Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Tuesday blamed years of deforestation for a deadly mudslide that buried a mountainside community amid last week’s torrential rains set off by a storm that has left more than 130 people dead across the country.
During an aerial inspection of the widespread damage wrought by Tropical Storm Nalgae in southern Maguindanao province, the president said he pointed out to the provincial governor how the mudslides cascaded on denuded slopes of Mount Minandar.
“I noticed that in all places where the landslides came down, the mountains were bald. That’s the problem,” Marcos Jr. told provincial governors in a televised meeting with key Cabinet members in Maguindanao to discuss the worst natural disaster he faced since taking office in June.
“We have to include tree-planting in our flood control,” he said. “We have been hearing about this over and over again, but we still cut the trees, so that’s what happens, these landslides.”
The storm’s vast rain clouds swamped a wide swath of the Philippine archipelago, leaving at least 132 people dead and lashing another 2.4 million people, including some who had to be rescued from the roofs of flooded houses. More than 6,500 houses were either damaged, torn down or swept away by flash floods, according to disaster-response officials.
The storm made landfall Saturday in the eastern Philippines and blew out into the South China Sea on Sunday.
The worst-hit area was Maguindanao’s Kusiong village, which lies between the foothills of Mount Minandar and the Moro Gulf.
A night of heavy downpour Thursday loosened the upper reaches of the mountainside which crashed down in a boulder- and tree-laden deluge and buried about 5 hectares (12 acres) of the community, populated largely by the Teduray ethnic group, officials said.
Twenty-one bodies, including those of children, have been pulled out by more than 260 army, police, firefighters, coast guard and civilian rescuers backed by a backhoe, two payloaders and sniffer dogs, said army Maj. Gen. Roy Galido.
Only four remain missing, Galido said, citing Kusiong village leaders. But other local officials fear entire families may be buried, leaving no one to report them as missing.
Naguib Sinarimbo, the interior minister for a Muslim autonomous region run by former separatist guerrillas that includes Maguindanao, told Marcos Jr. that a “major number of deaths” had occurred in Kusiong either due to the mudslide or flash floods that swept away houses and people. He did not elaborate but told The Associated Press earlier that between 80 to 100 people may have either been swept away by flash floods or hit by the mudslide.
A video provided by the coast guard to media on Monday showed some of its men helping search for buried bodies in Kusiong by poking long wooden sticks into the muddy, light-brownish sludge.
Officials told the president that disaster-preparedness has been complicated by the more unpredictable weather, including in Maguindanao, a mountainous region with marshy plains, which in the past was rarely hit by storms. Marcos Jr., a former provincial governor, agreed, saying it’s been difficult to decide where to deploy rescue boats and other earth-moving equipment as typhoons approached.
“That’s the problem today, there’s really climate change now. It’s undeniable,” he said.
About 20 typhoons and storms batter the Philippine archipelago each year. It is located on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a region along most of the Pacific Ocean rim where many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur, making the nation one of the world’s most disaster-prone.