Officials warned of landslide-prone areas in Naga, Cebu, as early as 2008

CEBU, Philippines – Sitio Sindulan, one of the areas hit by the landslide in Barangay Tinaan, Naga City, Cebu, has been identified as a landslide-prone area as early as 2008, local environment officials said.

The deadly landslide, which was triggered by days of heavy rains, killed at least 65 people and injured 18 others. At least 21 people are still missing, while 1,716 families or 7,642 individuals are still in evacuation centers.

Days after the September 20 landslide, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau Regional Office 7 (MGB-7) released a chronology of their advisories and other communications involving the landslide area.

Here's a quick timeline of the events, according to the MGB in Central Visayas:

2008 - MGB-7 produced a geohazard map that shows the susceptibility of areas to landslide and flash flood, and gave it to the concerned local government units.

As early as 2008, Sitio Sindulan was identified as a landslide-prone area.

2018

August 28 - Naga City's Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council submitted an incident report regarding cracks on the land surface in "Tagaytay/Sindulan, Tinaan, Naga City, Cebu."

This incident report prompted Naga City Mayor Kristine Chiong to issue a cease-and-desist order against Apo Land and Quarry Corporation (ALQC).

August 29 - MGB produced its technical report, which said, "The present nature, the number, and the distribution of cracks/fissures in the subject site are not considered critical and do not pose imminent danger to the neighboring community."

According to the report, the cracks were not caused by ALQC's quarrying or mining activities.

With this, the mayor eventually lifted the cease-and-desist order, but ALQC had to comply with certain conditions, such as the submission of monthly written reports.

Chiong later wrote to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, asking the agency to further evaluate the site after the ALQC reported that a 3-millimeter crack on August 31 became 35 millimeters by September 11.

September 18 - City Environment and Natural Resources Officer Jehan Repollo and ALQC representatives joined MGB in its site assessment.

"Our geologists asked repeatedly if there are other areas that need investigation…. It was never mentioned that there are instability problems in Sitio Sindulan," said MGB-7 information officer Marian Codilla said.

But Repollo said they only requested for an assessment of Sitio Tagaytay because there were no cracks in Sitio Sindulan.

The MGB later recommended to the city government to implement a forced evacuation because major cracks became visible in Sitio Tagaytay.

Repollo told the MGB to provide the city with an official assessment so that the forced evacuation would be deemed more credible.

"The September 19 memo was not furnished to the LGU of Naga, as it was supposed to be sent September 20, when the landslide happened…. However, acknowledging the fact that there was an imminent danger found during the second investigation, the recommendations were made during the exit conference so the LGU won't have to wait for the final investigation report," Codilla explained.

Prior to the site assessment, geohazard threat advisories were supposedly sent to Chiong's office on November 27, 2017, August 13, 2018, August 22, 2018, and September 13, 2018 – days before the landslide happened.

"The only advisory received by my office from MGB-7 was the letter dated November 27, 2017, which was a standard, routinary, and generic advisory regarding the La Niña starting in the month of December 2017," Chiong told Rappler in a text message.

Chiong said she hopes that with a newly-appointed MGB-7 regional director, "we can strengthen the inter-agency coordination between MGB and the local government units."

A day after the landslide, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu suspended quarry operations in Central Visayas and 7 other regions, pending their safety assessment.

The ALQC said it intends to fully comply with the environment department's cease-and-desist order.

The landslide in Naga City came just 5 days after the massive landslide in the mining town of Itogon, Benguet, which was triggered by Typhoon Ompong (Mangkhut). – Rappler.com

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