This happened in the province of Aurora in east central Luzon–the big island of Luzon–in the Philippines. It happened yesterday morning. That was less than 40 hours ago.
The driver heard ominous rumbling noises and decided to take a look.
On the left, in the photo above, is evidence of fresh landslides. Stepping out of his cab was the driver’s best decision in his past 24 hours!
My brother and his companions came upon this scene at daybreak yesterday morning. How did that come to be?
My brother, Gao Pronove, is president of EcoMarket Solutions. He is erecting an electric power generation plant in the northern half of the province of Aurora. The plant is expected to become operational next month–in January 2012. It’s notable because it will be fueled by waste products of the agricultural system. These are outputs of local agriculture like coconut husks and fronds and rice straw that are typically burned. Imagine–what was discarded as waste will now be used to power engines that generate electricity!
Gao was accompanied by Robbie Mathay, president of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone. APECO is one of those bodies that was created to shepherd the economic development of a specific area. In this case, it seeks to improve the lot of Filipinos who live in the province of Aurora.
In the U.S., similar bodies offer reduced taxes, subsidies, and other incentives for very focused objectives. Here’s an example from a U.S. government agency with a specific program “to clean up and redevelop environmentally-contaminated industrial and commercial sites, commonly known as “brownfields.”
Prodding development by encouraging developers
In developing countries like the Philippines, economic zones (and the bodies that are created for them) are used to spur development–a necessary first priority. An example of this is the economic zone that the former U.S. Air Force base, Clark Field, was turned into.
Clark Air Base was the largest overseas U.S. military base in the world, with over 150,000 acres.
Welcome to the Clark Freeport Zone. A former US military base, Clark’s strategic location is right at the heart of growing markets in the Asia-Pacific region – a given advantage in today’s global economy. The zone’s modern infrastructure facilities, generous fiscal and non-fiscal incentives, professional support services, amenities, and other advantages make it an ideal place for your investment. The Master Plan for the 4,400-hectare main zone and 27,600-hectare sub zone will transform the zone into an airport-driven urban center perfect for the requirements of high-end IT enabled industries, aviation and logistics related enterprises, tourism and other sectors.
That was Clark. What about Aurora? A recent APECO accomplishment sheds more light on their progress.
The South Korean government has extended to the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO) nearly P80 million worth of grants intended to bankroll the feasibility studies for three major projects inside the economic zone.
Robbie Mathay, APECO president and chief executive officer said the grant, which is coursed through the Korean Export-Import Bank, will be used to finance studies for water system, hydroelectric power and waste management systems within the ecozone.
Navigating through central Luzon
Gao and Robbie left Makati in the early hours of yesterday. Their route, shown below, has three segments.
Each segment typically takes three hours. By leaving very early in the morning (just past midnight), Gao and Robbie were expecting to shorten the trip’s duration.
The first segment, from Quezon City to Tarlac City, passes through the equivalent of the U.S. Interstate, NLEx (pronounced n-lex) and SCTEx (c-tex). Angeles City is the closest large city to the former airbase of the U.S. Air Force, Clark Airbase. A lot of foreigners live in the area around the former airbase.
The second segment, from Tarlac City to Baler, Aurora, consists of single-lane rural roads. My brother’s route takes them through one of the old logging roads that was carved and used by the loggers of the 1970s and 1980s. These were the logging operations that stripped the vast forests of the Sierra Madre mountain range before Filipinos (along with the rest of the world) became aware of the importance of forests and the impact of its loss on the greater environment.
I remember crossing the Sierra Madre mountains in the late-1970s. We went to a friend’s farm in Quezon. There were still large forests but a lot of logging activities was also going on.
The Sierra Madre mountains run north-south and trace the east coast of Luzon. The mountains form the longest mountain range in the Philippines. Its location beside the Pacific Ocean buffers the interior from the full punishment wrought by typhoons.
(In the map above, the range is just left of the letter “L” in Luzon.)
The mountains protected the interior by absorbing the full intensity of the rain and winds. Typhoons were thus weakened.
After the forests vanished, the mountains became unstable. There were no trees to soak up the water. There were no trees to stop the winds.
There can be little doubt that Filipinos–especially those living in central and northern Luzon, in all areas that are shielded by the Sierra Madres–have been paying the price for the lack of forests ever since.
Where it happened
The third segment runs from Baler, the capital city of the province of Aurora, to the town of Dinalungan.
The municipality of Dinalungan is located between the mountains of Dipaculao and Casiguran. Trees abound in its mountain areas, where forests and falls dominate the landscape, and rare exotic birds, such as the endangered Philippine Eagle, soar over untrammeled coastline. Because of its variety of natural attractions, the area is ideal for nature trekking.
Gao and Robbie’s final destination was Dinalungan but it was in Dipaculao, just an hour short of their destination, that they ran into this mishap.
Imagine their quandary! There they were, almost at the end of a nine-hour trip, having driven some 280 of 300 kilometers, when the landslide forced them to stop. And turn around. Ouch!
The landslide occurred 30 minutes before they arrived. Landslide danger was everywhere and that became apparent after they learned that two other landslides had blocked the final 30 kilometers.
They returned home to MetroManila this morning safe and sound. When can they go back? They anticipate that this road–and this is the only one that goes to their destination–will be cleared and safely (?) pass-able by Tuesday, the 13th. In the meantime, overland transportation is impossible.
But this post isn’t about Palawan!
Take a look at those photos again. The side of the mountain from where the boulders fell is empty. The other mountain in the photos isn’t but those aren’t adult trees. They’re secondary forest growth.
Deforestation in the Sierra Madres was investigated before. Its goal: come up with a plan for managing the region’s environment. I hope something’s come out of that!
No, this post isn’t about Palawan but its topics–the landslide, the damaged environment that made landslides more likely, and the excessive logging that, in turn, damaged the environment–are as relevant to me as my concern about the unabated extraction of seahorses in Palawan, for example. In this post, I noted the traffic in seahorses. While the trade was legal, I was alarmed about the lack of regulation. Seahorses, like trees, are part of the ecosystem. Their numbers impact the environment in ways that aren’t obvious and become clear only in hindsight. Missing seahorses may mean fewer food fish for Filipinos but it may also mean something unexpected.
What about missing trees? Did loggers (and the short-sighted politics that enabled them) think that missing trees meant unstable mountain sides? Probably not, they figured the trees would come back. And how many loggers (and the short-sighted politics that enabled them) think that there might be more landslides? Probably none and neither did I until I realized that my brother could have died as an indirect consequence of excessive logging. That makes me angry.