Thursday, April 28, 2011

Feature...
Cortes landslide victims ask 
Where do we go from here? 

“Where do we go from here, tell us where do we go from here?” 

Pressed against a seemingly brutal nature trick and an evacuation order, landslide threatened residents of sitio Liloan Cortes, ask this as the government’s Mines and GeoSciences Bureau (MGB) geo-hazard assessment team issues the recommendation for immediate evacuation of residents within the danger zone. 

“We have been living here since the early 80’s and we have grown plants that sustain our daily needs,” points out 64-year old carpenter Hilario Maghinay Sr., who also accepted odd jobs during his heydays to haul his family across. 

“We have survived through typhoon Nitang, which peeled the roof of the Cortes Church, it failed to bring the cliff down,” he said pointing to a steep cliff apparently burdened by overgrown and matured trees. 

Public works and environment workers have trimmed the overgrown trees on the cliff after a third landslide permanently locked the highway already closed twice by similar incidents two weeks ago. 

HUDDLED AS ONE 

The Maghinays and their married kids, including their relatives decided to erect their houses close to each other, perhaps to strengthen the tie that has successfully kept them as a family even with the financial challenges that haunt them everyday. 

Their houses stand huddled just across the highway, which is carved out of a cliff with a slope so steep occasional heavy rains could bring out stone falls from its crest, fifty meters above. 

During these times, motorists who travel on the lane close to the base of the cliff are exposed to the danger, prompting the public works department to put up early warning signs of falling rocks. 

Their houses stand across the highway not 15 meters away from the looming cliff. 

But oblivious to the perils, Nong Dodo said “we have never been threatened until the trees on the cliff matured.” 

“The night the first landslide occurred, there was no rain,” he stressed, “and yet the cliff gave in brought by the uprooted tree which has burdened the cliff some 40 meters up.” 

He also said he agreed with the initial observation by the public works district engineer that the overgrown and untrimmed trees on the cliff triggered the landslide of march 9 which brought down around 80 cubic meters of limestone temporarily blocking the highway for hours. 

Besides, engineers have recommended proper benching and constructing ripraps to permanently address the problem. 

“We have been here and were relatively safe, it is here where our livelihood is,” he said quite lamely in Cebuano. 

WE LIVE HERE 

To illustrate his point, Nong Dodo points out a few groves of already fruit-bearing coconut trees, clumps of bananas and a small patch of upland kangkong and camote which he and his wife Procesa nurture a few meters from the head of a landslide that temporarily rerouted traffic along the Tagbilaran City access highway near midnight of March 9. 

The Maghinays, along with their married children have also opted to build their homes squatting on the lot their father was asked to take care. 

“Now, my wife and I have a very minimal need to survive and a daily harvest of dried coconuts which I grate and a bunch of kangkong leaves we send to the causeway often get us across,” he says. 

A few meters from their squat house are simple abodes of their married kids Jimmy and a brother who are working as welders in nearby Tagbilaran City. 

“Once, they were successful in goading us to relocate and the local government lent to us a truck to transport our things,” Nong Dodo recalls meaning the local government’s first evacuation order. 

Then, some of our neighbors stayed and it was all right for them, he pointed out as he aired his gripes against partiality the local government did in implementing the rule. 

“Then we realized that it was so hard for us to survive when were too far away from where we have our plants that feed us,” he continued. 

“During these times, it was hurting to see that when I get back to my coconuts here, people take advantage of our being away and gather even the young coconuts that we practically could not harvest for our daily needs,” he recalls as he clumsily signals with an arm rendered useless by a gunshot wound he got in Mindanao years back. 

At the corner of the bamboo shed where the casual interview unfolds, sits Nang Procesa, timidly listening, fearful that the interview aftermath would finally force them to abandon their lot for good. 

Nong Dodo shared that he was asked by the former manager of the nearby Southern Industrial Projects; a galvanized iron sheet factory nearby to take care of the lot which the company uses as a dry-dock to maintain its transport boats few years back. 

Technically squatters in the place, Nong Dodo also stressed, “they take us out of here where we have our livelihood, we die.” 

Cortes local authorities admit that their evacuation plan for Nong Dodo and his family is only as good as allowing them temporary shelter at the town gym. 

“They force-evacuate us, they have to give us the option to live decently and they just can not evict us where we would be beggars,” he strained. 

“They may not give us houses to relocate, but at least give us some decent patch where we can start rebuilding our future,” he said. 

“Nia man gyud mi mabuhi, anhi ra sad mi mamatay.” (It’s here where we live, its also here where we die,” he stammered. 

For Nong Dodo and 19 other families continually threatened by landslide but were offered no alternatives if they move out, can they be blamed for refusing to go? (Rey Anthony Chiu)

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