A LANDSLIDE at Zone 1, Barangay Masara, Maco in Davao de Oro occurred on the evening of February 6, 2024, when everybody was about to settle into their homes and some workers at a nearby mining company were about to go home to their respective families.
Everybody was caught unaware of the deluge of earth coming their way. According to the testimony of one of the survivors who was a worker of a mining company in the area, he heard the deluge of earth and saw the rushing of rocks inside the bus through its windows seconds after he saw his coworkers running outside the bus. He did not hear any voices from humans; only the noise of the avalanche.
"Segundo ra jud ang landslide wala ray minuto nihilom ang yuta (The landslide only occurred in seconds, not a minute later the earth calmed)," JL Blagantio Tecson posted on his Facebook page two nights after the calamity happened.
"MINGAW KAAYO ngilngig kaayo ang kamingaw kay wa koy madungog bisag unsa nga katikaran, nidagan ko pasaka, taod2 naay nisyagit og 'TABANG' naa say nishagit og'“PAAAA! PAAAA!' Gidoul nako og sabay me niadto sa unahan sa landslide sa mga kabalayan nga wa naabtan sa yuta, nalipay ko kay naa koy pipila nga nakit-an nga tao pipila rajud wala ra nalapas sa lima," he added.
(It was so silent; the silence was eerie because I didn't hear any sound. I ran uphill when a few moments later I heard a cry for help, somebody cried "Paaa! (Father) Paaa (Father)!" I approached the source of the voice, and we both went past the landslide area toward where the houses that were not affected by the landslide were. I was happy when I saw a few residents, very few that they were not more than five.)
He said they heard another deluge of earth a few moments later and they rushed toward the upper ground, not minding the pain every time he took steps because he already had no shoes, only socks.
"Taod2 kita nakog mga tao, mga rescuer, mga civilian, didto nako nihilak og samot sige kog pangitag mama gusto ko mugakos sa akg mama kay na buhi jud diay ko, na rescue nako hantod sa nahatod nako sa clinic, lapok jud diay kaayo ko (kanang sa picture) gipaligo nako og gi atiman, nitawag na dayon ko sa mga taong importante saako kay kabalo ko nakabalita na sila," JL narrated.
(A few moments later, I saw people, rescuers, civilians. That's when the time I cried so hard and I looked for my mother. I wanted so hard to embrace her because I was still alive. I was rescued and taken care of, and that's when the time I called the people who are important to me because I knew they already have heard the news.)
A miracle happened
Almost three days after the landslide, when the death toll had already increased to more than 10, a three-year-old girl was rescued, thanks to a K9 dog of the Philippine Coast Guard-Coast Guard District Southeastern Mindanao, Appa.
“Si Appa is siya ang isa sa mga instrument nga nakuha, nakita tung survivor nga bata (Appa is one of the instruments that we were able to get, to rescue the child survivor),” Rejard Marfe, Commodore of PCG-CGDSEM, said in a phone interview.
“Appa's keen sense of smell and agility in traversing the terrain has been invaluable. As the retrieval and search and rescue operation continues, Appa remains an essential part of the Coast Guard's efforts,” the PCG-CGDSEM said in their Facebook post.
Meanwhile, the girl's father, Orlando Malacaste, said in an interview with another news outlet, that he could not immediately believe that it was his child who was rescued. He revealed that he even compared the pictures and videos on his phone to those that were uploaded online.
“Perti nakong lipaya, nagpasalamat ko sa Ginoo nga nabuhi pa ang akoang anak nga pila na ka adlaw tagsa ra ang maka-survive ana, ing-ana nga sitwasyon. Ginoo ra gyud ang pinakagamhanan sa tanan (I was overjoyed and grateful to God that my child is still alive after surviving for several days in that situation. God is truly the most powerful),” he said.
He narrated that they were having dinner when the landslide occurred. While the rest of his family managed to escape, he and his eight-year-old were initially trapped but later escaped safely.
He is hopeful that his missing wife and eldest daughter will also be rescued.
“Perting guula nako, ga-ampo ko unta buhi pa sila. Gabagulbol ko ngano wala may mu-rescue nga wala may delikado dinhing dapita. Buhi pa man ug ma-rescue dayon kay dili man kaayo bug-at ang apgang yuta nga makatabon sa tawo (I pray that they are still alive. I just want to say that why aren't they rescuing on this side when it is not too dangerous. People would still be alive if they rescued them immediately because the loose soil from the mountain is not heavy enough to cover people),” he stressed.
The rescue of the toddler sparked hope among the rescuers, volunteers, concerned government agencies, and the officials of the Davao de Oro province that there might still be people who are alive amid the rubble.
Governor Dorothy "Dotdot" Gonzaga of the Province of Davao de Oro said that they extended their search and rescue operations because of the survival of the three-year-old child. She said they would persist as long as the responders didn't give up.
