A DISASTER waiting to happen. This was how the recent landslide that buried the entire village of Bgy. Guinsaugon in the municipality of St. Bernard in Southern Leyte — leaving barely a hundred survivors out of about 2,000 residents — has been largely explained to the public.

Lying along the western scarp of the Philippine Fault, Guinsaugon’s soil has been characterized as highly porous consisting of sandy clay embedded with loose rock materials and boulders. The whole province of Leyte, in fact, is generally underlain by early Miocene and probably older volcanic rocks characterized by intense fracturing and weathering, making the area unstable and susceptible to mass movements.

Given these conditions, two weeks of unusually heavy rains proved to be the ultimate “triggering” factor. The week before the Guinsaugon disaster, the rainfall readings obtained by the Southern Leyte PAGASA station registered an amount of 571.2 mm, equivalent to almost three months of the area’s average annual precipitation of 3,000 mm.

Yet more than a month after the tragedy, one question continues to beg for answers, says Dr. Jaime Biron Polo, executive director of the Institute for Samar and Leyte Engagements (ISLES).

“Government has been reporting to us what happened in Southern Leyte. But people are demanding to know the truth about what did not happen in Southern Leyte,” he asks, especially in light of disasters that have mercilessly struck the province.

Five days before the Guinsaugon tragedy, mass movements occurred (on the same day that the highest amount of rainfall at 171 mm was recorded during the period) in the towns of Liloan, St. Bernard, and Sogod, where seven road workers died and four houses were destroyed. In December 2003, mudslides and cascading boulders claimed hundreds of lives in San Francisco and Liloan towns in the adjacent island of Panaon.

Leyte suffered its worst ever disaster in November 1991 when about 5,000 people perished in flash floods and landslides that ravaged Ormoc.

Engaged in social and policy research and advocacy in the provinces of Leyte and Samar, ISLES has endeavored to find the answers. At the onset of the disaster, it immediately set out to conduct research work among the various affected communities, coordinating with barangay officials, NGOs, the media and government agencies in the municipality of St. Bernard.

ISLES’s community research involved collection and analysis of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) documents, maps and technical reports from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), historical data from different barangays, and structured as well as non-structured interviews with selected informants from the different barangays comprising the municipality of St. Bernard.

Polo says the name of the barangay itself provides a clue to the depleted state of resources in the area. Guinsaugon comes from the Visayan word “ginsaog“, which literally means to pull or drag logs, a term that was used by illegal loggers.

Below are some of ISLES’s initial findings regarding the state of environmental management (or the lack of it) in Southern Leyte:

  • Measures to address both the “triggering” and “conditioning” factors were nonexistent, or at the very least, not implemented.

    It is not true that the causes could not have been predicted or monitored. In other countries, potential amount and intensity of incoming rain has been successfully measured using precipitation radars. A good network of rain gauges sending out near-real time data or even crude locally based rain gauges can give a warning few hours before a disaster. PAGASA, however, does not have a very good network of rain gauges in the area, much more precipitation radars. (quoting Nestor Saturay, geologist at the National Institute of Geological Sciences at the Universty of the Philippines in Diliman)

  • Knowing the general setting of the area long before the disaster in Southern Leyte, a detailed geologic hazard map could have been made. But with limited personnel and budget of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau allocated for geohazard mapping, detailed geohazard maps were not produced.
  • Knowledge of the triggering and conditioning factors is not enough to prevent disasters. It is important for the people — the ordinary folks who are not scientists, geologists, experts who may have no idea about how a geohazard map looks — to know and understand their situation. Nevertheless, a comprehensive disaster mitigation program at the community/barangay level which includes geohazard information, land use planning and systematic warning and evacuation procedures, was not formulated nor implemented.
  • Since 2003, the government has failed to act on the geohazard issue considering that similar recent disasters have occurred in other areas in Southern Leyte and even in other parts of Leyte and Samar. (In 2003, DENR also listed 82.6 percent of Leyte as prone to such geological hazards as landslides, identifying it as the fifth-most susceptible province.)Bgy. Guinsaugon has been declared as disaster-prone as early as 2000. The DENR even recommended measures as massive reforestation and the installation of an early warning system. (The 30 villages of St. Bernard town, including Guinsaugon, were supposed to be surveyed this year for the new geohazard map.)
  • Reforestation projects in Southern Leyte have never been fully implemented due to lack of financial resources and support from the government. From 1990 to 2005, the DENR was only able to implement tree plantation within an area of only 528.3 hectares under its reforestation and watershed management program. The Hinabian-Lawigan watershed, which covers parts of St. Bernard, Hinunangan and Labagon, has a total land area of 6,173 hectares.

