Gov't urges strict implementation of geohazard maps

by Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Dec 21 2011 07:35 PM | Updated as of Dec 27 2011 04:16 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Government officials have urged the strict implementation of land use that is based on the geohazard maps.

This came amid the tragedy that struck the south, leading to the deaths of almost 1000 people. Some quarters have blamed government agencies for the lack of preparedness and monitoring efforts.

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Environment Secretary Ramon Paje

Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the water that flowed in from upstream reached 7 meters high, submerging communities including Isla de Boro, Isla delta Bono, Isla delta Dos and Isla Bugnaw.

"Yung areas na yan, declared highly susceptible to flashfloods even in our geohazard map. It's right in the middle of the area declared as highly susceptible... That land has been declared a sandbar. They've been asking us to title the land. For more than 6 or 7 years, we've been resisting. That cannot be titled because we will endanger our kababayans there. As early as the assessment for the geohazard maps in 2006, we told the Sangguniang Panlalawigan it cannot be habitated," Paje said on ANC's "Headstart."

"We were proven right in 2009, that area was also hit,” he said, noting the tragedy that struck the south on Saturday.

“With this map, if they only follow it, it’s already precise... If data from the doppler radar is overlaid to the geohazard map...we can somehow predict that this area, which is historically flood prone or landslide prone, we can evacuate the area even before the prescribed 6-hour warning,” he said.

In a visit to affected areas on Tuesday, the President instructed officials to prevent residents in affected areas from returning to the sites. The President also ordered the creation of a task force to look into the damage wrought by tropical storm “Sendong” in Northern Mindanao and possible violations to the total log ban.

Separate DENR in ARMM?

Paje said the recent devastation in Cagayan de Oro (CDO) and Iligan is proof that government was right in applying a total ban on logging in the country.

"Yung tumutuligsa sa amin sa pag-declare ng total log ban, maniwala na sila na President Aquino was right in declaring a total log ban in the Philippines, including the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)," he said.

Unfortunately, commercial logging in the ARMM still persists, he revealed.

Amid the tragedy that struck last weekend, the President has also instructed newly-appointed ARMM Officer-in-Charge (OIC) Governor Mujiv Hataman to strictly implement the total log ban in the ARMM, he said.

"The LGUs should cooperate... there should be no more commercial logging in the country. But in ARMM, I think they are still allowing it. In some other communities they are still doing carabao logging, but this is poverty-related,” he said.

"In Iligan, yung Capay River in Lanao del Sur, they're using it as a log pond…and timber harvesting is still happening there in ARMM, that's why the President gave instructions yesterday, especially to the new governor of ARMM that he should stop logging in ARMM,” he said.

He noted there is a “different” DENR secretary in the ARMM “and they have been telling us that they are not covered by our issuances but we believe that since this is an issuance of the President, it must cover them and they must obey.”

In a separate interview on Mornings@ANC, Presidential Adviser for the Environment Nereus Acosta admitted having a distinct environmental bureau in the ARMM has only proven to be problematic in the south.

Saying massive deforestation and poor practices are also both to blame for the tragedy, he said authorities must seriously study the capacity of communities to deal with floods and the areas vulnerable to flooding.

Tougher implementation

Paje said the total log ban leaves more to be desired, adding there is a need for a tougher implementation of the law.

"For the first eight months, we launched the anti-illegal logging campaign in Mindanao. We lost eight forest enforcers, its really difficult. We need the PNP [Philippine National Police] and AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines],” he said.

“Even if we consider that the government is 100% successful in the anti-illegal logging campaign, hindi mo na maibabalik yung punong pinutol sa gubat, yung punong hinuli sa tabing daan. Putol na yon. How can you bring it back to the forest?” he said.

He said communities should be given an alternative livelihood, separate from logging.

Paje noted since the order was implemented early this year, there have been 72 convictions, while 450 anti-illegal logging cases are still pending.

He also noted Aquino’s Executive Order 25, declaring a national greening program.

"The solution is massive planting," Paje said. "It's not only a climate change mitigation program but primarily a poverty reduction program."

Paje said government and various stakeholders as well as communities should work together to avert disasters.

"We have completed the geohazard maps in the country, we have only 45,000 barangays, we have distributed 65,000 copies," Paje said.

"It must not be the monopoly of the government, it must be the responsibility of every member of this country to really follow the geohazard maps we have given them."

Metro Manila still vulnerable to floods

Aside from Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, Acosta said some 25 parts of the country may be just as vulnerable to the threat of devastating floods. These include Metro Manila, Naga City, Mactan Island, Lingayen, Pangasinan and Palawan.

Acosta, who also heads the Philippine Imperative for Climate Change, cited a simulation they drafted in 2009, together with the World Wild Fund for Nature-Philippines and Filipino scientists showing the vulnerability of coastal cities. Corporations funded the simulation to illustrate the weather scenarios the country is facing.

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Former DENR Secretary Elisea Gozun

Former DENR Secretary Elisea Gozun, Presidential Assistant for Climate Change, noted the 2009 simulation intended to raise awareness on the impacts of extreme weather conditions.


"One of the things that wasn't factored in is climate change has happened. We can't just rely on historical data," said Gozun on ANC’s "Headstart".

"These things that happened have never happened before. Like all the forecasts for the Philippines, including the follow-up study by the Asian Development Bank on the impacts of climate change in Southeast Asia, nagpakita talaga that we will have more rainfall. Recently PAGASA also released its own studies that we will during the wet seasons, were going to be wetter, during the dry naman, tuyot na tuyot tayo."

Environmentalists said the country should develop a multi-decade solution to help avert future natural disasters.

They noted having a national land use policy and investing in weather-resistant infrastructure are necessary to the success of disaster mitigation efforts.

Gozun noted the Philippines is vulnerable to the four major consequences of climate change: heavier rainfall, rising sea level, higher temperatures, and extreme weather.

"There’s a science and economics involved, you have to look at supply and demand. In Sta. Rosa, Laguna, we found that the extraction of water is three times the recharge capacity... same in Cebu," added Lory Tan, chief executive of WWF-Philippines.

"And what that means is you have two things: land subsidence and salt water intrusion," said Gozun.

"When you look at it from the point of view of economics, that's workforce dislocation, downtime and supply chain disruption," Tan pointed out.

"The solutions to be appropriate must be multi-decade. They will require natural and infrastructural engineering. These are major investments," she said.

“We just talked to the Cebu Business Chamber three days ago and they said if our politicians can't come together, the Cebu Business Chamber will put together a multi-city consortium to help find solutions. That's one of the out of box solutions we should be looking at because the solutions may be two or three decades long,” Tan added.