Xangsane & The Legendary Mount Makiling

typhoon-xangsane.JPG

29 September 2006. Here, in this satellite image of Typhoon Xangsane (Milenyo), you see the enormous cycles of wind and rain almost enveloping the whole Philippines, but you don’t have any idea about the destruction it was going to leave behind on this date.

We were lucky. Our apartment leaked in three places, but that was all: no flooding, trees falling but not on cars (we have no car), no battered windows, no flying roofs, no casualties. I had a good night’s sleep.

Others in Los Baños, Laguna had sad stories to tell. At least two sides of Mount Makiling came crashing down, trees and rocks and mud crushing houses and people and livestock.

In Flickr, you can search for Milenyo and you will find almost 1,300 images of the destruction in the Philippines alone. I didn’t look at all of them, but I’m sure they don’t tell you how many lives were lost, how much damage to crops and livestock and property, how much opportunity lost, how many trees felled and how much degradation done to the soil.

Bear Stearns, a New York-based investment bank, calculated the total Milenyo damage at P1.3 Billion, ‘a small amount compared with the Philippines’ P 6.08 trillion economy’ (Likha C Cuevas & Euan Paulo C Añonuevo, 05 October 2006, Manila Times, manilatimes.net/). Cuevas & Añonuevo also report that Cielito F Habito, Director of the Ateneo Center for Economic Research and Development, predicted 5.6% growth in GDP this year, better than the 5.1% forecast earlier, despite Milenyo. If you talk about gross domestic product, yes. But those who were victims of Milenyo would not benefit from any GDP. The GDP is the market value of all final goods and services produced within a country within some time. What goods and services would those victims of the typhoon be able to produce for the rest of the year to add to the GDP? You tell me. My own estimate of the damage: P5 Billion, thinking of the small farmers, the small entrepreneurs, including computing interruptions, computer data damaged or lost forever. Where we are in Los Baños, we were out of power for 11 days. I’m a freelance writer and editor and desktopper – I can’t live except in misery without a computer. Writing is my first love; my wife is my second. I can’t write without a computer.

Power crashed at around 9 AM in Los Baños that day. End of my endless sessions with emails and blogs and my surfings for background materials on articles, my editings and desktoppings. In fact, that wasn’t bad enough, if you consider that at around 10 AM a whole village came crashing down the slopes of Mount Makiling. The barrio called Bagong Silang (New Born) became Bagong Ilog (New River), literally, when portions of the mountain slided, sending down tons of water and thick mud and huge boulders at hillside houses, killing at least 14 people (Marlon Ramos, 29 September 2006, Inquirer, newsinfo.inq7.net/; Marlon Ramos & Nestor P Burgos, 5 October 2006, Inquirer, newsinfo.inq7.net/). I know another village, not far from where we are, where another side of Mount Makiling also came crashing down, killing at least 11 adults and children, along the path of the Dampalit Falls not far from the border of Los Baños and Calamba.

There’s a story they tell about Mount Makiling being watched over by Maria Makiling, goddess of the forest. If you didn’t know, look at the mountain sideways and you will see a woman lying down, with her flowing hair and proud breast, Peak 1 and Peak 2, you know what I mean (I couldn’t find a photo I would have loved to download there and upload here). She has a loving heart, but she hates people who don’t love her, who don’t give a damn about her treasures – the mountain no less. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. So, I have been thinking of her thinking of what happened.

Landslides in Mount Makiling? That’s new(s). Ms Portia Lapitan, Director of the Makiling Center for Mountain Ecosystems, which is a component of the College of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of the Philippines Los Baños, has an explanation. They were a ‘natural occurrence’ (Niña Catherine Calleja, Inquirer, 5 October 2006, newsinfo.inq7.net/), meaning that the landslide was caused by a deluge, the ‘abnormal volume of water and the intensity of the wind brought by the typhoon.’ The rainfall was 308 mm, 15 times the average of 20 mm. She said Makiling was ‘intact’ before Milenyo.

I think not.

I’ve been in and out of Los Baños for almost 50 years, most of the time in, and I don’t remember any landslides in Mount Makiling – they didn’t happen before. I also don’t remember the village called Bagong Silang being there – it didn’t happen to be there before.

