, local government officials had been told to immediately implement a forced evacuation of all residents near Sitio Tagaytay due to major cracks that became visible in the area.

The recommendation was relayed by geologists of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB)-Central Visayas during an exit conference last September 18, the same day they conducted the second assessment of the reported cracks and fissures in Sitio Tagaytay.

City Environment and Natural Resources Officer Jehan Repollo and representatives of Apo Land and Quarry Corp. (ALQC) joined the assessment and the conference that followed, according to MGB-Central Visayas.

The second assessment was done on the request of Naga Mayor Kristine Vanessa Chiong as a follow-up on the first technical investigation done on August 29, when geologists said that the cracks are signs of a natural phenomenon, that these are not mining or quarry-related and there was no indication these could cause harm to surrounding areas.

In a September 19 memorandum addressed to MGB-Central Visayas Director Loreto Alburo, MGB-Central Visayas geologists Jerali Rodrigo and Dennis Gerald Aleta reported that the monitoring of the cracks and fissures by ALQC indicated ground movements in all the sites investigated last August 29.

A major crack/fissure beside the tower of the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines in SitioTagaytay became visible during the second survey, they said.

“The undersigned geologists recommend the following...immediate forced evacuation of all residents near the area as discussed with representatives from the ALQC and LGU-Naga during the exit conference,” part of the September 19 report read.

The report was uploaded to the website of MGB-Central Visayas on Sunday night, September 23.

MGB-Central Visayas was supposed to give Mayor Chiong a copy of the report on September 20 but the landslide already occurred, burying alive close to 100 residents of Sitio Sindulan, which is located below Sitio Tagaytay.

Repollo said that she told MGB-Central Visayas to provide the city with an official assessment as basis for evacuation adding that the people might not believe them without it. The recommended evacuation were for Tagaytay and Mainit.

“The September 19 memo was not furnished to the LGU of Naga as it was supposed to be sent Sept. 20 when the landslide happened... However, acknowledging the fact that there was an imminent danger found during the second investigation, the recommendations were made during the exit conference so the LGU won’t have to wait for the final investigation report,” said MGB-Central Visayas public information officer Marian Codilla.

Codilla added that MGB-Central Visayas only inspected sitio Tagaytay because it was the only sitio covered by the City Government’s request.

Repollo said that they did not request for assessment for Sindulan since there were no cracks in Sindulan, only in Tagaytay.

“Our geologists asked repeatedly if there are other areas that need investigation... it was never mentioned that there are instability problems in Sitio Sindulan,” Codilla said, adding that Sindulan had been identified as a landslide-prone area as early as 2008.

In an earlier interview, Chiong said she was aware that a second assessment of the cracks in Sitio Tagaytay was done but she wasn’t informed about the findings.

“Hangtud karun, I have yet to hear from MGB 7 on their second assessment,” the mayor told reporters hours after the landslide last Thursday, September 20.

MGB-Central Visayas officials drew the ire of the mayor and the landslide survivors for allegedly ignoring the danger posed by the cracks found in Sitio Tagaytay during their technical investigation and assessment last August 29.

In his memo to Chiong, Atty. Gerardo Mahusay, MGB-Central Visayas Finance and Administrative Division chief, said the cracks within the quarry site operated by ALQC are part of a “natural phenomenon” and “they are not related to the mining operation.” “Further, the present nature, the number and the distribution of cracks/fissures in the subject site are not considered critical and do not pose imminent danger to the neighboring community,” he said in the memo dated August 29, 2018.

MGB’s Mahusay, Aleta, Chief Geologist Al Emil Berador and Regional Director Loreto Alburo have already been suspended and are under investigation. (With a report from JKV)