How Sierra Madre protects Luzon from typhoons

Wena Cos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 26 2022 09:28 PM

A view of the Sierra Madre mountain range from the peaks of Tanay. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file
A view of the Sierra Madre mountain range from the peaks of Tanay. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA - When typhoon Karding had an explosive intensification and turned into a super typhoon Sunday afternoon before it made landfall, Luzon was prepared for the worst. 

As images of Karding's destruction trickled in from the provinces of Quezon and Aurora, social media users tracked the super typhoon's movement in anticipation of its effect in their communities. 

One particular image of Karding's wind flow from earth.nullschool made rounds on social media and raked in engagement showing Karding's wind pattern movement significantly weakening in the area of Sierra Madre mountain range. 

Social media users were quick to point it out and thank the "backbone of Luzon" for sparing the island from most of the super typhoon's harsh winds. 

ABS-CBN resident meteorologist Ariel Rojas explained that this can be likened to a toy top spinning on varied surfaces. 

"Ang bagyo kung minsan umaabot ng 10km sa taas ng kalangitan, may mga bundok na 1.5-2km ang taas, mga one-fifths, o significant ang height. Kung ang trumpo paikutin mo sa smooth surface, smooth ang kanyang pag-ikot, pero kapag ito ay pinaikot mo sa isang medyo malubak, let's say 'yung depth ng lubak ay one-fifth ng size ng trumpo, significant yung pag-wobble," Rojas explained. 

A typhoon weakens upon landfall as it loses its source of moisture, the ocean, but with a vertical obstruction in its face, it will weaken further. 

Visitors can take pictures from the hanging bridge that looks out towards the mountain range of Mt. Daraitan, a favorite destination for mountaineers. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file
Visitors can take pictures from the hanging bridge that looks out towards the mountain range of Mt. Daraitan, a favorite destination for mountaineers. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file

The Sierra Madre is the country's largest mountain range, spanning across Regions 1 and 2, the Cordillera Administrative Region, and Central Luzon. It's southern tip shelters NCR from the brunt of typhoons originating from the Pacific Ocean. 

But the Philippines is blessed with east-facing mountain ranges. The coast facing sunrise in Eastern Samar is littered with hills and mountains. Mindanao is framed to the east by what is called the Eastern Pacific Cordilleras, spanning from Bilar Point in Surigao all the way to Cap San Agustin in Davao. 

Despite these "natural protections" from typhoons, the Philippines faces severe flooding from typhoons annually.

"May epekto ang kabundukan sa dami ng ulan. So kapag nakatawid na ang bagyo, in the case of Sierra Madre mula sa karagatan sa silangan papunta sa Cental Luzon, 'yung hangin tumatama na sa kanlurang bahagi ng bundok. 'Yung mga ulap na humahampas doon, nagdudulot ng napakalakas na pag-ulan," Rojas explained. 

This was the case in Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, and Typhoon Ulysses in 2020, he added. 

File photo taken on September 27, 2009 shows motorists crossing a flooded road in Marikina, east of Manila on September 27, 2009, a day after tropical storm Ketsana lashed the area around the capital city. Ted Aljibe, AFP/file
File photo taken on September 27, 2009 shows motorists crossing a flooded road in Marikina, east of Manila on September 27, 2009, a day after tropical storm Ketsana lashed the area around the capital city. Ted Aljibe, AFP/file

Save Sierra Madre Day is celebrated annually by the country on September 26 to remember how the damage and destruction experienced during Ondoy was caused by deforestation in the mountain range. 

"Meteorologically speaking, [the rainfall and flooding in Ondoy] will happen regardless kung may deforestation o wala, mas na-exacerbate siguro dahil sa deforestation," Rojas explained. 

After 10 years since the late former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III declared September 26 as Save Sierra Madre Day with Proclamation no. 413, the mountain range remains under threat of destruction. 

Environmental activists urges to uphold the open-pit mining ban in a protest in front of the DENR office in Quezon City. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/file
Environmental activists urges to uphold the open-pit mining ban in a protest in front of the DENR office in Quezon City. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/file

"Mas maraming destructive activities ang ginagawa sa Sierra Madre ngayon kumpara 10 years ago, mula Cagayan hanggang sa gawing Quezon. Ang mga extractive activities gaya ng mining, pati ang logging, kung saan ang mga malalaking puno ay pinuputol, iyan ang nakakapagdulot sa landslide sa mga area," Save Sierra Madre NEtwork Inc., chairperson Araceli Mercado told ABS-CBN News. 

Apart from deforestation, industrialization projects displace indigenous peoples residing in the Sierra Madre. 

Adeling Delos Santos from the Indigenous People's group Dumagat-Remontado, walks home from Sitio Apia in Barangay Calawis, Antipolo, Rizal on April 24, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file
Adeling Delos Santos from the Indigenous People's group Dumagat-Remontado, walks home from Sitio Apia in Barangay Calawis, Antipolo, Rizal on April 24, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file

"Dahil patuloy ang paggamit sa ancestral domains, at ito ang nakakalungkot na realidad na nangyayari hindi lang sa parte ng Luzon, kung saan sila ay naitataboy sa kanilang ancestral domain na ginagamit para sa malalaking proyekto," Mercado said. 

The Kaliwa Dam, opposed by environmental groups and advocates, remains underway, which shows that the Sierra Madre is worse off despite the Proclamation 413 in 2012, proof, Mercado said. 

Mercado hopes that the attention Sierra Madre is getting because of Karding won't remain a blip in the Filipino consciousness. 

"'Yung consciousness natin sa pagtingin sa kahalagahan ng environment ay manataili at tumatak, hindi lang pandandalian sa panahon ng mga bagyo," she said. 

Protesters gather outside the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) offices in Quezon City on October 16, 2019 as they call on the department not to issue an environmental certificate for the construction of the Kaliwa Dam. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/file
Protesters gather outside the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) offices in Quezon City on October 16, 2019 as they call on the department not to issue an environmental certificate for the construction of the Kaliwa Dam. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/file

Save Sierra Madre Network, Inc. and its partner non-government organizations and groups hope the mountain range will be declared a protected area as a whole. And they hope those who are tweeting and posting about the Sierra Madre will join them. 

"Lagi tayong mag-participate at makipag-dayalogo para magsulong ng polisiya para sa environment, at talagang maging accountable ang ating government officials sa mga polisiyang pianpasa at timbangin kung makakaganda o makakasira sa kalikasan," Mercado said.

"Ang buhay ng Sierra Madre ay buhay nating lahat, kailangan natin siyang mapanatiling buhay para maibigay niya ang kaniyang strength na iligtas tayo sa mapanira at malakas na mga bagyo," she added.