Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Southern Leyte Landslide: What DID not happen?

February 21, 2006

Ricarido Saturay, Jr.*
email: rmsaturay at

The Southern Leyte Landslide: What DID not happen?

The landslide in Southern Leyte was, according to the
DENR, �a disaster waiting to happen�. True enough, the
area�s geologic hazards have been identified as early
as 2003.

Furthermore, the general hazards posed by the
geologic, topographic, meteorological and land use
setting of the area could easily be pointed out by our
own scientific experts and government planners.
However, the disaster did happen.

What happened? The causes of the disaster maybe
grouped into two: the triggering factors which are the
direct and immediate causes and the conditioning
factors which have already been in place long before
the disaster.

Clearly, the intensity and amount of rainfall would be
the most suspect triggering factor. The reported
earthquake could be discounted considering its low
magnitude, epicentral distance to the site, and the
timing of the two events (The landslide, according to
reports occurred before the earthquake.).

The conditioning factors are those that we have good
knowledge of: weak rocks due to the Philippine Fault
zone, thick soils due to the climate and steep slopes.
The land cover and land use also fall into this

All of these have already been pointed out in
statements by concerned government agencies and
scientific institutions.

What did not happen? Simply put, measures to address
both the triggering and conditioning factors were
non-existent or at the least, not implemented.

It is not true that the causes could not have been
predicted or monitored. In other countries, potential
amount and intensity of incoming rain has been
successfully measured using precipitation radars.

A good network of rain gauges sending out near-real
time data or even crude locally based rain gauges can
give a warning a few hours before a disaster. However,
PAGASA does not have a very good network of rain
gauges in the area, much more precipitation radars.
This, the national government knows very well.

Knowing the general setting of the area long before
the disaster, a detailed geologic hazard map could
have been made. But with the limited personnel and
budget of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau allocated
for geohazard mapping, detailed geohazard maps were
not produced. This, the national government also knows
very well.

However, all these knowledge of the triggering and
conditioning factors are not enough to prevent the
disaster. It is important for the people to know and
understand their situation.

Nevertheless, a comprehensive disaster mitigation
program at the community level which includes
geohazard information, land use planning and
systematic warning and evacuation procedures, was not
formulated nor implemented. This, the national
government has failed to do.

Such disaster is but a reflection of the backward
state of our nation�s science and technology. We have
failed not only to generate the necessary knowledge to
predict the disaster, but more importantly, to
implement measures for the dissemination of such
scientific knowledge to the people in order to prevent
the loss of lives and property.

Gloria Arroyo�s recent release of P80 million to
finish the geohazard mapping cannot cover up the
government�s negligence in this field. Worse, her
pronouncement of possible outsourcing of the project
to foreign experts reveals her total disregard of the
capability of our local experts.

The disaster also reflects the government�s neglect of
the welfare of its citizens. The government has not
decisively implemented concrete and immediate measures
to address the problem of the people.

In three years time (since 2003), it has failed to act
on the geohazards issue considering that similar
recent disasters have occurred in other places before.

Ironically the government is quick to act when it
comes to the implementation of anti-people policies
such as the liberalization of the mining industry. In
a few month�s time after the Supreme Court upheld the
�constitutionality� of the Philippine Mining Act, the
government has embarked on an aggressive program for
the plunder of our national patrimony.

In the context of this disaster, the question of �What
happened?� becomes secondary to the question of �What
did not happen?�. We can see that Gloria Arroyo�s
pronouncement of help coming �from the air, land and
sea� is all but too late.

*Mr. Saturay is a Geologist/Instructor at the National
Institute of Geological Science, University of the
Philippines Diliman, and an active member of AGHAM.

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