Madlum River Tragedy: A Tragedy That Could Be Avoided

It’s been a month since that fateful event happened. I was supposed to be on my way home when I learned how a friend of mine was facing a then unknown tragedy. Stalking his Facebook account, I read posts of condolences and encouragement for him to be strong. I seriously wondered what was happening. Scrolling down further, with an impending sense of doom, I read it. That cryptic, yet fatal, post.

bulacan tragedy
This was the initial report. Seven (7) were trapped in the middle of the river when the flash flood happened. Three (3) went missing and four (4) were confirmed dead on the same day. During the next days, the 3 missing ones were confirmed dead.

 

I was in shock. My friend’s brother was one of tragic victims of a supposed happy school excursion turned into a tragedy.

Death has never been a foreign experience for me. I’ve experienced love ones die almost yearly in the past decade. But death via tragedy is. It is the kind of death that catch us unaware – and leaves a deep scar in our heart – unknown when, if ever it would, heal.

I reached out to my friend, offering what pitiful amount of comfort I can. I wanted to personally visit but since I was on my way south, I wasn’t able to. And so, as soon as I got back to Manila, I visited him. And learned of what happened first hand.

Wrong on Many Levels

Rains were already forecasted to fall on that fateful day of August 19, 2014 and yet the tourism class of Mikhail Alcantara decided to push through with their field trip. They were to visit the Madlum Cave in San Miguel, Bulacan as part of the exposure trip for their course to which some students allege that if they join, they can be exempted from the final exams. Apparently, their teachers said that the field trip was a project and if they have a good report, it is possible for them not to go through a final exam. Hence, to the students’ perspectives, not joining the trip might mean a harder exam.

Wrong #1: Giving the students the impression that a field trip would mean an easy way out of an exam. Of course, who wouldn’t want a free pass?

The trek to visiting Madlum Cave is a challenging one. No wonder this cave was effectively used as a hiding point by the Katipuneros. It requires experienced tour guides enough for inexperienced trekkers. Crossing the river even involves holding unto ropes as the rocks are continually shifting and where one side can be shallow, the other side can be dangerously deep.

There were 180 students during the trip. They were escorted by only 3 teachers and 10 tour guides. Do the math and figure out how many students are assigned to each tour guide.

The victims were part of a batch of 40 students led by 4 tour guides – 2 local guides and 2 student guides. You’d think this is enough but judging by the difficulty of the trek – and the inexperience of the trekkers – there should have been more experienced guides to help them especially since part of the trek was crossing a dangerous river. Even trained police personnel find it hard to cross the river with its slippery rocks. What more kids in freshmen college?

Wrong #2: Not having enough experienced and professional guides to help students explore safely.

Students further claimed that when they started the trek, the teachers didn’t go with them and instead were left at the starting point for some videoke time. Basically, they were left to explore on their own. Teachers placed their trust completely on the tour guides and assumed the students, being in freshmen college, would be responsible enough for themselves.

Wrong #3: Delegating authority to others when parents have trusted you to be the one responsible.

Sometimes it is possible to rain in the mountain tops even if it is not yet raining in the lower parts of the mountain. This is the most likely cause of flash floods where excess water upstream gushes suddenly downstream. The protocol before making the trek up is to get in touch with local barangay officials who will coordinate with the watch groups in the upper parts as to the weather condition up top. None of these protocols happened that day.

Wrong #4: Ignoring protocols that were drafted in place to ensure the safety of anyone wishing to trek up the mountain.

It was even disheartening when a video surfaced wherein one student tour guide claimed that they warned the second batch of the type of weather during that moment. In the video, it can be seen how the group pushed through with the field trip despite the bad weather. Clearly, despite the threats of rain – and even the onset of rain – the trek still pushed through. Trekking in bad weather is never a good idea. The slippery slopes are also a threat to anyone’s safety and the potential for getting ill due to prolonged exposure to rains

Wrong #5: Pushing forth with an activity despite the bad weather. In fact, even planning a trekking trip during the rainy months is a WRONG move already.

 

These are just some of the many other reasons why the entire trip was wrong – deadly wrong. Disregard for safety measures of the students by the people who were supposed to safeguard them is blamed as the the primary cause of the tragedy. Parents felt that the school was negligent in looking after the welfare and safety of their children.

The school claimed that parents signed a waiver hence absolving the school from any untoward events that might happen in the event of a disaster. But, the school actually failed to get a CHED endorsement for the field trip – an endorsement that would require them to submit a “risk assessment plan”. Had they complied with this, then perhaps they could have assessed the obvious dangers of the trip and have mitigated the disaster that happened. This makes BSU liable for criminal, civil and administrative charges.

 

An Act of Nature

Many claimed that no one wanted the tragedy to happen. It was something no one could foretell. It was an act of nature. It was beyond anyone’s control.

Yes it was an act of nature that no one really wanted to happen. Yes, it was something no one could foretell and no one could control. These are facts that no one disputes. But it was something that could have been avoided. There were many things the school – the people responsible for the entire trip – could have done to PREVENT what happened. As I read somewhere – It is better to be safe a thousand times than to meet an accident once.

Moving Forward

Right now, a case has been filed in the Ombudsman to investigate the tragedy and to punish those responsible.

call for justice

A fact-finding report stated that visiting Madlum River was not part of the initial itinerary of the students, but the tour company decided to add it during the last minute. Madlum River is notable for catching tourists unaware with flash floods and this is not the first time tourists died there due to flash floods.

The families clarified that the case filed was not against the school and their goal is not to shutdown the school. Rather it was against the people who were supposed to be responsible but didn’t act responsibly.

A tragedy that could have been prevented is the worst type of tragedy. Having it happen to young people who had their lives well ahead of them makes the pain all the more acute and the cry for justice even louder. Filing a case will not erase the pain the families of the victims are going through. But making sure those responsible are held accountable for their actions would somehow lessen the ache they feel.

I hope what happened served as a lesson – a lesson for educators to act more responsibly, for tour guides to guide responsibly, and for everyone to be vigilant about their safety.

This video gives you a chilling feel of how it must have been in those last moments during that fateful day.

Author: elleica

Jesus Lover. Writer. Blogger. Biologist turned marketer. Child of Learning. Thrill Seeker. I long for my next adventure.

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