Thursday, March 23, 2006

Dr. Steeve Godilano's letter on St. Bernard landslide

The following is an edited letter of Dr. Steeve Godilano to his brother, Fr. Celso Godilano, days after the St. Bernard, Southern Leyte, landslide occurred. Steeve would like to share this letter to as many people as possible so that more than simply informing them, a good number would be inspired to do something concrete for others.

The headings in this letter were added in order to help the readers easily locate salient points and better appreciate the contents of the letter at a glance.

The enclosed works of Steeve were done more than two years ago. A lot of changes may have occurred (for better or for worse), including assignments of persons mentioned in the letter.

26 February 2006

It Is Just A Matter Of Time!

I would like to share with you the frustration I have with our government specifically on how they have made a major blunder in disregarding the GIS modeling I developed two years ago. I have the maps and database showing that at least 573 Municipalities in the Philippines are directly prone to landslides. Collateral damage to other municipalities could also be determined through my work. What happened to Ormoc City, Liloan, San Ricardo and St. Bernard in Southern Leyte; to San Francisco in Surigao del Norte; to Dingalan in Aurora ; to Infanta and Real in Quezon; and to Tinambac in Camarines Sur could also happen to these municipalities. It is just a matter of time! The model I developed showed a perfect score so far. Since those responsible government officials disregarded my warnings for almost three years this has become a burden on my conscience that has become like a devil that needs to be exorcised.

Before I continue my story, let me thank you for all your help to guide me in bringing this out to the media. May God bless us for our efforts.

My Saddest Christmas Ever

In December 2003, three days before Christmas I saw in the BBC World the landslide that occurred in Liloan and San Ricardo, Southern Leyte and in San Francisco, Surigao del Sur. I was almost shocked by the footages that show dead people being pulled out of the mud and dumped like garbage into a common grave. Millions around the world have witnessed how unprepared we were for such a magnitude of disaster. Doon ko rin nakita na maraming gustong pumapel, especially our politicians in order to gain pogi points. On the other hand I, being a scientist, contemplated on how I can use my knowledge of the state-of-the-art tools that I have learned in graduate school. This is to predict the probable areas in the Philippines where such disaster could occur, given the historical events and information that I posses, such as extreme rainfall, landforms, geology, land use, land cover, slope, soil texture, and potential soil erosion that happened in the three areas including that of Ormoc City in 1991. I think that was the saddest Christmas I ever had and I was working furiously in my computer even until past midnight.

I have all these information in my Laptop and they cover the whole country. What was needed was to use GIS technology, plus common sense on how the above thematic maps would interact, given the extreme amount of rainfall that fell in those areas within 24-36 hours period. Historical evidence from PAGASA data showed a 500-700 percent above normal rainfall that fell in those areas. I went for the minimum limit to give leeway for errors since we are dealing here with human lives ( mas mabuti yong nasa safe side ka kaysa wala kang aatrasan if I aimed for a 100 percent probability). I created the criteria for the probable landslide occurrence and made an overlay analysis in a GIS environment. Bingo! I got the area of susceptibility to landslide. To make sure that I got the right criteria I matched the results of my analysis to the three areas that were devastated by landslide, including that of Ormoc City. The match was perfect. I then calculated the probable areas by Region, Provinces, and Municipalities, which then enabled me to generate those maps and database. The other question I had in my mind at that time was this: "What will I do with my findings?"

Rubbing Elbows With The High And The Mighty

Reporting back to the DA-BAR In January 2004, where I am the Senior Technical Adviser for GIS and ICT, I saw an invitation letter on my table coursed through Usec. Poliquit. The Geohazard Tasks Force (GTF) was inviting the DA to participate in the 2nd Task Force Meeting. I found it strange that the DA was not included in the 1st Task Force meeting that was immediately organized by President G M Arroyo right after the event that happened in Liloan, San Ricardo, and San Francisco . I contended that the DA should have been included as the majority of those affected in any disaster are the farmers and fisher folks. I have learned that in the first meeting of the GTF they were directed to create the geohazard map of Region 5, 8 and 13. The second task force meeting was called to check on their progress.

