Catamco says experts assure quake survivors can return to their villages

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews / 30 November) — North Cotabato Governor Nancy Catamco says she feels relieved that experts from the Mines Geoscience Bureau (MGB) and the Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) have assured her that evacuees, especially the Lumads (Indigenous Peoples) from areas earlier declared as “no build zones” can go back to their villages.

But residents whose houses are situated in landslide-prone areas will remain in the evacuation camps, she said.

Evacuees, she said, can construct houses in “no build zones,” provided these structures are earthquake-resistant.

Citing as basis statements from the MGB and Phivolcs, Catamco stressed that construction of houses or any structure is also allowed in areas at least five meters away from the “ground rupture.”

In Kidapawan City, there are seven relocation sites for the 1,700 quake-affected families now being assessed and evaluated by experts.

Kidapawan Mayor Joseph Evangelista, in an interview, assured Catamco that resettlement areas, especially for the Lumads, won’t be far from their ancestral lands and from their places of worship in Mount Apo, the country’s highest mountain and ancestral burial grounds.

Earlier, Catamco admitted she got irked upon learning that those areas declared as “no build zones” are IP lands, including at least 4,000 hectares in Mount Apo.

On Friday, she led an inter-agency and multi-sectoral dialogue at the provincial capitol to discuss the declaration of “no build zones.”

North Cotabato Governor Nancy Catamco (second from lef) speaks at the inter-agency and Sectoral Meeting at the provincial capitol in Amas, Kidapawan on 29 November 2019. Photo from the Provincial Government of Cotabato

During the meeting, Melvin Sibua, chief field officer of MGB in Region 12, clarified that the report they submitted on November 19 to the office of Vice-Governor Lala Mendoza, then Acting Governor, was list of quake-hit areas they identified as “high-risk” for landslides.

“The MGB can not, in any way, declare areas as ‘no build zones’ or order forced evacuation in times of calamities like earthquakes.  We can only suggest or recommend.  Only the mayor or the chief executive officer of a town or city can do that,” said Sibua.

On December 9, the MGB will lead a team of geologists that will conduct ocular visit, assessment, and evaluation in the “no build zones.” (Malu Cadelina Manar / MindaNews)