SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Disastrous excuses

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/06 January) – It has become too tiring, this usual excuse we often hear from public officials whenever a disaster occurs. So repetitive in fact that I’m tempted to think God must have made a single DNA pattern for the people who are destined – by their own insistence or by our folly – to lead us. The latest landslide in Barangay Napnapan, Pantukan town in Compostela Valley, among others, tells us why.

A report by Keith Bacongco (MindaNews, January 5, 2012) quoted Arnulfo Lantaya, spokesperson of Pantukan’s disaster management council, as having said that small-scale miners in the town’s gold rush sites had been ordered to leave as early as 2008. He, however, said the miners refused to leave citing economic reasons.

Lantaya added that after the landslide on Good Friday last year in Barangay Kingking, Mayor Celso Sarenas ordered a stop to all small-scale mining operations. Apparently, the order had gone unheeded, resulting in a repeat of last year’s disaster that killed 14 persons.

In Thursday’s landslide in Napnapan, at least 27 persons were killed. Five were reported missing, and many more were feared trapped beneath the mud.

It’s a pity that the miners insisted on remaining in these areas despite the order to vacate, and many of them had to die for their “kapit sa patalim” attitude. Some of us may say the blame lies with the victims for being stubborn or “pasaway” as a TV anchor called the victims of Storm Sendong. This is rather a simplistic view of circumstances behind the tragedies that happened barely three weeks apart.

There are instances where a victim is solely responsible for his fate, like when he or she insists on using prohibited drugs despite being warned of the consequences. However, in the recent disasters in Mindanao the ultimate responsibility lies with the local officials for refusing to exercise their authority where needed. They should have heeded the old wisdom that prevention is better than cure.

In both incidents, the local government units were aware that the victims were living in high-risk areas based on geo-hazard assessments done by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in particular the Mines and Geosciences Bureau. Yet the local officials yielded to the wishes of the people even if they knew the danger.

Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Vicente Y. Emano admitted to having allowed the people to live in the flood-prone areas, and hinted he would continue to do so with the excuse that they have nowhere else to go. Fortunately, the President ordered the police to prevent the displaced settlers from coming back to the areas hit by floods.

In Pantukan, Bacongco’s report implied that the municipal government did nothing when the miners refused to leave. So what was the stoppage order for?

And to both Emano and Sarenas, what are geo-hazard maps for? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])