I immediately sought a meeting with Usec. Poliquit and showed him the result of my GIS analysis. Convinced of the scientific merit of my work, he immediately confirmed our attendance to the GTF meeting and he insisted that I make a presentation. D-Day was 16 January 2004. I was the third presenter. After my presentation I got a standing ovation from the audience. The moderator was Usec. Geroche of the DENR and also the vice chair of the GTF. He declared that the GTF would adopt the methodology I developed for other disasters and that the two other presenters would no longer present their papers. I was even asked in public how much would be the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) for my efforts and my consultancy fee. Usec. Poliquit even joked that they should negotiate my fee through him as he was the one who discovered my expertise. I was asked to give a digital copy of my presentation for Sec. Guzon . The head of the NDCC (whose name I am not so sure of) also asked for a copy of my presentation and he even asked my permission if he could use my materials in an international conference on disaster prediction and management. I agreed and requested him that he should recognize my efforts as a scientist in his presentation. He informed me a week later that he got praises for the initiative we have made in the country.

A Simple (Almost Naive!) But Very Economical Recommendation

One of my recommendations then was very simple. To prevent so much loss of lives, what is needed is an Early Warning System (EWS): an empty 1.5-liter soft drink container; cut this with a 2" opening and put it one (1) meter above the ground with no obstruction, within a radius of 20 meters (the 2" opening is the level of the liquid). If heavy rains come within 24 to 36 hours, and the bottle is half full, the community should initiate evacuation. Text brigade can be organized in the highlands just in case heavy rains would occur in those places and not in the lowlands. What PAGASA is recommending (this is during the NDCC meeting in 2005) was a rain gauge set-up for every Municipality at a cost of PhP10,000 each. If you search the Internet for rain gauges you can even purchase one for PhP500 only (I have even included this in my presentation). What a significant difference from a PhP35-peso cost of an empty 1.5-liter plastic container of soft drink (libre pa pag napulot mo sa basurahan), to PhP500 for a US-made rain gauge to PhP10,000 fabricated rain gauge by PAGASA. Since we have approximately 1,500 municipalities the total amount would be PhP15 million! How many schools/classrooms can we build with this amount? How many kilometers of farm-to-market roads can be built?

An exercise In Futility

What I was proposing at that time was to print the geohazard maps I developed and send these immediately to all the mayors of the 573 municipalities in my list and also to include the EWS I was recommending. I was just asking a budget of PhP50,000 to cover the cost of the printing materials (PhP100 per municipality). I also informed the group that my presentation and maps will be made available in the DA-BAR Web site (

A week after my presentation, I got a call from Usec. Poliquit telling me that Usec. Geroche called and requested him to contact me to write a project proposal on geohazard mapping using the methodology I developed. I immediately complied and submitted to Usec. Geroche in person the HC and the digital format of the proposal. I even told him that he could modify the costing as I am not familiar with the details on how the DENR allocate budget for a certain project. I even told him that my consulting fee included in the budget is negotiable. I have never heard anything from them after that.

It was indeed a big frustration on my part not to hear anymore what the GTF will do with my proposal considering that time was running out. Meanwhile I did not keep my silence but presented in many occasions the results of my analysis. Copies of which were given for free. I even traveled to Legaspi City on my own expenses just to present my paper to the Provincial and Municipal Planning Officers of Region 5 (inembita ako through a friend at wala din daw silang pera for my fare).

Information Is Awareness And Awareness Is Preparedness

Ten months (November2004) after my presentation to the GTF, the disaster in Aurora, Quezon, and Camarines Sur provinces happened with so much loss of lives and property (the landslide that occurred in Tinambac, Camarines was not highlighted in the news because this was also the time when FPJ died). Going back to my computer files I have examined the devastated areas and, lo and behold, all of them were in my list and maps. I felt emptiness in my heart and got sleepless nights for not walking the extra mile to disseminate the information I already have 10 months ago. I cursed the people who disregarded the information I was giving for free and even shed tears seeing those miseries on TV. I believed that if the information I have presented to the GTF was provided to the Mayors of Dingalan, Infanta, Real, and Tinambac, the number of deaths could have been drastically reduced (ang matotodas lang doon ay yong mga pasaway na matitigas ang ulo at ayaw umalis ng bahay at yong gusto magnakaw ). The dead and missing were approximately 1,600. For example, the building in Real where those people took refuge in the hope that they were safe was, in fact, shown in the map as the area prone to landslide. The story could have been different if they have known that that area was itself prone to landslide. INFORMATION IS AWARENESS AND AWARENESS IS PREPAREDNESS.

