Philippines: History on landslides & forests & lives lost

In a high profile news conference on January 8, 2009 in Lucena City,
DENR Secretary Lito Atienza unveiled the agency’s new policy of
“one-strike”, which he said will lead to immediate firing of regional
officials in areas where environmental crimes like illegal logging and
mining exist. “Illegal logging is prevalent in all regions of the
country. If the good secretary is serious in implementing his new
policy, only the regional head of the agency in the National Capital
will remain because there is no forest to rape in Metro Manila,” said
environmentalist lawyer Shiela de Leon Tanggol Kalikasan’s Southern
Tagalog executive director. “He’s just grandstanding as usual.

He knows who the real culprits are. Most of them are walking away from
their crime unscathed. In the past, DENR was quick to go after small
operators, even poor little farmers who cut a tree here and there to
feed their starving family. Big businesses with political connections
were untouched,” pointed out Al Garcia over the telephone from Los
Angeles, California. He is the regional coordinator of Alliance for
Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines (AJLPP).”The reasons for the
degradation of our forests are corruption and our own shortcomings,”
admitted Secretary Lito Atienza of Department of the Environment and
Natural Resources (DENR) in a New Year message to his department
personnel. A common knowledge among Filipinos, Atienza’s admonishment,
hardly created a ripple in Manila were ordinary citizens had almost
but accepted corruption is an integral part of governance in the
island nation. “Corrupt environment personnel were behind the massive
deforestation in the country,” Atienza continued. “That practice
should be stopped to slow down climate change.”

Atienza’s display of
humility was too little too late for thousands of victims of horrific
landslides and floodings that could be attributed to decades of
environmental degradation. On the morning of February 17, 2006 a
devastating landslide, at a terrifying speed, sent a wall of mud and
boulders tumbling down the mountain wiping out the entire village of
Guinsagon. And so did nearly every man, woman and child, in this
farming community of 1,857 in Leyte on Philippine’s eastern region.
Only around 50 lucky residents survived. The local elementary school
which was in full session that morning never stood a chance. 250
school children and their teachers plus around 40 members of a women’s
group holding a conference at the site that day were buried alive. A
desperate text message coming from the school late that afternoon went
unanswered. According to the rescuers the inundation was so massive
that in some areas wall of mud rose 30 feet or more. “It sounded like
the mountain exploded, and the whole thing crumbled,” recounted Dario
Libatan one of the handful of survivors, who lost his wife and three
children. “I lost everything, our village is gone and not a single
house left standing.”

Based on expert assessments from private and
public forestry and environmental agencies the culprit was a
combination of decades of illegal logging and mining in the mountains
of Guinsagon. The plunder of the mountain forest of Guinsagon was just
the tip of the iceberg of years of deforestation and wholesale
degradation of the environment causing tragic human disasters. There
were similar landslides at the end of 2004 and 2003, both directly
linked to illegal logging and mining. In December 2004, more than
1,000 people died when massive flooding and mudslides hit the eastern
Quezon province in the northern region of the Philippines. Tropical
storms battered the coastal towns of Real, Infanta and General Nakar
triggering tons of loose soil to cascade down from mountain tops.
Illegal logging was again cited as a major contributing factor to the
catastrophe. In December 2003 in the same province as Guinsagon, in
southern Leyte, landslides claimed the lives of more than 200 people.
Most of the victims died in their sleep when torrents of mud swept
down on dozens of homes.

And in 1991 Illegal logging was blamed again
for one of the most deadliest disaster in the history of the
Philippines when floods and landslides killed more than 5,000 people
in the City of Ormoc in the southern part of Leyte. In light of the
government’s inability to seriously address the problem of
deforestation in the country, Senator Jamby Madrigal a leading
advocate of pro-environment initiatives in the senate warned: “Unless
the government demonstrates the political will to address the serious
threats to the environment, our country will become a no man’s land.”
Only 20 percent of the country’s original forest cover remains (using
18th century data as benchmark), making the Philippines the only
country in Southeast Asia with the thinnest cover, according to DENR
own studies.

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Comments (1)

LilyFebruary 2nd, 2010 at 6:42 am

For my school project, my group and I are doing it on landslides. So this will surely help! Thanks you to who ever made this amazing website!

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