Relocation starts in danger zones

LGUs heed Palace lead on moving settlers out of disaster-prone areas

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FOR DECADES now, Balili River flowing along La Trinidad town in Benguet has been the cause of disasters due to the clogging of waterways or pollution, creating floods at the lowest end of the valley and triggering landslides in other parts of the urban community. RICHARD BALONGLONG/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

BAGUIO CITY—Encouraged by Malacañang’s decision to proceed with the relocation of squatters lining Metro Manila waterways, provinces in north and Central Luzon have decided to resettle communities living in geologically hazardous areas to reduce flooding and landslides.

The Bulacan provincial government is relocating households near Angat River in September, part of the province’s contingency plan to clear clogged waterways and move households away from seasonal danger.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) has identified Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, Ilocos Norte, Tarlac, Maguindanao, North Cotabato, Oriental Mindoro and Metro Manila as the top 10 areas that are vulnerable to flooding.

Upland provinces in the Cordillera also started reviewing their relocation plans after the MGB listed Benguet and

Mt. Province as among the top 10 provinces that are highly susceptible to landslides. The other provinces include La Union, Nueva Vizcaya, Marinduque, Rizal, Cebu, Southern Leyte, Romblon and Batangas.

New homes

Arlene Pascual, Bulacan provincial planning and development officer, said they are in the final stages of building at least 800 houses in Barangay Catacte in Bustos for the first batch of families whose homes are frequently affected by Angat River flooding.

The first relocation may benefit between 835 and 1,100 families out of the 3,000 informal settlers who need to be moved from flood sites in the towns of Norzagaray, Angat, Bustos, Baliwag, Pulilan and Plaridel, Pascual said.

She said the remaining 1,900 households would be resettled later in the first months of 2014, once the new houses are completed in Pandi town.

Bulacan Gov. Wilhelmino Sy-Alvarado signed the resettlement deal with the National Housing Authority (NHA). He said Bulacan spends much of its resources evacuating or rescuing many families when floods occur, so resettling them is a cost-effective solution.

The provincial government plans a second phase of its relocation program, this time benefiting flood-affected families in Calumpit, Hagonoy, Paombong and other coastal towns, Pascual said.

Clogging, settlers

Gerardo Esquivel, administrator of Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, said clogged canals and squatters living along waterways are the primary causes of Bulacan floods.

“The Department of Science and Technology presented its river mapping study, which states that Angat Dam only causes five percent of flooding along Angat River in Bulacan,” he said.

Angat River traverses the towns of Norzagaray, Angat, Donya Remedios Trinidad, San Rafael, Bustos, Baliwag, Plaridel, Pulilan, Calumpit, Hagonoy and Paombong.

In Pampanga, the provincial government asked the NHA to sell it 55 hectares of land that would serve as resettlement for villagers who are vulnerable to floods.

Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda said the province intends to buy at book value 10 has of land in Barangay Telapayong in Arayat town and 45 has in Barangay Palmayo in Floridablanca town.

Felicisimo Lazarte Jr., manager of the NHA in northern and Central Luzon, confirmed the proposal, explaining in a text message that “this will be subject to the approval of the NHA board.”

“Our plan is to use these for the permanent housing of flood victims,” Pineda said, adding that families living on or beside the largely eroded Arnedo Dike in San Simon and San Luis towns would benefit from this. The towns are downstream of Pampanga River.

1,000 people at risk

Pineda estimated that 1,000 households are in harm’s way and resettlement has become government’s better option because floods have worsened due to climate change.

With help from the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the provincial government recently bought 3.9 has of land in San Isidro and Magalang, which would host an evacuation and permanent housing site.

Pineda also said the provincial government is tapping experts to help make a comprehensive program to unify responses to climate change and other risks. This program, she said, will help determine what type of infrastructures are needed and where these should be located.

Floods during the southwest monsoon in August last year were extensive, inundating 704 villages in Central Luzon, except in Nueva Ecija and Aurora.

Over 400 of those villages are in Pampanga and Bulacan, which are the center of the basin-shaped region drained by Pampanga River.

In Pangasinan, the Office of Civil Defense has laid out programs to monitor the condition of towns susceptible to flooding, starting with Dagupan City and the neighboring towns of Calasiao and Sta. Barbara.

Cordillera problem

Landslides have been considered a part of life in the Cordillera provinces, but extreme rains have made life-threatening erosions more frequent, so upland communities have also considered resettlement as an option.

Mt. Province Gov. Leonardo Mayaen said the province is looking for relocation sites for communities that are vulnerable to landslides. These are the towns of Tadian, Natonin, Sabangangan and Sagada, all in Mt. Province.

Resettlement has not been an easy solution for upland communities, said outgoing Mayor Gregorio Abalos Jr. of La Trinidad, Benguet. In October 2009, strong rains from Typhoon “Pepeng” toppled a mountain side in Barangay Puguis, burying a section of the community called Little Kibungan and killing 76 people.

Abalos said the local government began developing a relocation site identified by the national government to move Little Kibungan away from the scarred mountain.

But private claimants of the relocation site petitioned the Office of the President to seek another location, stalling the relocation program, he said. Reports from Carmela Reyes-Estrope and Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon; and Vincent Cabreza, Desiree Caluza and Gabriel Cardinoza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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