I Thought Trying Hard At It For The Second Time Around Would Produce Safer Results (If Not Sweeter)

Not willing to surrender, I again approached Usec. Poliquit and requested him if I could present my paper for the second time to the new NDCC and DA Secretary. My presentation to the DA Secretary was specific on the effects of landslide to the agricultural and fishery sectors. For example, I found out that 80% of the landslide prone areas, out of 800,000 hectares, are under the responsibility of the DA, specifically 85,000 hectares of coconut lands. There is a need for the DA to address this vital information; we should seek technologies to stabilize these landslide prone areas. At least three Usecs and four Asecs attended my presentation with the DA Secretary. The DA is now adopting a watershed concept in agricultural production but should fast track this kind of approach all over the country, especially in the identified disaster prone sites.

I was also able to present an updated version of my presentation to the NDCC command conference including the GTF in Fort Bonifacio. Again, Usec. Poliquit was there to support me. That was on 18 January 2005, exactly 367 days after my presentation to the GTF. Top government officials were present including NGOs. Three Secretaries were present at that time, namely, Sec. Cruz of NDCC, Sec. Soliman of DSWD, and Sec. Alabastros of DOST. Usec. Geroche of DENR was also there, representing Sec. Defensor. Others present were USecs and ASecs of their respective agencies, particularly PAGASA and PhilVocs. Majority in the audience were also present in my presentation last year. Similar to my presentation in 2004, I got a thundering applause and was even congratulated by Sec. Cruz for the simplicity of my recommending a cost-effective EWS and organizing a text brigade for a quicker response just in case heavy rains occur only in the upper barangays. In that presentation I also included the same proposal I had before for a comprehensive geohazard mapping of the country.

Adopting Costly Solutions To Simple Problems?

In that command conference, PhilVocs declared that Infanta is inhabitable and that people there should be relocated elsewhere. The Gawad Kalinga representative was there, too, and he supported the PhilVocs proposal. This was also supported by then Sec. Soliman. They identified the UPLB Land Grant in Laguna-Quezon area as the place for relocation, which is approximately 50 kms. from Infanta. I protested and informed them that when the tragedy in Ormoc City happened, there were 6,000 dead and the City was not relocated. I suggested instead that a diversion canal should be built at the back of the City as a mitigation measure. I suggested that they should visit and study what has been done in Ormoc City before implementing their not-so-well-studied plans. I told them that relocation is not an option for the majority of the people in Infanta. In three years' time that area will be a fertile land due to silt deposit brought about by the landslide. Minority of the people who lost everything would probably buy the idea of relocating. However, what will the fishermen do in the UPLB Land Grant since the area is in the uplands? I even presented to them satellite images of the area and pointed out that a diversion canal similar to Ormoc City could also be built with a length less that four (4) kms. To my mind they favor the relocation option because foreign donations are pouring in and the requirement is that the government should provide for the relocation area and the houses will be built for free. The question is: why are we always enticed to things that are free, can we not stand on our own as a people?

Endless Meetings, Fewer Practical Results

I was invited to two other NDCC meetings and afterwards I faded away from them. The discussions were too boring and the recommendations made by our policy makers were impractical, too expensive, and there was no synergy in planning. They were just wasting resources and going nowhere. For example, in highly agricultural areas, they wanted to rehabilitate the destroyed irrigation network so that the farmers could plant rice. Rehabilitation is not an option as the canals are deeply buried and the land configuration has change from lowland to an upland ecosystem. Besides, according to a NIA personnel, the fuel expenses for pumping water even before the landslide occurred was much more than what they could collect from irrigation fees. This means they are already operating at a loss. They could have planted camote right after the landslide for practical reasons. After four months they could have harvested it. The lack of foresight and imagination of our policy makers contributed to the dole-out mentality of our people. Six months after the disaster they were still dependent on noodles provided by donors. Camote is more nutritious!

The Mysterious Question:
How Come Many Government Projects Are So Costly?