24 Responses to What did not happen in Guinsaugon



March 19th, 2006 at 11:08 pm

– Total log ban for 5 years. As in “total”, at kahit pa San Jose Timber Corporation pa yan itigil muna ang pagbibigay ng lisensya.
– Seryosong reforestation program taon-taon. Kung nagagawa ni Hagedorn yan sa Palawan magagawa rin yan sa iba.
– Dagdagan ang pondo ng mga ahensya sa ilalim ng DENR (MGB at Nat’l Mapping in particular) para sa mapping at surveying ng mga disaster prone areas.
– Makipagtulungan sa mga eksperto ng NIGS-UP at sa ibang bansa para sa pag-aaral sa Geological condition at pag-gawa ng geo hazard maps.
– Dagdag na pondo sa PAGASA upang magkaroon ng “near accurate prediction” at tamang rainfall reading.
– Seryosong pagpapatupad ng evacuation. Kung kailangan bitbitin ang matitigas na ulong mga tao jan, paalisin yan.
– Magdasal..magdasal..marami na nakakalimot magdasal…



March 19th, 2006 at 11:30 pm

It’s been like this since time immemorial. It happens and there’s the usual subsequent finger pointings. Maraming masyadong marunong, pero, may ginawa ba to prevent such catastrophes? Sana, kung talagang may malasakit yang mga matatalinong ‘yan, hwag ng hintayin at asahan pa ang bulok nating pamahalaan. Panay research, na ang results, apparently, nasa drawers. Ilalabas pag patay na ang ating mga kawawang kababayan. Sana, ‘yung naku-kuha nilang funding para sa researches, eh, gamitin na lang sa preventive measures, kasi, yung mga sinasaliksik nila, eh, paulit-ulit ng nasaliksik.



March 19th, 2006 at 11:38 pm

walang pera cultourtra…yun lagi ang sagot. sa US din may landslides, buong mga mamahaling bahay nahuhulog sa bangin…pero may warning agad kasi up to date technology nila.

Narinig ko din, wala pa nga tayong national map na up-to-date and up to par with technology. andaming bagong technology na mapapadali ang trabaho pero kelangan ng accurate, digiitzed maps.

SCUD, tama ba? yun balita ko from my brother in law na nasa mining…



March 19th, 2006 at 11:41 pm

I agree na sana wag na natin hintayin pa ang bulok nating pamahalaan.

Kaya lang tanong ko lang.. saan mo nakuha ang opinyon na ang resulta nasa drawer lang? Hindi lahat ng mga tao sa gobyerno ay pabaya, at allow me na itama kita sa pagsasabing ang pondo ng research gamitin sa preventive measures. Hindi ganun yun, pag binigyan ka ng pondo ng JICA para sa pag-aarl, gamitin mo sa pag-aaral. At allow me ulit na itama kita ng yung mga nasaliksik paulit ulit na, ideally dapat sinusurvey yan every 5 years o kahit less than 10 years..pero dahil sa kakulangan ng pondo, maraming mapa ang hindi updated at wala ring pondo para sa pagpapagawa ng geo hazard maps. kailangan talaga yan paulit ulit, ang tawag jan “monitoring” kasi po gumagalaw ang lupa.



