Victims of the Killer
A farming village in the
Visayas disappeared from the map on February 17 due to a killer landslide.
The tragedy left a long trail death and destruction. The ordeal that the
residents there went through cannot be effectively put into words, hence
the need for photographs to literally show the bigger picture.
by Johann Hein
On February 17, a farming village disappeared, swallowed whole by a wall
of mud and boulders that swept down at a terrifying speed from Mt. Can-abag
(shown in the above photos) in Barangay Guinsaugon, a village of St.
Bernard, Southern Leyte (located in the Visayas). The
once a community of 2,500, now looks like a 40-hectare patch of newly
plowed land. The mud was buried 10 meters in some places. Its 375 homes
and elementary school were buried under mud, earth and debris. There are
1,328 people still reported missing, believed to have been buried alive.
including Malaysian, Taiwanese and local groups conducted
search-and-rescue operations during the grueling days at foot of Mt. Can-abag.
The cause of the
tragedy. Many experts have
speculated on the cause of the landslide in Guinsaugon. Some argued that
heavy rains which surpassed the holding capacity of the soil nudged by an
intensity 2.6 earthquake caused the cascade of mud and boulders from Mount
Can-abag (in above photos).
Others criticized the
over 30 years of rampant and unchecked illegal logging, harsh weather,
unstable terrain and bureaucratic shortcomings. The situation certainly
reflects government neglect, substandard living conditions and
uncontrollable weather occurrences. Without proper attention and
preventive measures, the Guinsaugon tragedy could be repeated elsewhere in
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said in a statement
issued the day after the landslide, "Geologically, it is underlain by
volcanic rocks characterized by intense fracturing and weathering, which
makes it unstable and susceptible to mass movement." In 2003, government
geologists listed more than 80 percent of Leyte
Island as prone to geological
hazards like landslides. Leyte, an impoverished island 420 miles southeast
of Manila, lies on unstable ground straddling the Philippine Fault, which
zigzags from north to south along the archipelago.
tribes. At least 25 Mamanwa
tribal families (photos on the left) left the nearby Bantawon mountain
for fear its cracks might cause another tragedy similar to what happened
This mountain tribe
whose name Mamanwa literally means “mountain people” is originally
an indigenous group inhabiting the mountainous areas of the northeast
portions of Agusan in Mindanao Island. They migrated from Mindanao
to evade militarization and the logging/mining corporations’ intrusion to
their ancestral domains in the early 1980s.
dark-complexion and are curly-haired. Hunting and gathering, mat weaving
and rattan craft are among the main economic activities of the Mamanwas,
so they prefer to inhabit the forested areas in the newfound Southern
Leyte mountain. But now, they are again displaced by threats of
Life in evacuation
centers. Local authorities and
churches housed the displaced families in the United Church of Christ in
the Philippines (UCCP) Church-St. Bernard, Roman Catholic Church-St.
Bernard Parish Convent, St. Bernard Municipal Hall/St. Bernard Municipal
Auditorium, St. Bernard Central Elementary School, Catmon Elementary
School and Cristo Rey Regional High School (as shown in above
As of Feb 18, a
report from the Office of Civil Defense said that there were already
2,489 families affected. The day after, according to UCCP in St.
Bernard town, the 11 neighboring barangays were evacuated with an
estimated 10,000 individuals temporarily seeking refuge in these centers.
The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) warned the Arroyo
administration and several aid agencies to be alert of human trafficking
after the mudslides happened last February 17.
About 40 children
aged below 18 years old were totally orphaned from the tragedy (photo on
Unicef was reportedly
appalled by the threats at the early part of the tragedy when local radio
stations reported that illegal recruiters were preying on orphaned
children. Southern Leyte is one of the areas in the region with the
highest number of incidents of human trafficking even before the
Time to heal and
move on. On March 2,
relatives, together with government officials and church representatives,
offered flowers to the nearby grave where the dead were buried and in the
mud-covered area of Guinsaugon where 1,328 persons including 248 pupils
were buried alive in the Guinsaugon Elementary School.
