Two years later, Naga landslide victims’ road to recovery still a long shot with ongoing pandemic

By: Morexette Marie B. Erram, Rosalie O. Abatayo - Multimedia Reporters - CDN Digital | September 20,2020 - 09:00 AM

Two years later, Naga landslide victims’ road to recovery a long shot with ongoing pandemic

Residents in Sitio Sindulan, Barangay Tinaan of Naga City, southern Cebu have set up this makeshift chapel using a government-donated tent at the edge of the slope that marked ground zero of the 2018 landslide. | CDN Digital photo | MOREXETTE MARIE ERRAM

CEBU CITY, Philippines —  Two years after the deadly landslide struck there, Barangay Tinaan in Naga City may have started to look like it is reclaiming the days before the tragedy occurred.

Lush vegetation has found their way there and covered the slope of what was left of the two-hectares of eroded soil that buried lives, properties, and dreams.

But for residents in this tightly-knit community, the disaster is still fresh from their minds, and with the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, the road to full recovery has remained a long journey.

Geraldine Lapitan escaped near death two years ago when the earth moved and swallowed the home where he grew up.

The 27-year-old Lapitan barely made it out alive after falling through a crack wide enough for a man to fit in. Fortunately, his brother was quick to spot him and helped him to get out before the land could bury him alive.

Lapitan and his family were residents of Sitio Tagaytay in Barangay Tinaan which is located near the summit of the mountain that collapsed in the early morning of September 20, 2018.

The disaster claimed the lives of 78 people, and others remained missing up to now.

“Hadlok ko ato uy. Abi nakog dili na ko maluwas maayo gani kay naa akong maguwang ato. Nahulog man ko sa bangag unya iya kong nabitad,” he told CDN Digital.

(I was really scared. I thought no one would be able to save me. It was a good thing my elder brother was there, and he pulled me out when I fell into the crack.)

Weeks before the landslide, Lapitan was among those who noted the widening of cracks in the mountain, which sat just in close proximity to a large-scale mining site.

He took videos of the cracks that stretched across the mountain and posted them on Facebook to raise awareness about their concern.

On September 19, a day before the tragedy, Lapitan’s family started to look for a place to rent, worried about the cracks on their surroundings.

While they did not find a place to stay, Lapitan had his son and wife evacuated while he, his father, and brother stayed in their house to look after their livestock.

Two years since the tragedy, Lapitan said his family needed to move on.

His family availed of the relocation subsidy from the city government of Naga and the compensation for their destroyed house which amounted to a total of P200,000.

The money, Lapitan said, was spent to start their life again by building a new home at the lot in Sitio Sindulan that was given to them by the cement processing company that used to operate in the landslide site.

His parents combined the financial assistance with their income from selling vegetables in Carbon Public Market.

But just when they were starting to get back on their feet, they faced a new ordeal — the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Mao to among gigamit unya wala pa man toy pandemic. Akong mama makapanumod pa sa Carbon. Igo gyud nga nahuman ang balay nagsugod pod ang pandemic,” Lapitan narrated.

(That is what we spent for the house but that was before the pandemic. My mother would still sell vegetables at the Carbon market. We just finished the house when the pandemic struck.)

“Wala koy trabaho karon. Naa ko sa balay. Wala sad mi pangita kay pandemic. Naghabal-habal unta ko unya bawal pa man ang habal-habal. Ako sang ginikanan wala pa kabalik og panumod sa Carbon,” he added.

(I don’t have a job today. I am staying at the house. We don’t have any livelihood because of the pandemic. I used to drive a motorcycle-for-hire but it is banned today because of the pandemic. My parents also could not go Carbon market to sell their vegetables.)

Projects and assistance

Two hectares of eroded soil fell down on Sitios Tagaytay and Sindulan in Barangay Tina-an, Naga City. It buried more than 50 houses and displaced around 8,000 individuals.

But for the local government of Naga City, a first-class component city in Cebu province, located approximately 40 kilometers south of Cebu City, the COVID-19 crisis did not bear any significant impact on their efforts to revive Barangay Tinaan and its residents.

Naga City Mayor Kristine Chiong, in a separate interview with CDN Digital, said they were able to implement projects and other forms of assistance that they promised on time.