March 19th, 2006 at 11:46 pm

Tama MitaMs, nakakalungkot isipin pero kakulangan talaga ng pondo. Mapa pa lang sa lupa yan ha, eh yung Nautical Chart natin hanggang ngayon Paper maps pa rin, di tayo makasabay sa ibang bansa na digitized na..yun pa naman ang requirement sa buong mundo. Namamalimos na lang tayo ng pondo sa ibang bansa, kaya ang mga barkong pang international natatawa na lang pag pumapasok sa Pilipinas..nasa papel pa rin ang mapa.



March 19th, 2006 at 11:51 pm

Thanks SCUD for the enlightenment. What I’m trying to point out is that whenever such disasters happens, ang daming lumalabas na marunong na wala rin namang ginawa priorly.



March 20th, 2006 at 12:00 am

yun nga ang mahirap sa ibang mga politiko jan. mga ningas kugon, pag may kalamidad naguunahan sa camera kaya mahirap talaga umasa sa mga yan. Ang kailangan jan reforestation..yung mga tao mismo ang gagawa ng hakbang, ang itanim yung talagang malalaking mga puno na malalalim ang ugat gaya ng akasya..hindi yung mga niyog lang na madaling tangayin ng lupa. Kung lahat sana may respeto sa environment naiiwasan sana mga ganitong bagay.



March 20th, 2006 at 12:22 am

“Unless the government takes immediate action, disasters, even worse than what we saw in Aurora and Quezon, await Caraga folk,” Sister Lydia Luscano, social action director of the Diocese of Tandag, Butuan City, warned.

still, we cannot dissociate the government from being blameworthy despite putting politics aside in issues like environmental disasters.

and, as usual, money is the problem…


this is a welcome development http://www.pcij.org/blog/?p=617 .

whereas, this http://www.pcij.org/blog/?p=480#comment-18658 may sound like broken record.



March 20th, 2006 at 12:25 am

a prayer in time of disaster…

Lord, we pray not only for those whose homes have been darkened by disaster in recent days, but also for those whose faith has been shaken; for those who stand bewildered and fearful in the midst of tragedy; for the injured, the bereaved, and the destitute.

We commend to your grace all who are seeking to help and heal the injured, and to comfort and calm the bereaved.

From you alone can come the word that will lift them above their darkness. Answer, O Lord, the question in men’s minds; and assure them that though disaster is not of your will, you are present with them in their suffering and sorrow, and can enable them to find purpose, hope and peace again. Amen.


Should Thy mercy send me sorrow, toil, and woe,
Or should pain attend me on my path below,
Grant that I may never fail Thy hand to see,
Grant that I may ever cast my care on Thee. — Montgomery



March 20th, 2006 at 1:10 am

molave worked wonders for bohol http://www.bohol.ph/article35.html . it’s also a cinch, i.e., their reforestation, for they are blessed to have an agriculturist for a mayor in that part of bohol…venture on a tour leading up to the chocolate hills “observatory,” you’ll see molave trees beautifully planted.

i’m sure other provinces will know what trees are suitable for their reforestation.

mr. juan mercado has this to say, “The very systems that enable us to feed the world are under threat. Destroying those systems is (national) hara-kiri.”



March 20th, 2006 at 1:35 am

yup baycas, maganda nga molave..matibay at maganda ang kapit sa lupa. Sa tingin ko lang ha, mas ok pa yata na Scientists and Engineers ang mga politiko :) ..gaya ng mga mayors sa Marikina, Naga, Gen. San etc.



March 20th, 2006 at 3:11 am

– Papers (research articles) “from drawers” have seen the light of day: Esteban, I. 2003. Forest Plantation Development in Philippines. SPPD/PHI/01/010. Reviewing/ updating of the Philippine Master Plan for Forestry Development, is one example and was actually cited by mr. manolito u. sy here http://erdb.denr.gov.ph/canopy/v27n1/v27n1.pdf . contrary to canopy international [a publication from DENR’s ecosystems research and development bureau (ERDB)] editorial (also in that pdf), such paper speaks of nature’s cry but was apparently not heeded.

