Pablo aftermath: Where have all the forests of Veruela gone ?

VERUELA,  Agusan del Sur (MindaNews/12 December) —  Hundreds of  trees uprooted by typhoon Pablo, including at least 10 huge lauann, and pre-cut logs carried by floodwaters , slammed into this  “clean and green” model barangay of Sinobong on December 4,  altering river courses and destroying farmlands.

The floods came immediately after strong winds ripped off  roofs and walls of houses and other structures but fortunately spared the lives of its 2,889 residents.

But more than the damage to this “hardest hit” village among the town’s 20 barangays, is the danger facing the entire municipality bounded by the provinces of Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte and Bukidnon and home to some 39,000 residents.

Sinobong, the town’s watershed, is bereft of trees now and Mayor Salimar Mondejar is worried  over how they would cope given the now very fragile ecosystem.


UPROOTED. Uprooted trees and pre-cut logs carried by floodwaters slammed into Barangay Sinobong in Veruela town, Agusan del Sur when Typhoon Pablo hit this mountain town on December 4. MindaNews photo by Erwin Mascarinas


In Barangay Caigangan, a village which  has been isolated from the rest of the town  —  not even the habal-habal motorcycles can navigate through the thick mud,  according to barangay chair Neciforo Asuncion, “there is no existing forest anymore…. The forest is gone.”

Asuncion says his village was “in the eye of the storm.”

Before Pablo came, 14 of Veruela’s barangays were already flood-prone, including Sinobong and Caigangan.

Barangays Sinobong and Sta. Emelia are part of the Laak-Veruela Land Reservation of the University of the Philippines-Mindanao, established under Proclamation 1252 by then President Fidel Ramos on June 15, 1998.  The purpose of the 28 square kilometer land reservation 14 years ago was for “research extension and instruction; forest rehabilitation and protection; biodiversity cooperation; crops and livestock production and management; and upland communities training and development.

Mondejar, who has been mayor of this town since 2007 and whose projects have been reecognized at the regional and national levels by the departments of Health, Education and the Local Governments (the Seal of Good Housekeeping marker is displayed prominently at the entrance of the town hall), remained at a loss early morning of Monday, December 10, on how they would cope with the huge problem ahead.

“Diyos na lang nakakaalam nyan” (Only God knows), the  mayor said, although he acknowledged that God helps those who help themselves.

Relief assistance had started to come both from government , non-governmental organizations, private companies, schools and individuals but he and his constituents know this will not be forever, given the extent of the damage wrought by Pablo not only in Agusan del Sur but in the neighboring provinces of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental as well.

Monejar hopes their partners in projects such as forest rehabilitation and protection would continue to help.

“But the big question there is wala nang mga puno… ano ang mangyayari?” (there are no more trees now… what will happen?”

Mondejar convened the barangay captains and heads of offices on Monday and was set to attend  a meeting called by the provincial governor Tuesday to discuss the needed technical assistance.

The mayor was not in town when Typhoon Pablo battered it.  Like some mayors of  typhoon-affected areas in Agusan del Sur, Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental, they were in Manila to attend the League of Municipalities conference at the Manila Hotel on December 4 to 6.

As head of the Municipal Mayors League of the province and  member of the national directorate,  Mondejar  said he had to be there. He left for Manila on December 3, eve of Pablo’s arrival in Mindanao, but kept monitoring by phone and was assured by the televised statements of governors and text messages from his staff and family that the weather was fine that Monday.

Local Governments Secretary Mar Roxas, he said, sent out text messages urging  the mayors of the areas along the path of the typhoon not to proceed to Manila but to stay in their respective towns but  he said the message arrived when they were already in Manila.

Asked how they prepared for the typhoon, Mondejar said the municipal disaster risk reduction council (MDRRMC) and the barangays had already been organized as mandated by RA 10121 and that everyone knew what to do.

But there was no preemptive evacuation in landslide and flood-prone areas. Veruela, after all, had not been visited by typhoons and  Pablo was expected to make landfall in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur.

“I am 50 years old. To be honest, ayaw ko talagang maniwala” (I did not want to believe)” that his town was hit by typhoon Pablo. Mondejar has no memory of a typhoon hitting the town where he was born.

“This is the first time this happened,” he said. But seeing the extent of damage on the houses and structures and the livelihood of the residents — banana plants, rubber trees, oil palm, coconuts  were not spared the typhoon’s wrath —  Mondejar is convinced that no  matter the preparations, Pablo would still have wrought damages.

Seven persons were killed, ostly by felled coconut trees, while one was reported missing as of Monday, December 10.

“Wa lagi mutuo ba” (No on believed) the typhoon would hit Veruela. Typhoons, he said, do not usually hit mountain towns like Veruela, but coastal areas.

In Sinobong, residents told MindaNews on Monday that the Department of Public Highways had not come to inspect the steel bridge rammed by the uprooted trees and pre-cut logs. The bridge itself was spared except for some dents but the approach is partly destroyed.

The trunks and logs that slammed into the bridge blocked the path of the Taglutang Creek that has now widened, causing flashfloods at the barangay center.

As of December 10, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had  not gone to the area to inventory the uprooted trees and logs.

Using chainsaws, at least two groups of men were busy sawing off the trunk of  an uprooted lauan tree, its diameter at least three feet. The lumber was to be used  to repair  damaged houses or build new dwellings.

They said they had finished sawing off at least six uprooted trees and that there were more logs and uprooted trees underneath the pile.

Asuncion who was in his barangay when the typhoon came, said the wind blew from the northwest from 5 a.m. to 8:30 and from the southeast from 8:30 to 10:30.

“Pinakakusog ang southeast” (the wind coming from the southeast was much stronger).

When the storm passed, Asuncion said “lahos-lahos na ang panan-aw. Makita na nimo ang pikas nga sitio, pikas nga bukid,  nga sa una dili gyud makita kay lasang kaayo na” (you could see clearly. You could even see the next sitio, the next mountain, when you could not see that before because the forest was so thick.”

He said the molave, narra, lauan, toog and tugas trees are “totally” gone. And so are the rubber, falcata, mangium, gmelina and oil palm.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)