Special Report: Over 260 barangays at risk of landslides, storm surge in Cebu (Part 1)

Elias Baquero - Justin K. Vestil
AT LEAST 30 barangays in 16 towns and cities in Cebu are vulnerable to storm surges, while 260 barangays in 27 towns and cities are exposed to landslide risks, according to government officials.Seven towns

AT LEAST 30 barangays in 16 towns and cities in Cebu are vulnerable to storm surges, while 260 barangays in 27 towns and cities are exposed to landslide risks, according to government officials.

Seven towns and cities in Cebu are vulnerable to a storm surge in the event of a storm, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) warns on the fifth anniversary of super typhoon Yolanda.

Pagasa-Mactan Chief Al Quiblat identified these areas as the cities of Cebu, Talisay, Danao and Bogo and the municipalities of Carmen, Catmon and Medellin.

“These places have occurrences of storm surge based on the historical data gathered from 1987 to 2011,” Quiblat said.

But he said municipalities in southern Cebu have had no storm surge because most typhoons come from the Pacific Ocean and hit Bohol province first.

Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck the Visayas on Nov. 8, 2013, killing at least 6,190 people and damaging or destroying over 1.14 million homes nationwide. In Cebu, it hit hard some 15 towns and one city in the north.

Storm surges caused most of the deaths.

According to the University of the Philippines (UP) Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (Noah) Center, Yolanda’s maximum sustained winds reached 315 kilometers per hour, making it one of the most powerful storms to make landfall in recorded history.

Quiblat said the Philippines is visited by at least 20 typhoons a year, some of which hit the Visayas, particularly Cebu, either in November or December.

“If an area has experienced a storm surge before, the people must refrain from living within the danger zone or easement area set by the government,” Quiblat said.

Before he retired last Oct. 26, Oscar Tabada, then Pagasa director for the Visayas, said there was already a hazard map jointly created by Pagasa, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology identifying the areas prone to or vulnerable to storm surge, floods and landslides during rainy days and typhoons.

Experts, mostly geologists and meteorologists, used historical data and Lidar equipment to see the topography in the area.

The MGB 7 identified 31 barangays in nine towns in Cebu as susceptible or highly prone to storm surges. The towns are Alegria, Balamban, Bantayan, Daanbantayan, Ginatilan, Madridejos, Malabuyoc, Samboan and Santa Fe.

Tabada said all local government units (LGUs) in the towns, cities and provinces had been given the hazard map for their guidance and information dissemination to their constituents.

“They should inform the people about it, so they may be aware of the danger they are facing,” Tabada said.

Tabada said the LGU must relocate residents living within the 50-meter radius starting from the area where the high tide will hit.

He advised Cebuanos not to be complacent, saying they recorded a storm surge during Typhoon Ruping on Nov. 13, 1990 in Catmon, Danao City and Talisay City.

When typhoon Yolanda hit northern Cebu in 2013, a storm surge also hit the entire Bantayan Island, bringing some vessels docked at the Santa Fe Port to the highland.

Dr. Alfredo Mahar Francisco A. Lagmay, executive director of the UP Resilience Institute and the UP Noah Center, said hazards could exist even in unlikely places.

He cited as example Baguio City, where people said floods would never happen because it is on top of mountains. But floods came. In Davao Oriental, he said, the people never experienced a typhoon since time immemorial. But Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) came in 2012 and battered the area.

Critical areas

But five years after Yolanda, some residents are living like the super storm never happened.

They remain in majority of the landslide-prone areas in Cebu, according to disaster management officials.

A total of 260 barangays in 21 towns and six cities in Cebu have moderate to very high/critical risks of landslides, the MGB 7 said.

Of these, “very high to critical risks” of landslide were found in a total of 12 barangays in the towns of Alegria, Balamban, Catmon, Consolacion, Ginatilan, Minglanilla and Pinamungajan; and a total of 16 barangays in the cities of Cebu, Naga, Mandaue and Toledo.

And high susceptibility to ground subsidence was identified in the towns of Aloguinsan (Barangay Angilan), Bantayan (Brgys. Tamiao and Kabangbang), Malabuyoc (Brgy. Tolosa) and Samboan (Brgys. Basak and Jumangpas).

Cebu has 44 towns, nine cities and 1,203 barangays.

Landslides occurred in Barangays Buhisan, Cambinocot, Lusaran and Sapangdaku in Cebu City; Barangay Cubacub in Mandaue City; and in the Transcentral Highway and Balamban town during typhoon Yolanda.

Cebu Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office head Baltazar Tribunalo said despite their best efforts in telling local government units to transfer residents living in landslide-prone barangays, not all have relocated them to safer ground.

Tribunalo said some LGUs couldn’t implement the immediate relocation of residents from landslide-affected areas due to the lack of available relocation sites.

He added that while some LGUs would implement immediate evacuation, residents would eventually return to their original homes because of livelihood.

“You can’t stop the people from residing in places near their livelihood. That’s why the livelihood aspect is necessary when implementing relocation,” Tribunalo said in Cebuano.

Alvin Santillana, Talisay City local disaster risk reduction and management officer, told SunStar Cebu that they regularly remind residents in landslide-prone areas in the city to evacuate, but the residents leave only when danger is already in their midst. And once the danger passes, they immediately return to live there as though nothing had happened.

Marian Codilla, MGB 7 information officer, said they have conducted information education campaigns to all LGUs in Cebu on how to read and appreciate the 1:10,000 geohazard maps.

They reiterate their warnings to the LGUs through threat advisories sent through email or fax to help them revisit their geohazard maps.

The MGB 7’s recommendations for those living in areas with “very high/critical” landslide susceptibility range from monitoring and reporting to the MGB mass movements, saturated ground, seeps and sunken or displaced road surfaces; developing an early warning system; activating and training local disaster risk reduction and management councils; to observing the proper easement from the cut slope face, and relocating/evacuating residents along foot slopes.

For areas with high susceptibility to ground subsidence, it recommends monitoring for seeps and sunken road surfaces and prohibiting construction of structures on sinkhole areas.

But monitoring LGUs on their compliance is not MGB’s call.

“We don’t have the mandate to monitor their compliance with the recommendations in the geohazard mapping. Ours is recommendatory. That’s why we continuously remind them to check the results of the mapping,” Codilla said.

Agencies like the Department of the Interior and Local Government are tasked with monitoring LGUs on their compliance with Republic Act 10121 or the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act through its mandatory checklist that awards LGUs the Seal of Good Local Governance.

She said they are often frustrated with LGUs that would place the blame on MGB whenever a landslide occurs in their localities.

“Of course, (we are frustrated) all the time. But we can’t do anything about it, especially if they are not aware of the different roles of government agencies,” she said. (with CTL)

READ: LIST: Cebu towns, cities susceptible to storm surges, landslides and ground subsidence