Geohazard mapping in the Philippines
Arroyo made the announcement at the Philippine Air Force Base Operation in Villamor Monday morning when she sent off three helicopters, with the Spanish K-9 team aboard, to Southern Leyte. According to Secretary Michael Defensor, who was environment secretary prior to his Malacanang appointment, the geo-hazard mapping would be outsourced to foreign countries, perhaps Singapore.
The prime property, located in the vicinity of Forbes Park and Dasmarinas Village, could fetch as much as P2.3 billion, at a price of P33,000 per square meter which Metro Pacific paid when in won the bidding in 1995. President Arroyo said the money will be used to finance the “speedy geo-hazard mapping operations” to prevent another disaster similar to the ones in Southern Leyte.
But long before the Southern Leyte tragedies, DENR initiated efforts to initiate geohazard studies.
Then Secretary Fulgencio Factoran initiated a series of studies by environmental and social scientists after the devastating Luzon earthquake in 1990 and the Pinatubo eruption in 1991.
“To have learned nothing from the tragic events (referring to the July 1990 earthquake) would be callousness of the highest degree. To have done nothing to develop strategies to prevent injury and damage should another earthquake occur would be irresponsibility of the most serious proportions,” Factoran wrote in the early 1990s.
At that time, an inter-agency committee chaired by DENR and the Department of Science and Technology was organized to undertake a “unified, systematic and scientific documentation of information on earthquakes, particularly the July 16 killer quake for future planning and research.” One of the outputs was a series of technical monographs published by DENR. Since then a more detailed monitoring by Philvocs, including dispatch of a quick reaction team, is being done by Philvocs each time a tremor is reported.
An aftermath of the Cherry Hills tragedy, DENR created the Urban Geology Units of MGB in March 2000,to assess the geologic hazards in urban areas. An engineering, geological and geohazard assessment (EGGA) system was institutionalized, thereby requiring developers to submit EGGA reports as additional requirement to their environmental compliance certificate applications. A geohazard map of the site of a specific project must be produced.
In early 2003, then environment secretary Gozun reminded residents of Metro Manila and other development and urbanizing areas to use geoharzard maps as references “so they can better prepare for floods and landslides during the rainy season.”
“Geohazard maps provide information on potential areas of floodings, landslides, liquefaction, subsidence and other ground instabilities. Due to its geologic setting and geographixal location, the Philippines ranks among the most vulnerable to natural disasters,” Gozun once said.
Anticipating resistance from land developers, she added: “The geohazard maps are not meant to scare residents and property developers, but instead to warn them of natural risks, if any exist that their areas are faced with. It is expected that with adequate information, safety precautions can be done to minimize accidents and the unnecessary loss of lives and property.”
At that time, DENR had completed the geohazard maps of key urban centers, namely the cities of Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, Butuan, Subic and Olongapo, Davao, and Surigao. Portions of Oriental Mindoro, which was once hit by a deadly tsunami, as well as Cavite City and San Pedro, Laguna had also been mapped while information on Cebu City and Tuguegarao Cagayan was then being processed.
With the grim images from the deadly landslides in Panaon were still fresh, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and its Mines and Geosciences Bureau said in a statement issued on February 14, 2004, that it would need over P100 million in funding to map geologically hazardous and high risk areas throughout the country.
DENR-MGB said it submitted a project proposal, entitled “Geohazard Mapping for the Philippines” to the National Disaster Coordinating Council with the hope that the government could find a foreign donor to help complete the project, which was envisioned to be a three-year program.
Then 2005, as government started relocation efforts in Quezon province, the whole national was shaken by the unimaginable extent of devastation brought about by the Asian Tsunami.
On its part, the DENR said it was distributing 3,000 VCDs designed to “inform and educate local government units and the public in general on how to address common geological hazards and possibly avoid loss of lives and properties in times of disaster.”
DENR-MGB, in its press statement, announced that these will be distributed to 96 municipalities and 2,249 barangays that have been identified at risk of geohazards like landslides, earthquakes and floods.
Then environment secretary Michael Defensor said the project is in line with the Arroyo administration’s thrust to improve the disaster preparedness skills of LGUs and the communities vulnerable to disasters.
The VCD, a joint project of MGB and JICA Net Philippines, contains visual presentations in three parts – introduction to geohazards, understanding geohazard maps, and risk management and disaster response. The project was also to produce nine more geohazard maps in 1:50,000 scale and seven more detailed maps in 1:10,000 scale covering priority areas in the country.
Why then, is the President stressing on the urgency of completing the geohazard mapping, to the point of selling a prime property with estimated values that are way over the cost estimates needed to complete the geohazard mapping project?