BOLJOON LANDSLIDES: FORCED EVACUATION LOOMS

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11:57 PM November 10th, 2017

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By: Morexette B. Erram, November 10th, 2017 11:57 PM

(CDN PHOTO/JUNJIE MENDOZA)

Whether they like it or not, the residents who chose to remain near the landslide-stricken portions of Barangay Lower Becerril in the southern Cebu town of Boljoon will be evacuated soon since the continuous movement of the land has not stopped two weeks after it first occurred.

To avoid any casualties or untoward incidents, the municipal government of Boljoon, a fifth-class municipality located more than 105 kilometers southeast of Cebu City, announced yesterday that they will initiate the forced and massive evacuation of the residents staying in the identified danger zones, which are Sitios Camp Franco (also called as Calfranco/Campo Franco) and Sangi.

This came a day after the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) released an advisory to forcibly evacuate all families who are staying within and near these danger zones but who have refused to leave.

Recent data from the PDRRMO revealed that around five to seven hectares of the land mass in the affected areas are expected to crash down, and may bury these two subvillages.

But what prompted the PDRRMO to issue the advisory to the local government of Boljoon was the uncertainty on when this will occur.

“It’s not only possible. It will eventually happen. … This is why massive and forced evacuation is needed. The only missing part here is when exactly this huge chunk of earth will fall. We may never know — and that’s what makes it even more alarming,” PDRRMO Chief Baltazar Tribunalo was quoted on earlier reports.

They have to be convinced

As a response, Boljoon Mayor Merlou Derama told Cebu Daily News in an interview Friday that they will execute it as soon as possible.

“If the need arises, we will initiate the forced and massive evacuation. We already received the advisory from the province last Thursday evening, but we’re having a hard time implementing it especially that most of the families who still stayed really refused,” said Derama.

Out of the 55 families affected (270 individuals) from Sitios Camp Franco, Sangi and Upper Cansiloy, 37 (150 individuals) chose to remain near and within the danger zone identified by state geologists. On the other hand, 18 families (120 individuals) have voluntarily abandoned their homes for safety.

Derama also announced yesterday that he has tasked officials from the Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) in Boljoon to coordinate with barangay officials of Lower Becerril in order to come up with an effective and efficient system of evacuating the residents.

“I already tasked our ABC federation to let these barangay officials understand why the situation in their community is now at a very critical point.

These barangay officials, in turn, will be the ones to disseminate and urge their constituents to get out of the danger zones. We have to execute the massive and forced evacuation as soon as possible,” Derama stated.

“But as far as the municipal government is concerned, we have been urging them to abandon their homes since the landslide occurred. There is still no letup on giving out warnings to the affected residents,” he added.

Ready for evacuees

The mayor said the residents who will be evacuated will be given the discretion to stay with their relatives or stay in any evacuation site their local government offered, such as the town sports complex in Barangay Poblacion.

Army soldiers from the 53rd Engineering Brigade were also on standby near the landslide-hit areas since Sunday in case the need to evacuate all residents still staying there will arise.

Experts from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Central Visayas (DENR-7) discovered that nonstop rains in Boljoon, which lasted up to five days, caused the landslide that occurred on October 27.

In addition, they identified Sitio Camp Franco in Barangay Lower Becerril as the worst-hit area, and recommended it to be declared as a “permanent danger zone” and a “no habitation zone.”

The Boljoon municipal council, during an emergency session on November 3, decided to expand the coverage of the affected areas and included their town proper, Barangay Poblacion, and four of their mountain barangays — Upper Becerril, Nangka, Lunop and San Antonio — and placed them all under a state of calamity.

Barangay Poblacion is located downstream of Lusopan River which traverses along Barangay Lower Becerril. MGB-7 has earlier identified Barangay Poblacion at risk of a possible mudslide from the river.

The mountain villages have become inaccessible after the continuous movement of the land created cracks on the 15-km Becerril–Nug-as Road, rendering it unpassable for all types of vehicles.

When the state of calamity was hoisted over the six barangays, help and assistance from various government agencies and private groups started to arrive.

Aside from food packs and sleeping mats, three parcels of land were donated by two religious groups and former Boljoon mayor Deogenes “Wargong” Derama to serve as permanent relocation sites for the displaced families.

The Archdiocese of Cebu and the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), which both have properties in Barangay Lower Becerril, each donated a four-hectare and a 25-hectare lot, respectively, for the displaced residents. But a distance of around two to three kilometers sits between them and the landslide-hit portions of the village.

The three-hectare land from Wargong, who also happened to be the uncle of the incumbent town mayor, is found in Barangay Poblacion.

Mayor Derama revealed that their local government is now eyeing a private contractor who could develop the land into a relocation site for the affected residents.

“We’re very grateful for the churches on providing assistance to the victims, and now we’re looking for ways to transform the lots into relocation sites. And we want to finish the development as soon as possible (so the residents who are still staying in the danger zones do not have any excuse why they want to stay there),” Derama said.

Sad fiesta

The landslides in Boljoon happened just as the town was celebrating its 41st founding anniversary, which also marks the annual feast of their patron saint, Our Lady of Patrocinio.

While the rest celebrated their fiesta yesterday, Jesalyn Pasigna, and 10 other members of her family, who are all living in Sitio Camp Franco, are contented to offer their prayers to their town’s patron saint over a plate of beef loaf and rice, which were part of the relief goods they received.

The Pasignas’ residence, which is a wooden hut with a tin roof, was one of the three houses buried by the incessant landslide.

Jesalyn, her husband, their five children, two grandchildren and two distant relatives living with them, are staying in Sitio Camp Franco’s chapel for almost a week now.

There at least five families (20 individuals) from this sitio who sought shelter in the chapel for the moment.

Before the landslide happened and devoured their house, Jesalyn, 51, said Sitio Camp Franco was as joyous as any other sitios in Boljoon when it comes to celebrating the town’s fiesta. But when it occurred, she said that most of the people in their community no longer have the will to celebrate.

“It is really different this year. Who would’ve thought this would happen to us? Even if we try to celebrate and keep a positive attitude, every time the land moves, we can’t help but feel a little jumpy and anxious,” she explained.

But Jesalyn also said they refused to be transferred to the municipal sports complex of Boljoon due to the four-kilometer distance between Sitio Camp Franco and Barangay Poblacion.

“What we really need now is to be transferred to a permanent relocation site, and materials for building a new house. If we go to (Barangay) Poblacion, we’re likely to come back here since we do not have enough money to rent a house there. And it’s too far away,” she added.

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