– “Paper plantations” probably abound that’s why forestry development faltered (according to mr. mercado’s readings). this was likewise substantiated by mr. sy’s article, excerpt of his concluding statements:

“Year in and year out, accomplishments/achievements along forest plantations, both public and private, are reflected in forestry statistics. But some people might raise a note of uncertainty as to the existence of such plantations. The apprehension of Alcala (1997, as cited in Esteban, 2003) puts relevance to these uncertainties when he stated, ‘…whether these plantations are still there and in good shape or not remains to be proven. I guess not all these plantations are in good shape. Sometimes, many of these plantations are called PAPER PLANTATIONS not because that is their eventual end use but BECAUSE IT’S THE ONLY PLACE THEY EXIST…'”

i guess, angie reyes has a lot of forests to mind…oops, to look for, rather…

also in that pdf dated 30 may 2003 is a “cursory look on reforestation in the Philippines” also by mr. sy.

– Paper maps…they come from trees too.

– Paper? yes, “what did not happen in guinsaugon” will definitely not be put on paper!



March 20th, 2006 at 3:34 am

Fil-Am boy, 11, raises $610.23 for Leyte victims

Good story from inquirer.
Joseph Cachola-Prather , Congratulations! You inspire us all.



March 20th, 2006 at 8:50 am

I annotated a FALSE COLOR SATELLITE IMAGE of the area around St. Bernard/Guinsaugon that was broadcast a few days after the tragic event there. It is archived here:

This shows that a 100 meter thick, 2 km wide 4 km long VOLUME of the earth fell on the town. If you calculate the weight of such a mass of earth, you will realize that neither a small crown of cogon grass nor an ancient, primeval forest could have prevented this “landslide”.

Lesson from Geophysics: Not all landslides are caused by deforestation. There is also the WEIGHT OF WATER DUE TO GRAVITY.

(However, if they screwed up their RIVER, that would be another matter…)



March 20th, 2006 at 9:03 am

PS: Also, I do recall the MGB guy explaining the satellite image saying that a small earthquake may have triggered the “land-toppling” on Guinsaugon, after noting the presence of an ACTIVE VOLCANO not far from the site. It was also claimed that the local govt authorities had in fact evacuated most of the town a few days before this happened, then when the weather turned nice for a few days it seemed okay to return….Can’t blame them, something like this probably never happened before in Guinsaugon, nor will it again probably, no matter how many rain gauges we now install. Actually, I would traverse the satellite image map north and south to find other towns that are vulnerable in exactly the same way as Guinsaugon along the Philippine Fault. And a Rain Gauge can be just a TALL JAR, A LONG RULER and AN ACCURATE WATCH. (and Alarm GONGS!)

People should not wait for the government to get a grant from California…



March 20th, 2006 at 9:15 am

I heard about that small eathquake too – initially but nothing a few days after the landslide.

if there’s too much water that the earth can hold, expect it to slide…it’s just the law of nature.

but don’t we have rain gauges in every municipality or barangay today? heck, we can give barangay captains something to do…cause you are right…a tall jar with markings will be enough to measure rainfall and give local government the “scientific” data they need to order everyone out.

but overall, I’m happier with our disaster coordination in the Philippines than in the US, which is now a huge mess. We’re faster to respond and more practical I think….we just don’t have all the resources.



March 20th, 2006 at 11:39 am

Leyte suffered its worst ever disaster in November 1991 when about 5,000 people perished in flash floods and landslides that ravaged Ormoc.
— we never learn kasi… those who dont learn from past errors are doomed to repeat it..



March 20th, 2006 at 2:37 pm

how right you are…



March 20th, 2006 at 3:00 pm

thanks for the image Rizalist, at tama ka “oversaturation” can not be prevented unlike deforestation..it’s the law of nature, ginagantihan na tayo. Nature can satisfy us with all our needs but none of our greeds ika nga ni Gandhi.

