Horrific Disaster in the village of Dalama, Philippines
Fr. Seán McDonagh, SSC
On January 3rd 2018, I received an email sent by Fr. Oliver McCrossan from Ozamiz city in north western Mindanao in the Philippines about the destruction of the village of Dalama in Lanao del Norte on Friday December 22nd , 2017. This village which is set in the mountains of Lanao de Norte is about 30 kilometers from the coastal town of Tubod. During the previous days, the typhoon “Vinta” (known internationally as Storm Temin) had battered the province of and other areas in northern Mindanao. On that fatal day, the rains brought by the typhoon caused the local river to overflow it banks. Huge boulders, trees and cascaded down the mountain and destroyed everything in its way. A total of 37 bodies were recovered of the people who had been caught by the flood according to local news reports. Other people are still missing, presumed to be dead. It is estimated that, at least, 267 people lost their lives during the typhoon, including five who were drowned when rough seas capsized their boat.  “
On January 3rd 2018, Fr. Oliver McCrossan, accompanied by other Church workers visited Dalama village and brought rice, canned goods, noodles and clothes to help people who have lost everything. Many of the victims recalled horrific experiences of what had happened on December 22nd 2017. Mrs Roselyn Alpeche told her tragic story. While she and her family were able to escape, she lost a son-in-law and a young niece. Young children who had lost parents or other siblings were traumatized.
As I read the email, I was reminded of my own short time in the parish of Tubod in 1970. Having finished my language studies, I was appointed to Kolumbugan the next town to Tubob for a few weeks. One of the things I noticed immediately was the constant stream of logging trucks coming down from the mountains of Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur. Between 1950 and 1980 those areas were ruthlessly logged, first by foreign logging companies and later by Filipinos companies’. Local families, politicians and military leaders made fortunes from the logging business. At the time, logging companies were expected to replant the areas which they had logged, but that seldom happened. I remember many conversations a had about logging while I was in Kolumbugan. On the one hand, some people argued that logging gave employment to some poor people. But, even in 1970, other people were fearful of what would happen when all the trees were destroyed. The tragedy of what did happen in barrio Dalama during Typhoon ‘Vinta’ in 2017 was a direct result of logging on the mountains in previous decades. To adapt the quotation from Exodus 34: 6-7, logging has now “visited the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generations.”
My own understanding of the importance of the tropical forest came when I was assigned with the T’boli people in Lake Sebu in 1980. The astonishing biodiversity of tropical forests is extraordinary. In Ireland, for example, we have only 26 native species of trees. I discovered that in a tropical forest each hectare might have a hundred different tree species. In the Philippines, the rainforest contained over 20,000 tree species and 13,000 species of flowering plants. Most of this natural heritage is now gone. Furthermore, the intertwining of the tree canopy protected the land from erosion during storms and typhoons. Studies in Central America have demonstrated that a single tropical storm can dislodge 150,000 kilogrammes of soil from one hectare of hillside which has been stripped of trees. When the hillside was covered with trees similar typhoons would only cause the erosion of a mere 44 kilogrammes per year.
Thirty years ago in January 1988, Sister Aida Velasquez OSB and myself were working on the Philippines Bishops’ pastoral letter on the environment called, What is Happening to Our Beautiful Land? The bishops reminded the people that when our early ancestors arrived in the Philippines they country was covered by a blanket of trees. Later on the bishops remarked that much of the richness and beauty (of the forests) has gone because of logging which took place during the previous 60 years. The bishops were also insightful about the consequence of erosion for the non-human world. “After a single night’s rain, look at the chocolate brown rivers in your locality and remember that they carrying the life blood of the land into the sea…… We are hardly aware of this enormous loss which is progressively eroding away our most fertile soil and our ability to produce food for our expanding population.” These words uttered 30 years ago are even truer today.
 ‘The village is no longer there’: Philippine Tropical Storm Tembin smashes into Mindanao, death toll climbs to 182” South China Morning Post, December 24th 2017.