“The pandemic has not really affected the city government’s plans and implementation of the projects and other assistance. All efforts and initiatives from the city government were on schedule,” said Chiong in a mix of English and Cebuano.

The mayor attributed this development to early planning, coming up with a comprehensive response and recovery roadmap, and rigorous coordination and follow-ups with concerned departments.

“All the projects and plans we made in response to the disaster were made right away. And we were able to implement them immediately,” she explained.

Last Friday, September 18, two days before the public will mark the second anniversary of the tragedy, Chiong and other local officials in Naga City led the ceremonial turnover of at least 54 newly constructed houses to 46 families.

The free housing program, intended for families who completely lost their homes due to the disaster, cost the city government around P25 million, Chiong said.

As of September this year, the local government of Naga City has shelled out an estimated P74 million in response to the disaster.

READ MORENaga City turns over housing units to Tinaan landslide victims

But the mayor admitted that work still needs to be done on other projects initiated by various national government agencies.

Chiong was referring to the 196 houses the National Housing Authority (NHA) pledged to individuals residing in identified danger zones, and the construction of a new integrated school in Cantao-an which is spearheaded by the Department of Education (DepEd).

Chiong said representatives from NHA met with local officials in Naga City three weeks ago and promised to fast-track the actual construction of the housing site which is located within Balili property.

“They vowed to fast-track its construction after minor setbacks due to present challenges,” said Chiong.

“The construction stage of the project can only proceed if the site development has reached between 15 percent to 20 percent of its completion,” she explained.

Monitoring, validation

While it has been only two years since the tragedy happened, most residents in Barangay Tinaan decided to return to the community even if some families continue to grieve.

Daylinda Capoy, 68, lost six of her grandchildren to the landslide. She and her husband, Cipriano, were among those who benefited from the free housing program from the city government.

However, Daylinda told CDN Digital in a separate interview that she would prefer to stay in their decade-old wooden hut in Sitio Sindulan that stood right across the slope where Sitio Tagaytay once stood.

The Capoys’ quaint house had a makeshift altar with pictures in frames of their grandchildren who perished from the disaster. Every day, Daylinda said she and her husband would light candles and offer prayers to their deceased grandchildren.

Daylinda Capoy (left) and Cipriano Capoy (right) lighting a candle to offer their prayers to their late grandchildren who were among the 78 casualties in the September 2018 landslide in Brgy. Tina-an, Naga City | CDN Digital Photo / Morexette Marie Erram

“I was born here. I grew up here. I formed my own family here. If my grandchildren died here, I prefer dying here with them than someplace else,” said Daylinda in Cebuano.

She said she was planning to give the house granted to her in Sitio Tapon to her sister, who was also displaced by the landslide.

According to Mayor Chiong, several residents in Sitio Sindulan have been permitted to go back to their houses.

This developed after constant revalidation of the site’s Hazard Zonation Map, together with the Hazard Mitigation and Reduction Planning from Apo Land and Quarry Corporation (ALQC), resulted in narrowing the permanent danger zone.

ALQC and Apo Cement, subsidiaries of Cemex Holdings Philippines Inc., were some of the defendants named in the P4.5-billion lawsuit filed by Naga City residents, who believed the quarry operations of the cement manufacturing giant were to be blamed for the landslide.

READ MORE: A year after killer landslide, victims seek permanent homes

Initially, there were about 300 families whose properties belonged within the permanent danger zone.

However, Chiong said the latest hazard map issued to them by experts from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) last August showed that only 120 households remained within such classification.

“The others are now within the regulated site. Meaning to say, they are no longer part of the permanent danger zone,” said Chiong.

But the mayor said they will continue to monitor and reassess the hazard map as well as Apo’s mitigation and risk reduction plans.

ALQC was tasked by the MGB central office and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to implement the hazard reduction plan in the landslide site by hauling loose debris to build infrastructure to protect the community from possibilities of further erosion.

“We’re not going to take any chances here. Aside from the constant monitoring and revalidation, we have regularly reminded our residents living in the area of the possible risk,” Chiong said. /dbs

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TAGS: Naga City Landslide, Naga City Mayor Kristine Vanessa Chiong

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