Landslide-hit Davao site listed as ‘high risk’ since 2008

Lawyer Mark Penalver noted that Apex Mining placed its bus depot within the no-build zone, accounting for the high number of its workers buried in the landslide.

Chris Panganiban, Germelina Lacorte

Chris Panganiban, Germelina Lacorte

Philippine Daily Inquirer


This aerial shot of the landslide that hit Barangay Masara in Maco, Davao de Oro, was taken on Feb. 8, two days after the massive soil erosion buried vehicles and houses and killed at least 98 people. PHOTO: OFFICE OF CIVIL DEFENSE DAVAO REGION/PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER

February 22, 2024

DAVAO CITY — An environmental group here asked for an explanation from the mining company operating in Barangay Masara of Maco town of Davao de Oro province and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) because they knew the area posed danger before the killer landslide that hit the village on Feb.6.

If the mining company’s own study indicated that certain areas in Masara were highly susceptible to landslides and the MGB in the Davao region already declared the area as a “no-build zone,” why was the Apex Mining Corporation allowed to operate there?

This was among the questions posed by the Davao-based Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability Inc. (Idis) on the mining operation in Masara, where the landslide had killed 98 people, with nine others still missing.

Lawyer Mark Peñalver, Idis executive director, noted that Apex Mining placed its bus depot within the no-build zone, accounting to the high number of its workers buried in the landslide.

Peñalver said a study commissioned by Apex Mining in 2021 revealed that the geological and meteorological conditions in Davao de Oro already indicated the province’s vulnerability to hazards like landslides.

The Apex report, titled “Economic Assessment and Ore Reserve Estimation of Maco Epithermal Gold Deposits,” classified Davao de Oro’s climate zone under Type IV in the Modified Corona’s Classification System (MCC), which means it has practically continuous rainfall throughout the year, with the heaviest precipitation occurring during the monsoon season from November to February, Peñalver said in a statement on Saturday.

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“This classification highlights the increased likelihood of slope instability and erosion in the area. With these conditions, landslide risk is set to escalate with climate change and continuous activities in the area,” Idis said.
Persistent pattern

Idis said the same report also stressed the presence of a prominent fault lineation—or fault veins directly connected to the Masara Fault and extending toward the northwest direction.

“Fault lineations provide areas of vulnerability in the earth’s crust, increasing the possibility of slope instability and failure. The existence of this fault lineation in Masara indicates that the region is prone to geological hazards which elucidates its ‘high’ to ‘very high’ susceptibility to landslide as determined by the [MGB],” Idis added.

In 2008, the MGB-Davao officially classified Barangay Masara as a no-build zone because of the persistent pattern of landslides in the area, going back to 2007, with recorded deaths, the group noted.

It was even likely that there were more landslides that were not documented in the area involving those that had no reported deaths, according to Idis.

The group also pointed out that Apex Mining employed the method of underground mining in its operations, a process that has the potential to disrupt the stability of rock and soil layers, hence increasing the likelihood of landslides, adding: “Given the massive human and environmental impacts of mining, it is outrageous that the local population only receives 1 percent of the company’s profits as a royalty. Financial recompense is inadequate in the face of disasters like the recent landslide.”

When asked for comment, both the MGB-Davao and Apex Mining refused to answer the question why the bus depot, the barangay hall and other civilian structures were allowed to be built within the area earlier declared by MGB as a no-build zone.
Natural factors

“As has been reiterated by the [MGB], the landslide was caused by natural factors,” said Teresa Pacis, Apex Mining’s AVP for corporate affairs and communications, in an emailed reply to Inquirer on Monday.

“Barangay Masara in Maco has been our home for more than 50 years now and we have been through many ups and downs. We are currently focused on helping the barangay overcome the challenges brought about by this landslide. If these inquiries will help Maco then we welcome them.”

Pacis also said Apex Mining was “duly licensed by concerned government agencies and is compliant with regulatory measures prescribed by law.”

“Assessment is always a part of our adherence to responsible mining, including strict observance of safety protocols,” Pacis sai

MGB also did not answer why mining was allowed in an area classified to have “high” to “very high” susceptibility to landslides. Instead, MGB-Davao officer in charge Beverly Mae Brebante referred to its earlier statement on the Masara landslide, which cited the geohazard warning they issued to the local government unit and the emergency response preparedness advisory for the mining company at the height of the flooding brought about by rains spawned by the trough of the Low Pressure Area (LPA) that prevailed over the Davao region in the early part of February.

“We appreciate your understanding. Our official statement, as provided by the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) MGB-Davao, as released in our Facebook accounts and official websites stands as our definitive communication on this matter. Should there be any developments warranting additional commentary, we will ensure timely and appropriate updates are provided,” Brebante said.

She was referring to the earlier statement, which detailed how MGB-Davao had warned the local governments and the mining company against the perils of floods and landslides, telling them to be prepared for untoward incidents because of the continuous heavy rain in the area.

MGB also issued an advisory for the activation of the mining company emergency response plans and the emergency response team before the Feb. 6 7:30 p.m. killer landslide.
Very high risks

Already classified in the MGB’s geohazard map to have “high” to “very high” risks to landslides, Masara’s risks were further aggravated by the continuous rain spawned by the trough of a LPA early this month.

“Despite Masara being declared as a no-build zone, Apex Mining continued building their facilities and operations [in the village]. Although the landslide area is not actively being operated on, it is still within the premises of Apex Mining’s Mineral Production Sharing Agreement,” Peñalver said.

He believed the high death toll could have been prevented had the MGB and the mining company closely monitored the landslide-prone area.

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