I hope the government will take a serious look at Marikina Fault Line, mas nakakatakot to. Mas malaking pinsala ito pag nagkataon



March 20th, 2006 at 3:43 pm

Watch out also for Montalban in Rizal. Ping Cuerpo seems amazed by the idea of housing projects and residential subdivisions. Me kita ba dito? O ang mas tanong: Ilan ba ang kita ni Cuerpo dito?

ilang weeks na kasing sinisira ang base ng isang bundok sa Montalban para ipatag at gawing subdivision. At ilang gabi na ring sinusunog ang kokonti na nga lang na halaman sa isang bundok na malapit sa Wawa River. hmmnnn…



March 20th, 2006 at 8:47 pm

The Philippine Mines and Geosciences Bureau launched a geo-hazard mapping project on southern Leyte following a series of landslides in the adjacent tiny island of Panaon that claimed about 200 lives in December 2003. Their location on the edge of the highly unstable undersea Philippine Trench means the bedrock of southern Leyte and the northeast coast of the major southern island of Mindanao are “badly broken or fragmented” and are “prone to weathering and erosion,” the study found. See http://blackboard.prepys.com/2006/02/19/landslide-in-leyte-another-tragedy/

The tragedy could have been prevented or the effects have at least been lessened if only actions no matter how small were done.



March 20th, 2006 at 11:15 pm

Just read in local Pilipino Paper here in San Jose, Ca., fund raising is still going strong and substantial amount already collected. Thanks to all our “kasimanwas” in California.

In my previous posting of how we avoided the repeat of tragedy of hurricane Hazel, it is not a lack of funds or lack of studies. It is the lack of implementations of all the studies done by all these experts.
The funds were there, they just gone someplace.

I think we owe to all the victims of Guinsaugon’s landslide and their families to rethink our priorities and start all preventive programs and necessary legislations to prevent one from ever happening again.



March 22nd, 2006 at 1:05 pm

…WITH the landslide disaster in Southern Leyte province came a renewed call for a total ban on logging, particularly from some dubious NGOs that solicit “contributions” abroad.

All right then, where do we get our wood?

The last time I checked, this country uses at least three million cubic meters of timber a year. We use it for almost everything — furniture and woodcraft exports, house construction, and even toilet paper.

Here are the sad statistics: We import a million cubic meters a year, we produce locally a million cubic meters — legally, that is, with Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) permits and all — and we allow illegal logging to take care of the remaining one million cubic meters.

That alone means that the government foregoes P800 million a year in revenue from forest charges and all, not to mention the income tax that illegal loggers do not bother paying.

And do you know what the market price is of those one million cubic meters from illegal logging? It’s P3 billion every year. That’s why the illegal loggers are highly organized-and heavily armed. They are ready to kill. It’s big money.

Now sometime last year, everybody gathered for a big-time conference on forest management. The Asian Development Bank even hosted it.

The biggest worry was: How are we going to get lumber 20 years from now if we do not manage our forests well? Nobody is investing in forest management because things are so unstable in the wood sector.

Look, at the drop of some fake eyelashes, the Palace can just suspend logging for political survival. Right, Mike?

Thankfully, the conference yielded a bright idea. And that was, the creation of a “forest management board.” It should look at the total package-management, investments, and policies. Everybody loved it, including representatives from the academe, both the civil and the uncivilized society, and even the business sector.

The DENR chief at the time, Michael Defensor, promised to work out an “executive order” to create the board.

Defensor has come and gone at the DENR and, several months later, still there is no executive order. Do you think he was just pulling our leg or something?

(from Breaktime column of conrado r. banal iii, 04 march 2006 http://money.inq7.net/columns/printable_columns.php?yyyy=2006&mon=03&dd=04&file=7 )


INSIDE PCIJ: Stories behind our stories » PCIJ blog turns one year old

April 4th, 2006 at 10:48 am

[…] In the past 12 months, toe-to-toe with the well financed and organized mainstream media, we were able to cover with the same zeal and rigor that we put to our investigative reports the developments in the political and social spheres, notably the “Hello, Garci” recordings, the charges of massive electoral fraud and the use of public funds for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s campaign, her botched and much tainted impeachment process, the spirited proposals for charter change, the Venable and other secret lobby contracts, 20 years of Edsa 1, Arroyo’s declaration of a state of national emergency, and other tragedies like the “Wowowee” stampede and the Southern Leyte mudslides. […]

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