In 1967, typhoon Welming struck Los Baños, and it was memorably destructive, knocking down power lines and age-old trees. The University of the Philippines Los Baños campus did not have power for about one month, if I remember right. But there was no landslide. Well, truth, to tell, there was no Bagong Silang yet at the time. And no Dampalit settlement. I will explain in a little while.

Superintendent Steve Ludan, Chief of the 406th Laguna Police Mobile Group, said that the typhoon killed livestock like carabaos, cows, horses and pigs (Marlon Ramos & Nestor P Burgos, 5 October 2006, newsinfo.inq7.net/). What that means is that Bagong Silang has completely become a hillside farm community of 584 people and 121 households (in 2000) – and this is on the slopes of Makiling located even higher up the mountain than the College of Forestry campus. The village is in fact within the Makiling Forest Reserve (Carmela G Taguiam & Shirto Tsuyuzaki, 1998, Tropics 7(3/4): 271-284, hucc.hokudai.ac.jp/), which is under the jurisdiction of the College of Forestry. The village occupies at least 10% of the 4,244 hectares of the Makiling Reserve (Niña Catherine Calleja, 5 November 2006, newsinfo.inq7.net/).

Can you explain a farming village within a forest reserve? I can’t.

If you have crops and livestock like Bagong Silang has on the slopes of a mountain, you’re inviting disaster. I have visited enough villages on hillsides in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao to be able to guess if you are practicing slash-and-burn – kainginmaking (on a clear day, you can see smoke rising from the slopes) – and therefore you are exposing the slopes to erosion. Erosion is rain carrying away the soil; a landslide is nothing but a sudden massive erosion. If you have cows and carabaos and pigs, you will need grass and space – you will have to make room for those, at the expense of the environment. In my several years of travel around the country, I have never seen hillside villagers raising carabaos and cows and horses and pigs who apply true and correct conservation practices to the soil, not to mention the forest. If you don’t give a damn to the soil, the soil won’t give a damn to you; if you don’t give a damn to the forest, it will strike at you sooner or later.

In another sense, to be technical about it, the carrying capacity of the place had been overshot, probably long ago. (Another example: Laguna Lake has long ago shot beyond its carrying capacity of people and fish, so now it’s brain-dead.) The designated village area of Bagong Silang can only accommodate so many people, so many animals, and so much abuse. After some time, give the place a shove, like a typhoon, and it gives. Landslides are natural occurrences, but not this one – this landslide was man-caused, if not man-made.

Marlon Ramos headlined one of his stories ‘Makiling swallowed his family’ (2006, Inquirer, newsinfo.inq7.net/). She felt she had been ravished, so Maria Makiling had her revenge.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Conservation, GDP (Gross Domestic Product), hillside farming, landslides, Los Baños Laguna (Philippines), Milenyo, Xangsane (typhoon)

2 Comments on “Xangsane & The Legendary Mount Makiling”

  1. steve ludan Says:

    hi! i myself was in quandary how the disaster happened. the area has remained a reservation area and the villagers apparently have done nothing wrong against nature. no illegal logging or deforestation of any sort. after the typhoon and with clear skies, you can see with the naked eye from our police camp in barangay bitin, bay and even along stretch of the major road along santo tomas, batangas the cascaded/landslide portions of the immediate peak of mount makiling. Landslides do happen without human initiation or abuse/exploitation of nature….

  2. mario bihag Says:

    hi,

    i’m glad someone like has such an honest opinion about the landslide that happened in mt. makiling. i’m a mountaineer, and i love that mountain. i hike it at least 3 times a year. last year, before milenyo struck, i have been to makiling 2 times already. it is a tragic thing, to have lives and property taken by nature. but you do have a point, and i agree with you. although training dictates us mountaineers to respect the locals inhabiting near or within a mountain, and to work closely with them during climbs to promote mountaineering tourism within the area, it is a bit disturbing to see them settle within the forest reserve of makiling. but to blame them is moot and academic, and we both know that it would take more than our combined brain power, or for that, the combined brain power of all those concerned, to address this issue. now, all i can do, is wait, forlornly, for the mountain to open again for climbing. anyway, thanks for keeping a close eye on this matter


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