“Yes me tanan nga i-extend gyud namo. In fact, nasabutan namo nga i-extend ug 48 hours para lang sa search and rescue (Yes, we will extend it. In fact, we all agreed to extend the search and rescue for 48 hours),” Gonzaga said.
She urged people with loved ones buried in the landslide to pray for their welfare, as the survival of the child instilled hope.
Masara a 'No Build Zone'
However, these stories of the survivors would have not been here should the concerned government agencies, officials, and even the residents have followed the advisory of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau in the Davao Region (MGB-Davao).
During the Budyong Online held on February 10, MGB-Davao revealed that Barangay Masara has been assessed to be a "No Build Zone" since 2008.
The bureau's Geosciences Division Chief, Beverly Mae M. Brebante revealed that as early as 2008, Barangay Masara was already identified as a critical area.
"In 2008, we all know na nagkaroon na po ng ganitong klaseng paghulog ng lupa at covered part na po ng barangay Masara, yung original na barangay Masara dati, that is why it was already recommended na maging "No Build Zone" na siya (that there was this kind of deluge of earth, and it covered part of the barangay Masara, the original Barangay Masara before, that is why it was already recommended to be a "No Build Zone)," Brebante said.
Brebante said that Barangay Masara's land is mostly made of up volcaniclastics, or in the word of the official, "ito yung mga bato dati na sa pagputok ng mga bulkan (this was previously rocks that after volcanic eruptions it became) easily withered and eroded."
Volcaniclastics, according to Collins Dictionary, is composed mainly of "fragments of volcanic origin, as agglomerate, tuff, and certain other rocks."
Despite a "No Build Zone", Masara is not only home to many residents, but also to barangay halls, schools, and even small- and large-scale mining companies.
In fact, the operation of one of the largest mining companies in the country is located in Masara.
"As early as January, we have already experiencing the impacts of our shear line, that was on January 15 to 19, around that week, then it was followed by the trough of LPA on the later part of January, during this time the whole region nakaranas ng pag-ulan (experienced continuous rainfall) and naturally ang ating mga lupa dito sa (our land here in the) region, especially in Davao de Oro, particularly in Masara... masyado na pong basa (too wet) and saturated ... and of course pag ganyan na po ang kalagayan ng ating kalupaan madali na po itong bumigay (if that is already the condition of our soil then it would easily give in)," the bureau's official said.
Where the buck should be
The bureau's Geosciences Division Chief also revealed that after the 2008 landslide, they always go back to the area and give updates about the situation to the concerned government offices.
"Always po nating nakikita na nagpro-progress po, kumbaga may mga active na paghulog mismo diyan sa exact area po kung saan nangyari itong landslide (We always find the area to be progressing, meaning there is active falling of soil in the area where the landslide exactly occurred)," Brebante said.
She also said the bureau had provided listings of barangays down to the puroks which are identified as as areas highly to very highly vulnerable to landslide and even to flooding.
"And in fact, Masara was already part of that list even prior to the landslide, mga January namin na advisory... Hindi po tayo naka-prepare masyado (We haven't prepared much) so that's why ito po yung (this is the) impact nong ating pangyayari (of what happened)," she said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Gonzaga said she cannot answer as to what had happened before her administration, since she was only seated as governor in 2022.
"Unang-una, kani nga mga (first and foremost, these) structures and the fact that there are still residents, I could not comment because I was just governor sa (in) 2022, so all these structures and mga tao naa na na daan didto (the people were already there)," the governor said.
"I could only say for the past administrations na since hindi pa nila nare-relocate yung mga tao siyempre they had to give the semblance of normalcy sa lives ng ating community, so ginawa nila meron ding school doon, meron ding barangay hall, kasi nga hindi pa nailipat yung mga community, alangan naman wala silang school," she said.
She also emphasized that the MGB has not yet given a "definite recommendation" on where the residents in critical areas in Maco be relocated.
Plans to prevent and avoid tragedies
Brebante revealed that a team from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau has already conducted an assessment for possible relocation sites.
"Kasi nga gusto natin na it's already declared as a "No Build Zone" (Because we want the area to be really a "No Build Zone)," she said.
But as to the areas ideal for relocation sites for vulnerable places in Maco, the bureau has yet to provide the results of its assessment.
Meanwhile, Gov. Gonzaga reiterated that ever since she started to sit as the governor, it has been her priority to find an ideal place for relocation sites that is recommended by the MGB itself.
The "No Build Zone" classified by the MGB does not only cover the residents but all the businesses inside the critical areas as well.
"It is regardless of establishments, may it be residential, industrial, or commercial, when we say zone, ito po yung area," Brebante said.
But in the meantime, will people, businesses, and activities inside Masara continue? CEA