Loren: Geohazard maps should have been blown up, communicated properly

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/09 January) — Failing to communicate the geo-hazard maps and weather advisories to the provincial and municipal governments led to the tragedy that was Typhoon Pablo, Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Climate Change, said.

“The reason why the tragedy of Pablo happened is we did not communicate the geo-hazard maps to the LGUs (local government units),” Legarda said, adding that if  geo-hazard maps had been “blown up, explained in very clear terms and implemented, then perhaps the barangay hall of Barangay Andap would not have been located there,” she told reporters.

Andap in New Bataan, Compostela Valley province registered the most number of deaths due to the flashfloods and debris flow. At least 400 persons were reported killed by the debris flow.

But Engr. Edilberto Arreza, regional chief of the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau (MGB) earlier told MindaNews that Compostela Valley and its towns, including New Bataan, and the rest of the 48 towns in the region had copies of the geo-hazard maps at 1:50,000 scale.

Legarda told the Wednesday Club 888 media forum at the Marco Polo Davao that she turned over geo-hazard maps to Compostela Valley Gov. Arturo Uy and Representatives Ma. Carmen Zamora and  Rommel Amatong last Monday for all municipalities.

The senator also said she went last Tuesday to Mati City in Davao Oriental for a meeting with Gov. Corazon Malanyaon and Vice Gov. Joel Mayo Almario. She said she would go to the typhoon-stricken towns of Boston, Cateel and Baganga in the next three weeks.

Legarda said she distributed geo-hazard maps with 1:50,000 scale printed on tarpaulins and posters to be placed in provincial and municipal halls and hard copies for the barangays, as well as soft copies for reproduction  any time.

She said the MGB  is presently doing the 1:10,000 scale maps but only 300 municipalities were done and the rest will be completed by 2014.

Arreza said all provinces and towns had been given copies of the 1:50,000 scale maps. He said the deadline for the completion of the 1:10,000 scale maps has been extended to 2016. As of now, the regional office has done 1:10,000 scale maps for 16 out of the region’s 48 towns, he said.  The region comprises the three Davao provinces and Compostela Valley and the cities of Davao, Digos, Tagum, Panabo, Samal and Mati.

“I suggest that every mayor should have it in their municipal hall. The people are not aware but if they see the map (they will know),” Legarda said.

She explained that the Mines and Geosciences Bureau said geo-hazard maps were uploaded in its website since 2007, expecting that the LGUs would download and implement them.

“But what do you expect from a barangay captain of Andap to have an internet and download the map from the website?” she said, adding that it is common sense that each barangay official should be given hard copies of the maps.

She said not everybody understands the geo-hazard maps so the MGB should also explain them to the LGUs, adding that distributing the maps and explaining them are not enough.

After explaining the maps to the people, she said, the MGB should have located the evacuation areas and marked the permanent no habitation zones.

She said planning, technical and research officers should determine where to locate houses, schools and barangay hall among others with the help of the maps.

Records of the MGB regional office showed that the office sent out letters to the mayors of Compostela Valley on September 19, 2011 that given the stronger typhoons expected to make landfall in the Philippines within the months of September to December 2011, “readiness measures must be initiated by your municipality with your Barangay Captains” particularly in areas listed as susceptible to flooding and landslides.

The letter included a listing of barangays and a description on the level of susceptibility to floods and landslides.

Andap, for instance, was classified in the geo-hazard map of New Bataan to be highly susceptible to flooding.

A similar letter was sent to the mayors on August 1, 2012, again with a listing of barangays and their susceptibility to floods and landslides.

In an earlier interview, Marlon Esperanza, New Bataan information officer told MindaNews that members of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council of the town and barangays had a trainors’ training at the Ritz Hotel in Davao City on the third week of November 2012 for the action planning per barangay.

Legarda said barangay captains and municipal mayors should not be blamed, especially those who had not received copies of the geo-hazard maps or had not been taught how to implement them, she said.

“Clearly there is a gap between science and technicians in a national, regional level and planning of communities on the ground. Lack of information and knowledge, ang kakulangan ng pagbigay ng impormasyon at ang kakulangan ng pag-intindi ng ating mga mapa base sa risk assessment ay nakakamatay,” she said.

Legarda said the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) should provide at least 72 hours warning minimum and immediately communicate the signals to the LGUs so that the latter can forward them to the people.

She pointed out that it is a big challenge to communicate PAGASA’s warning advisories, especially in reaching out farmers who do not have mobile phones.

“I am not blaming anybody because blaming will not bring back lives from Pablo’s devastation… the billion pesos loss in agriculture,” Legard said, adding,  Filipinos need “a change of lifestyle and mindset from being critical, accusatory… we should help each other.” (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro/MindaNews with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas)