HEAVY rains or floods were never an issue during typhoons, at least two decades or so ago. Eastern Samareños feared more the strong winds such as those of typhoon Undang in November 1984, that uprooted and stacked coconut trees like matchsticks, than the flooding because rivers then never swelled high to the streets like they do now.
Typhoon Ruby in December 2014 was the unforgettable precedent. Taking cue from the lessons of Super Typhoon Yolanda that drowned thousands in Tacloban due to typhoon surge, some people during Ruby evacuated to places far from shorelines such as the minor seminary in Borongan which is some kilometers away from the bay—only to be caught up by the raging flood waters from the mountains. Since Ruby, people have become wary of heavy downpour and the consequent flooding occasioned by regular tropical storms the likes of the latest Urduja.
Tropical storm Urduja that finally made landfall in San Policarpo, Eastern Samar in the morning of December 16 after four days of heavy rain caused landlides and flooding in most of the river networks of the province. Notably, the most serious was the flash flood in Barangay San Mateo in Borongan City. The whole barangay of about 300 households was submerged to about 13 feet of flood.
It would be hard to conjecture that climate change is the culprit. Disputable though it may seem, but the denudation of the forest cover of some parts of the whole island of Samar maybe traced to large scale logging. In the past 55 years over 60% of the island’s original forest have been lost to logging, mining and slash and burn farming that consequently accelerated soil erosion and sedimentation triggering flash floods and landslides. Here are the big ones: San Juaquin Lumber Corporation that operated in the 60’s and 70’s in the municipalities of Dolores, Maslog, Oras and Can-avid; Pava Logging Corporation in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s in Borongan, Maydolong and Calbiga; and San Jose Timber Corporation in the 70’s 80’s and 90’s in some parts of Northern Samar.
In 1990, President Corazon Aquino stopped all logging operations. In 1996, President Fidel Ramos proclaimed 347,000 hectares of primary/closed canopy and second growth forests as protected zone in the whole island of Samar. President Gloria Arroyo declared 333,300 hectares in Samar island as protected area known as Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) pursuant to RA No. 7586 or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS).
But illegal logging continued be pervasive especially in the remote barangays of Borongan City. Local lumber concessionaires that are reportedly licensed to import lumber from sources outside Samar island are the patrons of illegal loggers. Allegedly, some local officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the police are in cahoots with local lumber concessionaires.
Seemingly, local residents are not much aware of illegal log trading that happens mostly under cover of the night. But if illegal logging in Eastern Samar is not stayed, flooding is going to get worse in the next volley of typhoons.