Aside from my presentation, the GTF also presented a proposal worth PhP90 millions for a geohazard mapping of selected provinces. The same activities in my proposal, covering the whole country, would only cost approximately PhP30 million. Of course, my proposal was more encompassing as these included institutional, capacity building, and empowering the community to make decisions based on factual information. These were calculated separately and could be implemented phase by phase. The priority was to generate a map showing a coincidence of all kinds of disasters for the whole country. For example, a map showing the coincidence of Landslide + Earthquake + Volcano Eruption + Storm Surge could be declared not suited for settlement area. Other combinations could be addressed by instituting mitigating measures and disaster preparedness. After the meeting Maj. Gen. Glen Rabunza (NDCC Director for Operation) approached me and asked why in the proposed mapping activities of the GTF, GIS was not included? He even insisted that the methodology I developed should be incorporated. Again after that meeting nothing happened.

I have modified my original proposal that was submitted to Usec. Geroche a year ago and again submitted this to him in person. In our meeting he informed me that the GTF was already implementing their PhP90M proposal. When I ask what happened to my proposal I submitted a year ago, he replied that my methodology was based on computer modeling while that of the GTF was based on actual field survey, which was more reliable.

Urgently Needed: New Technologies In This Age Of Smart Bombs And Stealth Planes

The methodology of the GTF is outdated and time consuming! What is needed is to further enhance the model I developed by pooling together experts from the various agencies involved in disaster to create a unified model and then verify the output in the field. In so doing, we have already the information in our hands before even going to the field (this was included in my paper which was praised by Usec. Geroche a year ago). I have argued this in my official letter to Usec. Geroche.

A survey was even conducted by students of the UP Diliman Geoscience group and found out that my methodology is more superior and efficient compared to what is being implemented, which is also costly and very slow. I also asked the help of Maj. Gen. Rabunza to help me in convincing Sec. Cruz to integrate my approach to that of the GTF. He gave me his assurance but again nothing happened.

I have also insisted that while the geohazard maps were being developed (which is too slow and covers only selected provinces), GTF should print the maps that I have generated two years ago for the same reasons mentioned above. Again nobody listened.

Who Will Be Next In My List?
And The Stakes Are Getting Higher And Higher!

What happened in Infanta, Real, Dingalan and, recently, in St. Bernard, particularly in Barangay Guinsaugon, is history. But how about the death of at least 2,000 people? How about those 1,600 dead and missing in November 2004? How about those 6,000 souls that perished in Ormoc in 1991? What a tragedy, what a shame! WHO WILL BE NEXT IN MY LIST?

Has the GTF made a "lapse of judgment" on this information? What is the GTF doing now and in the future? It started more than two years ago and people in the GTF said on TV that they have completed only ten provinces so far. Since we have about 80 provinces should we wait for another 7 years for the GTF to cover the whole country? ( Ang tanong ko kay Sec. Cruz noon ay "Sir ano ang gagawin natin bukas"? The "bukas" means papaano kung may ma landslide na naman na wala sa mapa nyo at nandito sa mapa ko? And it happened because they were mapping Region 5, 8, and 13 and the landslide occurred in Reg 4 ). Does this means an additional budget of approximately PhP630M? I did my analysis for only one week covering the whole country with no costs to the government and the score so far for landslide is 100 percent.

I have included in my presentation the proposal of mapping the entire county and the total amount would only be around PhP211M. The amount extends beyond mapping and includes technology transfer and empowering our people on how to use cutting-edge technology such as GIS, RS, GPS, and environmental modeling. We are already 20 years behind compared to developed countries in using these new tools!

I Am Just A Small Voice In This Highly-politicized And Disaster-prone World Of Ours

I have all the documents to support my claim that I did my best to warn our leaders. If I failed, partly to blame also are some of our people in government. By this act of mine, whether this will bring me personal advantage or not, spiritual and material, it does not really matter now. I can always go back to farming and keep my peace. What I did, hopefully, would make a difference in the lives of others and to this poor world of ours. I also believe that my entire family will be behind me 100 per cent and with the blessing of the Almighty, I would survive this ordeal. I'm trying my best to do what I have to do, even quite late for now. I could have done this two years ago. Perhaps this is one of my greatest blunders in life. Now there is no holding back. The devil is out of my mind and life must go on. Again, thank you very much for your help. In doing so, we have done our best.

All the best.


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