19 years on, still no closure for deadly Lake Maughan tragedy

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/06 September)—Exactly 19 years ago today (September 6) after the Lake Maughan tragedy that killed dozens of people, the case remains unresolved, with the alleged mastermind, a former local official, conceding the incident destroyed his political career.

Under pitch darkness on September 6, 1995, Lake Maughan, nestled atop the dormant Mt. Parker in T’boli town in South Cotabato, overflowed, sending an estimated 30 million cubic meters of water downstream.

Based on the official records of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, the flashflood killed at least 53 people, 14 of them still missing, and damaged P278 million worth of infrastructure and agricultural crops.

The floodwaters flowed 130 kilometers downstream, affecting the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and Cotabato City, according to a July 10, 1996 report by the then National Disaster Coordinating Council (now National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council).

This after one of the walls of the crater-lake collapsed allegedly due to treasure hunting activities. Some officials also claimed, however, that the disaster was “natural-made.”

Former T’boli vice mayor Salvador Ramos was the main respondent for the case that has dragged on in the last 19 years. At the time of the disaster, he was the chair of the Lake Maughan Ecotourism and Conservation Council.

In a phone interview on Friday, Ramos told MindaNews he wants closure to the case too, lamenting that it has taken a toll on him personally and professionally.

“Grabe na akong agwanta anang kaso (That case has taken a hard toll on me). It has destroyed my political career,” he said.

Ramos, following the tragedy, eventually ran but lost in the local elections.

The case against him is pending before the sala of Judge Roberto Ayco of the Regional Trial Court Branch 26 in Surallah town, South Cotabato.

Ramos and several others were charged with multiple murder as a result of the tragedy.

Over the course of time, the charge eventually came down to Presidential Decree 1866 or illegal possession of explosives, said Ramos, who is out on a P100,000 bail bond.

A hearing was set last September 4 but was moved to October 9, he said.

Ramos said this would be the last hearing where he would appear in the stand and the case would then be rested for promulgation.

The charge, according to him, was “politically-motivated.”

Lake Maughan is known among the locals as Lake Holon, a T’boli word meaning deep water. Mt. Parker, where it is located, is called Mt. Melibingoy by the locals. Mt. Parker was named after American General Frank Parker who supposedly discovered it on a flight in the 1930s.

Hilario de Pedro III, who was governor at the time of the 1995 Lake Maughan disaster, said in a 2012 interview that Lake Maughan was prone to landslides, and the “disaster could not be a man-made disaster.”

“There were “no clear findings” up to now what really was the cause of that overflow,” said De Pedro, who was among those who took the heat for the incident being the governor then.

He recalled that prior to the killer flashflood, it rained “for nine days and nights” in the area.

Constancio Paye Jr., now the director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Region 12, said the geological investigation that they conducted revealed “it was a natural disaster.”

Paye was among the government geologists who immediately investigated the 1995 Maughan incident. Back then, South Cotabato, now a part of Region 12, was still under Region 11.

“There was a landslide that blocked the mouth of the lake. It resulted in a damming that caused the water to rise [and the eventual overflow],” Paye told MindaNews then. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)