(UPDATE) ‘Arroyo, mining and greed are culprits of landslides, floods'

Posted at 10/11/09 5:31 PM

MANILA – More than the heavy rains dumped by tropical storm “Pepeng” in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), activist groups blamed the deaths and damages caused by landslides in the region as well as widespread floods in Pangasinan on corporate mining and the government.

“This mountainous region may not have been as victimized by the flood, but the very nature of the land and terrain has resulted in massive, disastrous landslides that claimed both properties and lives, especially in the mining-ravaged areas of Itogon and Mankayan in Benguet province,” said Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) in its urgent appeal for the victims of “Pepeng” in the Cordilleras.

The Office of Civil Defense-Cordillera Administrative Region (OCD-CAR) said they have already accounted 231 deaths in the region on Friday because of at least 39 landslides.

Of the 231 fatalities, OCD-CAR director Olive Luces said 152 were from Benguet, 50 were from Baguio City and 29 were from the Mt. Province. These include those killed in the Benguet towns of Mankayan and Buguias.

The figure reportedly does not include the casualties from the series of landslides last Oct. 3, which Luces said resulted in the death of 19 people, 12 of them were from Benguet.

According to the National Disaster Coordinating Council Oct. 11 6 a.m. report, a total of 84 people were injured in Benguet, 5 in Mt. Province and 1 in Kalinga. Meantime, 34 remain missing in Benguet said the NDCC.

Baguio City, the country’s summer capital, meanwhile was deemed isolated as Marcos Highway, Kennon Road and Naguilian Road were closed to traffic. Kennon Road has been reopened with just one lane at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Only light vehicles were still allowed on Kennon Road, ABS-CBN News reported.

Flooding and landslides took place at the “City of Pines” in City Camp Lagoon, Pinsao, QM, Kitma, Lower Cypress, Irisan, Fairview, Lucnab, Bakakeng Central, Queen of Peace, Apugan, Cresencia Village, Crystal Cave, and Kias.

In Mountain Province, meantime, landslides happened in Tadian municipality.

“This mountainous region may not have been as victimized by the flood, but the very nature of the land and terrain has resulted in massive, disastrous landslides that claimed both properties and lives,” said the CPA in its letter.

Corporate mining

The CPA said that corporate mining in the Cordillera as well as in Albay and Marinduque brought about “irreparable environmental disasters.”

“This greed for profit is responsible for the operation of large-scale extractive and destructive industries, such as corporate mining and large dams which is very evident in the Philippines.”

Benguet, which has hosted large mines for more than a century, is no stranger to the occurrence of landslides, CPA said.

The federation cited the “massive landslides” in Beda, Loakan, Itogon in October 2008 “due to the abandoned tunnels of Benguet Corporation.”

It also mentioned the Colalo landslide in 1999 in Mankayan “due to Lepanto Consolidated’s mining operations, which again happened in June 2009.”

The UK-mining company Bezant and a local subsidiary have reportedly conducted exploration in Guinaoang, Mankayan.

Aside from the many lives claimed by the landslides, vegetable gardens and rice fields have been damaged, according to the CPA’s chapters and affiliates in CAR.

“Arroyo ignored opposition to dam”

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) meanwhile said its members and the public had opposed the construction of the San Roque Dam (SRD) in Pangasinan.

“CPA and the people’s opposition raised the SRD issue to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she assumed power but she never took it seriously as she prioritized the interest of the Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC),” it said in a letter calling for help for the affected Cordillera people.

“If only the people’s opposition was heeded, the present situation may not have happened,” the group added.

Source: PAGASA

The CPA said that the “San Roque Power Corporation (SRPC), JBIC, the [Fidel] Ramos and Arroyo regimes must be held accountable for the damages and deaths.”

While the government maintains the San Roque Dam and its spillways, San Roque Power Corp. or SRPC is responsible for the operations and maintenance of the power-facility of the San Roque Multi-Purpose Project. SRPC is owned by the Marubeni Corporation (75%) and Kansai Electric Power Co. Ltd. (25%). It is a stock corporation incorporated in the Philippines.

It also said that the SRD must be de-commissioned “if we want to save more lives, livelihood sources and properties.”

The opening of the SRD’s seven floodgates resulted in the flooding of almost 80% of Pangasinan and some towns in Tarlac since Thursday.

CPA said the dam released “5,300 cubic meters per second flood gate which is already so close to the probable maximum flood rate of 12,800 cubic meters per second.”

“Flood control?”

“The SRD never meant to serve anything but government’s profit-making,” the CPA continued in its urgent appeal.

“It could never control floods, contrary to government’s claim that it could, when there are already 11 tailings dams and 2 silted hydro dams upstream.”

The group claimed that the SRD would accumulate a total of 269 million cubic meters of sediment from upstream sources during its operational lifespan of 50 years.

The sediment would come from abandoned open pit mines, mineral tailings ponds, muck waste dumps, and denuded mountain slopes of the southern Benguet mining district, and existing reservoirs at Ambuklao and Binga.

The steady silt build-up at the SRD would “induce upstream flooding along the Agno
River and its tributaries.”

“Downstream, the flooding of at least 1,250 square kilometers of land will occur every time torrential rains force the opening of the dam’s gates,” it stated.

“Too sudden”

Activist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) echoed the position of CPA against the San Roque Dam.

