After the landslide

My biggest complaint about the breaking news coverage on the landslide in Leyte was that no one mentioned that the entire area had basically been declared a disaster area for weeks before the landslide. In other words, people (and in this case I mean “the government”) knew this was going to happen, but didn’t evacuate the area. It’s unthinkable.

Then a story in the New York Times comes out saying the government has known since last May that the village was in “grave danger.”

Policies were even in place to avert a pending disaster: Area villages were evacuated late last year, and a logging ban, to address the deforestation at the root of the problem, had been adopted more than a decade ago.

But reality was another matter. According to government officials and environmental groups, problems ranging from government corruption and ineffective laws to a lack of money and the political will to enforce the laws contributed to the collapse of the mountainside here in the first instance, and allowed it to become a large-scale human tragedy in the second.

I feel one of those lists coming on — you know, the ones that say “You know you’ve been in the Philippines too long when…” Well, this list would start with, “You know you’ve been in the Philippines too long when the above statements do not shock you at all.” It seems the key is to maintain a sense of outrage and injustice, and to not let the constant stream of tragedy, disaster and human suffering caused by corruption make you cynical.


  1. Frayed says:

    The thing with being in Manila too long (I’ve been here since birth) is there are just too many tragedies. You are outraged and for a week, think of nothing else, then another one comes along.

    I didn’t even know the town was under watch and in “grave danger” since last May. Now that’s really outrageous. But not surprising. Seems we never really bother to prepare for or avoid avoidable disasters. Makes me angry and sad.

  2. torn says:

    It is a whole lot easier to list somewhere as dangerous than it is to something about it. Go to the corner of C5 and Kalayanan — there are homes literally on the edge of 100 foot drop. I’m sure they are on a list of dangerous properties, but actually going into the squatter settlement and saying “sorry, guys we are moving you for your own good” takes political will, time, money, and courage.

    This is not exclusively a Philippine issue. What about LA and Tokyo? They are on a million lists yet people live there and I don’t see anyone trying to get them to leave.

  3. Christina says:

    Thank you both for your comments. I love getting other people’s perspectives, especially when I’ve spent too much time in a newsroom, listening to the same thing over and over.

    Torn: I couldn’t agree with you more. What struck me with this situation is that I had been reading stories from my own newsroom for weeks that identified Southern Leyte as a “disaster area,” and that continuing rains were likely to trigger an emergency situation. (I believe the exact phrasing was that the area was in a “state of emergency” but I could be getting the wording muddled with the current situation.) Looking back on those stories after doing an evaluation of the breaking news coverage of Leyte, the stories before the landslide seemed strangely prophetic.

    I agree that this is not only an issue in the Philippines. But if we compare Southern Leyte to LA and Tokyo, both in danger of earthquakes, we’re talking about two cities with strict building codes and standards that are usually (and here I emphasize usually) followed. If an earthquake strikes LA or Tokyo, will more than 1,000 people die? Perhaps. But the likelihood is greater in poor parts of the world. Look at the earthquake in Bam, Iran. Something like 30,000 people died in a magnitude 6.8 earthquake. The 1989 San Francisco earthquake killed less than 100 and was about the same magnitude.

    I guess my point is that yes, there are risks everywhere. And yes, it is almost impossible to evacuate everyone (as a reporter I’ve done more than my fair share of stories about the crazy guy during a wildland fire that refuses to evacuate, but stands on his roof with a garden hose waiting for the flames to approach his property). But often times the damage caused is exacerbated by more than just the event (eathquake, landslide, etc.) itself.

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