Victims of the Killer Landslide

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.

Meanwhile, the 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.

Disaster 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. (

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