“One problem of the San Roque Dam is that it is not really a flood control mechanism but a profit-driven venture that requires high water levels to run its turbines. This may have influenced the management decision to release water from the dam at a later date. Also, there appeared to be no government oversight and intervention in this situation, even when public safety was at stake. This should also be looked into,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.

The group, in a statement Sunday, is calling for a probe on the culpability of officials of both San Roque Dam and the government in the flooding.

“Given the extent of the devastation, there was obviously a failure of flood warning and evacuation by the San Roque Dam officials,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. added.

The Bayan statement cited Pangasinan local officials saying the water released was "too sudden.”

Bayan is questioning why San Roque Dam officials did not release water from its reservoir before October 9.

“Why did they wait until October 9? Was there no way to gradually release water at an earlier date even before the water levels hit the critical mark? The release last Thursday reached as high as 5,072 cubic meters per second and resulted in massive flooding,” Reyes said.

The activist group said there were reports that in previous typhoons, water was released even before the dam water levels reached 280 meters above sea level.

Bayan also criticized NDCC chairperson and National Defense secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. “for evading accountability and passing all the blame to dam executives for the massive flooding in Pangasinan last Saturday.”

“Teodoro is as accountable as the dam executives. At the minimum, he should have promptly coordinated the timing and volume of the release (of water from San Roque dam) with the possible evacuation of residents and other preparations needed by the affected towns in Pangasinan,” said Bayan chairperson Dr. Carol Araullo in the statement.

Large volume of rainfall

The country’s weather agency Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) meanwhile said on Sunday that the volume of rainfall dumped on Northern Luzon by “Pepeng” which hovered over the area for several days was to blame for the widespread floods and landslides.

“So far for this year ito ang pinakamalalang pag-ulan. Dahil nagtagal ito, talagang na-saturate ang lupa sa buong Northern Luzon area kung kaya maraming tubig baha ang dumaloy sa ilog at nag-resulta sa pagkapuno ng dams, PAGASA chief Prisco Nilo said in an interview.

Nilo compared the 416 millimeters record volume of rainfall dumped by “Ondoy” on Metro Manila in 1 day which had caused many areas in the country’s capital region to be immediately submerged.

“Mas marami ang ulan ng bagyong “Pepeng”. tandaan na tumagal pa ito ng 5 araw sa Northern Luzon. kung isusuma ang total ng dami ng ulan na bumagsak sa Northern Luzon, maaaring humigit ito sa 1000 millimeters,” said Nilo.

PAGASA’s hydrometeorological division chief Dr. Susan Espinueva said they would need to possibly review and revise the weather agency’s flood operations manual.

Among those she said they may revise was extending to 4 hours the notice to the public before the release of water from a dam’s reservoir. She said they may also lover the spilling elevation or the height indicator of the dam’s water reservoir on which they will start spilling water.

“Para lang kapag dumating uli iyong ganitong klase ng ulan, kayang-kaya na niyang saluhin ng hindi nagpapakawala ng ganon karaming tubig,” said Espinueva in an interview.

As of 1 p.m. Sunday, San Roque Dam was spilling water from its reservoir at the rate of 1,041 cubic meters per second according to PAGASA. By 6 p.m. Sunday the rate was lowered to 495 cms and only 1 gate was reported open.

“Worsened climate change”

CPA meanwhile added that other causes of the Cordillera destruction include the “globally dominated capitalist production and exploitation of the world’s environment and resources, including the responsibility of government and top bureaucrats who passed laws that worsened climate change and environmental disasters.”

Floods in Baguio City

“The climate crisis is best understood by acknowledging its systemic root causes and the accountability of the world capitalist system driven by the few global elite and imperialist countries,” the CPA noted.

The CPA, in addition, remarked that the situation is much worse for the Igorots.

“For indigenous peoples, it is twice the blow with the violation of their collective rights to ancestral land, resources and right to self determination.”

CPA describes itself as an “independent federation of progressive peoples organizations, most of them grassroots-based organizations among indigenous communities in the Cordillera Region.” Its members include 120 community organizations, three provincial chapters in Mountain Province, Kalinga, and Abra, urban multi-sectoral chapter in Baguio City, municipal chapter in Itogon Benguet, and sectoral federations of youth, women, elders, peasant and cultural workers. CPA is a member organization of Bayan.

Serve the people

Because of the devastation in CAR, the CPA has called for an urgent disaster response. 

Together with the Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC), the CPA organized a disaster response body composed of its network of organizations called “Serve the People Brigade-Cordillera Disaster Response Network.”

“The Brigade humbly and urgently appeals for all forms of support for its relief and rescue operations not only for the victims of ‘Pepeng,’ but in the coming emergency situations expected due to the impacts of climate change and the prevailing political situation,” said CPA in its urgent appeal.

CPA said its brigades needs the following for relief operations: food (rice, canned goods, biscuits, munggo [beans], sugar, salt, cooking oil, boiled eggs), drinking water, gas for generators, clothing, new underwear blankets, sleeping mats, toiletries (soap), cooking pot, flashlights, batteries and tents.

It also needs medicine such as paracetamol, pain relievers, anti-worm (mebendazole), antacid, amoxicillin, cotrimoxazole, bandages, hydrogen peroxide and betadine as well as rubber boots, shovels, raincoats, food for work, mountaineering ropes, batteries, flashlights, lime and body bags for its rescue operations. With a report from Jenny Reyes, ABS-CBN News