P4.5-BILLION CLASS SUIT

By Rosalie O. Abatayo |November 04,2018 - 09:52 PM

Mourning family of City of Naga landslide victims at ground zero. (CDN PHOTO/TONEE DESPOJO)

NAGA LANDSLIDE

The families of more than half of the victims of the massive landslide in Barangay Tinaan, Naga City, have decided to file a multi-billion-peso environmental class suit against entities they deemed “responsible” for the tragedy that claimed at least 78 lives.

Kin of 40 landslide victims, a concerned citizen of the City of Naga and a nongovernment organization (NGO) are set to file the P4.5-billion environmental class suit against Apo Land and Quarry Corp. (ALQC), Apo Cement Corporation, Cemex Holdings Philippines, Inc., Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Central Visayas (MGB-7), city government of Naga and Cebu provincial government before the Regional Trial Court in the City of Naga on Thursday, November 8.

The amount includes P1 million in damages for each of the 78 fatalities and 6 missing individuals (P84 million); P1 million each for the 57 houses damaged by the landslide (P57 million); P100,000 for each of the seven injured persons who joined the case (P700,000); and P500,000 for each of the 8,262 displaced individuals (P4.1 billion).

The class suit will also demand P500,000 as moral damages for each of the family of the 84 casualties and missing persons (P42 million); P200,000 as exemplary damages for each of the families of the 84 fatalities and missing persons; P500 million in rehabilitation fund; and P1 million for legal fees.

The class suit was prepared by environmental lawyer Benjamin Cabrido and a group of volunteer-lawyers.

In the lawsuit, a copy of which was furnished to Cebu Daily News on Sunday, the counsels argued that the landslide was the result of the “reckless” quarry operations of ALQC, in connection with the operation of Apo Cement; while the extent of the damages, particularly the lost of lives, should be blamed on the MGB-7 and the city government of Naga.

“Apo Land was grossly reckless in conducting its quarry works and the nexus of this gross negligence can be linked to Cemex and Apo Cement,” the
complaint read.

The complaint further alleged that ALQC was unfaithful to the conditions that it should maintain a safe and environmentally sound operation within the vast area of land entrusted to the corporation by the MGB through its Mineral Product Sharing Agreement (MPSA).

ALQC has eight MPSAs in different areas of Cebu, which has a total land area of at least 3,302 hectares. These are found in the cities of Naga, Toledo and Carcar and the towns of San Fernando and Pinamungajan.

“This huge areas suffered unto Apo land by the State demands from it greater care and responsibility in the conduct of its operations in such manner as would not endanger the host and neighboring communities of Sitio Tagaytay and Sindulan of Barangay Tinaan,” the complaint said.

“Apo land miserably failed in the foregoing requirement of safety and environmentally sound operation, view that despite the growing and aggravating threat to the host and neighboring communities, it still sought and short circuited the lifting of the cease and desist order (CDO) issued by Mayor [Kristine] Chiong even in the absence of precautionary and curative measures demanded of it and aimed at averting or preventing the massive erosion of its quarry site,” the complaint read.

The complaint accused MGB-7 and the Naga City government of negligence and failure to properly manage the contingent risk of landslide despite
early warning signs of its impendency.

No response

Marian Codilla, MGB-7 Information Officer, said that they will wait for a copy of the complaint once it is formally filed.

“Our office will respond accordingly upon the receipt of the case,” Codilla said in a message sent to CDN.

CDN tried but failed to get a statement from Chiong.

ALQC, through its representative, Chito Maniago, said they will issue a statement on the matter. But as of press time, no statement has been furnished to CDN.

Aside from damages, the class suit also asks for the issuance of an environment protection order against all quarry operations in Cebu with a prayer for the issuance of a temporary protection order (Tepo), writ of continuing mandamus on determining the carrying capacity of Cebu island and the
rehabilitation and restoration of the damaged ecological communities.

Cebu province, for its part, was included in the case in order to ask the proper department of the province to come up with a carrying capacity survey of mainland Cebu as it has the authority over small-scale mining and quarry operations within its jurisdiction.

Quarry operation

Naga City Mayor Kristine Chiong issued a CDO against ALQC on Aug. 28 after ground fissures were reported in Sitio Tagaytay. The CDO was lifted after MGB-7, in a letter dated Sept. 4, assured there was no threat to residents.

At around 6 a.m. of Sept. 20, however, a massive landslide hit Sitio Sindulan of Barangay Tinaan, following heavy rainfall. Practically, a whole mountain of debris and loosened soil slid down the slopes, burying houses and people.

The judicial affidavits of the landslide victims claimed that even on the night prior to the landslide, ALQC has continued its quarry operations in another landslide-hit area, Sitio Tagaytay, the sub-village adjoining Sitio Sindulan.

This is contrary to the claims of ALQC that they have not started with any quarry operation in its tenement area in Sitio Tagaytay when the landslide happened.

Susan Gepuit, wife of Raul Gepuit, the backhoe operator who was buried in debris and died in the tenement of ALQC, is among the plaintiffs in the case.

The complaint alleged that the plant expansion made by Apo Cement in 2015 has prompted ALQC, a subsidiary company and raw material supplier of the cement plant, to increase its pace in quarry operations notwithstanding its environmental effects.

“With this additional plant, Apo Land is doubly hard-pressed to churn out and funnel more and more raw materials for Apo Cement’s manufacturing needs, sacrificing along the way the statutory requirement of safety in its quarry operations and culminating into the massive landslide on September 20,” the complaint added.

MGB’s ‘very quick’ assessment

The complaint also lashed out at the MGB-7 for giving a “very quick” assessment on the first reported fissures in Sitio Tagaytay.

When the ground fissures were reported, Chiong asked MGB-7 to conduct an assessment on the cracks on Aug. 29. But on the same day, MGB-7 informed Chiong that the cracks and fissures observed in the area were due to a natural phenomenon and were not caused by the quarry operations conducted by the ALQC in Sitio Tagaytay, and did not pose imminent danger to the community.

“While government agencies are known for their sloth in issuing reports and studies, this one done by MGB-7 inspectors is truly amazing and deserving the record books. The very quick action of MGB-7 in belittling the evolving threat,” the complaint read.

“By ethics and law, MGB-7 inspectors should have been there to assess the potential risk of a hazard in order to produce a timely and early warning system for the affected residents,” it added.

Despite the assessment of MGB-7, Chiong said she did not lift the CDO on the quarry activities unless the agency would issue a clearance to allow the operation to resume. The clearance was issued on Sept. 4, prompting Chiong to lift the CDO on Sept. 6.

As the fissures have reportedly grown, Chiong asked MGB-7 to again conduct a reassessment on Sept. 11.

A team of inspectors from MGB-7 was at Sitio Tagaytay the day before the landslide. This was followed by a recommendation for forced evacuation in the community on the evening of Sept. 19. But the forced evacuation did not include Sitio Sindulan.

The following morning, Sept. 20, the massive landslide happened with the erosion affecting 80 hectares.

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