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URBAN APE: Masara and a Long Time Ago story

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GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 18 February) — Barangay Masara, Maco, Davao de Oro is so much in the news today due to a landslide that has become a tragedy to families directly affected. News stories (National, Regional, Local in all forms of media) carried the story just for a short time, and moved on to the next headline-grabbing story. Surely the story of the Masara Landslide will be covered by the “Mindanao Republic Story,” “Scarborough Shoal Resupply,” “Cocaine versus Fentanyl” and what ever drama comes to mind. The same with social media. By April the Masara Landslide story will be part of history and will be set aside for tourist destinations and what not.

What many of us have forgotten now or have no idea at all is that this story happened a long, long time ago.

A feisty lady who liked to talk and smoke kept talking about one thing – “Kanang Masara, mag landslide jud diha pag abot sa panahon!” Mag himo ta og fact finding mission. That mining company there has made Lake Leonard into their tailings pond. They should be made liable for the destruction of the lake there.”

No one from the government listened to the late Grace Teoxon. She was not a geologist. She was not an engineer. She had no degree in Environmental Studies. She was a non-government organization worker who was fierce with her advocacies. Uplifting the plight of poor families coming from far away, forgotten but resource-rich places was her main concern. She kept talking about Lake Leonard and Masara. A lake I have never heard of in a barangay I never knew at all.

Then I became neighbors of some people who actually came from Masara. They moved to Davao City because they could no longer fish in the lake and the rivers near their homes were full of “making” (actually mucking, waste by products from small scale mining activity).

Grace kept talking about a landslide, and the death of rivers due to unregulated mining activity. Government offices and agencies just said – these are highly regulated activities and there are professionals who are put in place to ensure that government regulations and standards are followed. This line has been stated so many times that it has become a mantra already.

When the late Grace Teoxon talked about the situation in Masara, talk about climate change induced rainfall was not even in the appendix of any NGO reading material.

What was really concerning about what Grace kept saying was this: the tragedy will not happen this year or next year or even within the next ten years. It will happen when many have already lived in the place and made their lives comfortable.

Nobody cared to listen to her. No one even paid any attention to what she was saying. She was perfunctorily dismissed by everyone who benefited from the resources in Masara – “Dili ma mahitabo. Og kung mahitabo man, ma pugngan ra na kay kaya na malikayan.”  Until tragedy struck last February 6, 2024, leaving at least 98 mine workers and residents dead.

Property got destroyed. Lives were lost. The destruction was sudden. Recovery and Rehabilitation will take a long time. Government said the same thing with an addition – “that is a no build zone, why did they build there. So much rain fell, that was why there was a landslide.”

If Grace were alive today, I know she would just cry and say – “Pagkasayang sa na pundar sa mga gagmayng panimalay.” She will not talk about the earth and regulations. She will lament about the destruction of property and loss of life.

She was Grace Magdamo Teoxon. From Digos, Davao del Sur. A feisty lady who inspired me to look into how communities are established and why. I now live in General Santos City, and the lessons I have learned from Grace have stayed.

The environment; when misused and abused; will find a way to heal itself and people will pay the price for healing – Grace Magdamo Teoxon, NGO worker.

(EnP Patrick Jerome S. Guasa, PIEP is an Environmental Planner based in General Santos City. He is a member of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners)

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