A new memorial area
dedicated to those who perished in the tragedy, symbolized by a huge cross
(above photos), was erected on Friday. Southern Leyte Governor Rosette
Lerias led the formal blessing and planting of a huge cross. She said that
the memorial rites, while symbolically closing the search and retrieval
operation, also signaled the start of an effort to rebuild the lives of
survivors. "We have a long way to go but I told them we can overcome all
of this together," Lerias said.
In memoriam of the
teachers and their pupils.
Victoria Galdo, staff at the provincial schools division office,
identified the missing educators as Gloria Navos, Grade I teacher; Cesaria
Tiempo, Grade III teacher; Merly Binondo, Grade IV; Lerma Dalugdugan,
Grade V; Jocelyn Becong, Grade VI; Rodel Coquilla, pre-elementary
volunteer; and Narciso Tiempo, head teacher. Only Natividad Pia, a Grade
II teacher in the now buried Guinsaugon Elementary School, escaped the
tragedy. She was in Cebu when the tragedy happened.
Over 100 high school
students survived the tragedy as they were attending classes at the Saint
Bernard National High School (SBNHS) in the poblacion (town center)
when the landslide struck. SBNHS is located about 8 kilometers from the
site of the tragedy. About 248 pupils attending classes in Guinsaugon
elementary school were not as lucky.
provincial schools’ division staff said that classes in elementary schools
at Saint Bernard have already resumed on March 4. Galdo added that the
schools will hold classes on Saturdays in March to compensate for the lost
class hours due to the two-week suspension after the tragedy. Classes
were conducted in tents (photos on the left) as the classrooms were still
being used as temporary refugee centers.
An avalanche of
relief support and rehabilitation assistance.
Various government and non-government
organizations here and abroad sent donations of food, bottled water,
clothing, medical supplies, basic household items (e.g., cups, pitcher,
pails, mats, mosquito nets, cooking pots), financial assistance and other
materials needed for the immediate relief and eventual rehabilitation of
the victims. The Inter-Faith Humanitarian Mission (IFHM) was among those
who responded to the need of the victims to the needs of the victims
(above photographs). The IFHM is composed of religious from the Order of
Saint Benedict (OSB), Religious Sisters of Mercy (RSM), UCCP North Eastern
Leyte Conference (NELCON) and South Western Leyte Conference (SWLC) of its
Visayas Jurisdiction, Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) Cebu
and Eastern Visayas Chapters and various people’s organizations like
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance), Bayan Muna
(People First), Katungod and Gabriela (photos below).
Simultaneous to the
closing of the “rescue-and-relief stage” last February 24, the Leyte
Center for Development (LCDE)
conducted a disaster needs and capabilities assessment (DNCA) from
February 24 to 28. In its assessment, LCDE stressed the need for viable
livelihood sources that would sustain the surviving victims and orphans of
those who perished. These could include cattle, swine and chicken
dispersal; establishment of multi-purpose cooperatives; distribution of
farm implements and dispersal of plant seeds to start anew; core shelter
that will be comprised of its basic components; trainings and
capacity-building measures; medical missions; and psychosocial
help/therapy to the victims who were traumatized by the incident.
preparedness and management.
What happened in St. Bernard, as shown in above photographs of houses
under water and a public road destroyed, shows the prevailing disaster
response system in the country which is reactive, emergency-focused and
relief-centered. As government allocates a measly 0.1% of the national
budget for calamity funds, it fails to provide preventive and mitigating
measures to lessen the destruction and deaths in natural disasters.
Life-saving measures such as local warning systems and disaster
preparedness training are absent in almost all disaster-prone communities
Worst of all, funds
allocated and generated for the needs of the victims of calamities fail to
reach them and are lost to corruption. In fact, according to the Kalikasan
(Nature) Network for the Environment-Center for Environmental Concerns (KNE-CEC),
an environmentalist group, the government still has to account for the
millions of calamity funds and relief aid from the previous landslide and
flashflood disaster in Quezon and Aurora provinces in Luzon. Surely,
financial assistance for the landslide victims in Southern Leyte is not
yet accounted for. Bulatlat
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