FASTLANES: Reflections on the Valencia landslides

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/6 July) – While I do not certainly want to rub salt on open wound, there can be many lessons learned in the recent Valencia landslides.

As an advocate and student of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction (CCA-DRR), let me share to you some of my reflections while on news reportage assignment on the deadly disasters.

Management of the disaster scene is very important. For us journalists, it is our duty to bring the news accurately as possible in a very short period of time. And to do this we need accurate official information and validate it with our own investigation.

Covering the Valencia landslides was however a challenge in getting accurate data on disaster impact (i.e., casualties, damage to properties). There was no official spokesperson and every head of delegation involved in the rescue and retrieval operations gave reporters information to the best of their knowledge only.

Until now, there are data gaps and the reported number of casualties has ranged from three to seven.

Republic Act 10121 otherwise known as the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act of 2010 (DRRM Law) is reforming the way government should manage disasters.

The salient point of the law is that it is more cost efficient and less harmful to institute preventive and mitigating measures against disasters rather than spending for disaster response (after the disaster strikes). The key words are preventive and impact mitigation.

To reform the disaster and relief budgeting, Sec. 21 of the law provides for the proactive function of local government units (LGU) in disaster budgeting. It provides that LGUs must allocate at least five percent of its annual revenues from all sources (i.e., locally generated revenues + internal revenue allocation ++ ) as DRRM Fund.

The DRRM fund should be divided in two – 70 percent for prevention and mitigation and 30 percent as emergency response fund.

If this fund is unused in a fiscal year, it cannot be reverted back to the General Fund. It is a common bad practice among LGUs not to use disaster fund even when needed so that they can use it for fat bonuses and other perks for LGU employees at the end of the year.

The DRRM law also reformed how disaster prevention, mitigation and response should be done. It renamed the disaster response councils into DRRM Councils.

Again as a student and advocate of CCA and DRR, I come to the main points of my reflection while doing news reportage on the Valencia landslides.

1) Early Warning, Early Response (EWER). An important part of prevention and mitigation is early warning and early response. Monday’s landslide gave enough early warning, but the response was wanting.

As per reports, the first landslide in the Lumbayao highway was around 7 o’clock in the evening Sunday.

A check with PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) revealed that since the onset of the weather system called Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), in middle of May this year landslide warnings have been included in their regular weather advisories.

I wonder whether LGUs bothered to check their respective geohazard maps as response to the warnings. From the name alone, one can say that the terrain in Sitio Hangaron, Brgy. Lumbayao is elevated and mountainous. (Hangaron, from the Bisayan “hangad,” which literally means to look up.)

Although barangay officials in Brgy. Lumbayao claimed that they tried to stop motorists from crossing the slipped portion of the road in Sitio Hangaron, the fact that motorists and travelers were hit by the landslide Monday morning indicates that their efforts were not sufficient.

The LGU could have mobilized the police and even the Army to put up check points in the Valencia side and San Fernando side of the landslide early Monday morning to stop people from crossing. It did not.

2) A simple check in the databank of PAGASA would indicate that above normal rains have been dumped in the province in the first half of 2011. To be exact, the rainfall in the first half of 2011 already represent 60 percent of the annual normal rainfall for Bukidnon.

Rainfall in May 2011 was 82 percent higher than normal rainfall for the month. Rainfall in June this year was 21 percent higher.

These data are instructive. It should not just make our rescue workers prepare to respond to disaster after it happens, but should prod them and our LGU leaders to prepare and do something to prevent casualties and damage to properties when disaster strikes.

A simple mobilization of police or military to conduct checkpoint in Lumbayao to stop traffic flow from Valencia and in the San Fernando side would have prevented the loss of lives.

Although many LGUs may still be on the learning curve of DRRM as a law and strategy as it is still relatively new, the Valencia landslides should be a wake up call.

In a climate changing world, nobody can afford to dilly-dally on its impact. The game has unfortunately become a sink-or-swim thing.

As Sen. Loren Legarda observed in a privilege speech for the World Environment Day last month, most LGUs nationwide still do not have DRRM plans as provided by the DRRM law.

The Lumbayao and Tongantongan disasters should be strong wakeup call to all.

No less than Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, who comes from the province, made this call.

He said of the landslides as “a wakeup call to intensify our national disaster risk management and prevention efforts and Climate Change adaption measures to help our local government prepare better land use plans and properly equip them so they can manage and prepare for disasters.”

I hope everybody’s listening and ready for DRRM action. (Comments can be sent to [email protected])