Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Aquino considering total log ban

President Aquino is considering imposing a total log ban throughout the country as a long-term measure to prevent floods as he made a quick survey of flood-stricken provinces in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao on Friday.

The death toll from landslides and floods over the past two weeks has now reached 42, with 8 injured and 5 missing, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said in a report to the President.

Damage to property, infrastructure and agriculture has been estimated at P1.2 billion, the NDRRMC said.

The number of displaced families has now reached 262,107, or more than 1.3 million persons, it said.

“There must be a long-term intervention to all this flooding. Actually, I’m thinking of a total log ban everywhere in the country,” he said in an interview over government radio.

But when he spoke with local media in St. Bernard, Southern Leyte, earlier on Friday, Mr. Aquino said he was considering a total log ban only in the provinces that were “intentionally logged” by unscrupulous people.

He said the ban would certainly cover Caraga, composed of the provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur.

“Unfortunately, that area is already suffering from the ravages of climate change and flooding,” the President said, adding that he had been informed by Environment Secretary Ramon Paje that logs had been intercepted in a river in Agusan del Norte.

“By Monday, I’m hoping the executive order will be ready. That will drastically cut down the problem of illegal cutting of logs,” said Mr. Aquino, who was scheduled to proceed to Butuan City in Agusan del Norte after visiting Southern Leyte.

Mr. Aquino said the government would immediately take action against groups involved in intentional logging. “We will stop that on Monday,” he said.

The salient features of the EO, as recommended by the environment department, included the closure of forest areas that did not have a sustainable supply of lumber, he said.

In a press statement, Malacañang said a total log ban policy in all primary forests will not only weaken the effect of climate change but also prevent flooding because trees prevent sediment runoff as forests hold and use more water than farms or grasslands.

The last time a total log ban was declared throughout the country was in 2004. Then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo imposed the ban after hundreds of people were killed in flash floods and landslides in Quezon province on Nov. 29, 2004, in the aftermath of Typhoons “Unding” and “Violeta.” The ban was lifted in March 2005.

A total log ban has been in effect for the past four years in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, and Marawi City.

Good management

The President arrived by chopper on Friday afternoon in St. Bernard, the scene of a landslide that killed three people.

With him were four Cabinet members—Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.

Mr. Aquino expressed concern that a landslide had occurred again in St. Bernard. In 2006, a mudslide killed about a thousand people in Guinsaugon, a barangay of St. Bernard.

He said a long-term solution would need to be studied, possibly for the relocation of the high-risk barangays, as he noted that St. Bernard was located between two mountains.

Mr. Aquino commended St. Bernard Mayor Rico Rentuza for his handling of the disaster in the town. He noted that Rentuza did not just depend on government but also sought the support of nongovernment organizations.

“That is good management. We want to encourage that,” he said. He also noted that St. Bernard had obviously learned from the experience of 2006 as only three deaths were reported.

“There was a huge difference from 2006. We only had three casualties but it would have been better if there were none,” Mr. Aquino told a press briefing at the Ormoc airport in Leyte.

After the heavy rains began on January 2, Rentuza said the local government immediately conducted a preemptive evacuation of the 11 barangays identified to be at high risk for flash floods and landslides.

According to Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson, the floods inflicted heavy damage on the East Visayan region’s infrastructure, the worst affected being Northern Samar and Southern Leyte.

22 days of nonstop rain

Earlier Friday morning, the President flew to Albay for a briefing on the damage wrought on the province which had been pelted by rain nonstop for 22 days.

Arriving in the capital of Legazpi City amid fair weather after three weeks of continuous rain, the President immediately ordered Singson to quickly repair or replace damaged infrastructure in Albay and Sorsogon.

He also ordered the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to help the farmers whose crops have been destroyed as well as households that have been economically displaced. The DSWD was also instructed to provide assistance to evacuees.

Mr. Aquino said the government was studying the replacement or augmentation of Albay’s calamity fund.

The President attended a joint meeting of national and local disaster authorities on the extent of damage wrought by floods and landslides in the provinces of Albay, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Sorsogon and Catanduanes.

P3.9-M relief goods

Albay Governor Joey Salceda led the provincial officials present at the briefing that was held in the Philippine Air Force compound.

With the President were Singson, Soliman, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and Benito Ramos, the NDRRMC executive director.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) estimated damage to infrastructure in four Bicol provinces at P599.5 million, with Albay the hardest hit with P476 million, followed by Camarines Sur, P61 million, Catanduanes, P12.5 million, and Camarines Norte, P10 million.

Mr. Aquino turned over to Salceda P3.9 million worth of relief goods consisting of food packs amounting to P1.7 million and medicines worth P2.2 million.

Flood gates

Mr. Aquino asked the DPWH to study Salceda’s proposal for P470 million worth of repair work for roads and bridges and for the construction of a P575-million flood control project in Legazpi City which would involve setting up a flood pumping station and flood gates in the city.

Mr. Aquino said the proposals would be included in the 2012 budget.

According to Salceda, the construction of flood gates and a pumping station would prevent further flooding in the city’s business center during heavy rains and typhoons.

Mr. Aquino directed Soliman to assist farmers and the displaced households in Albay through the DSWD’s “cash for work” program.

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