M’lang airport’s first use: to fly a plane seeding clouds

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews / 20 February) – The M’lang airport in North Cotabato is now operational, but only for cloud seeding operations.

The provincial government of North Cotabato on Wednesday began its daily cloud seeding operations from the M’lang airport to “recharge our watershed” and avert further crop losses brought about by the drought, Engr. Eliseo Magliwan, provincial agriculturist, said.

The province’s 17 towns and Kidapawan City have been declared under a state of calamity

Engr. Eliseo Magliwan, Provincial Agriculturist in North Cotabato. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO Engr. Eliseo Magliwan, Provincial Agriculturist in North Cotabato. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

Magliwan told MindaNews that P3.4 million, sourced from the provincial government’s calamity fund, has been allocated for the 60-hour contract for cloud seeding.

The Provincial Agriculturist’s Office in its report dated February 5 said P402.74 million worth of crops – rice, corn, oil palm, coconut, rubber, cacao and coffee — have been damaged due to the drought.

Magliwan said the contract for cloud seeding is for a minimum of one hour per day and maximum of three hours “depending on the presence of seedable clouds,” for a total flying time of 60 hours. He said it is also possible that there will be no sortie for a day if there are no seedable clouds.

The provincial government, he added, secured a permit from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines to use the airport because it will be very costly if the cloud seeding operations were to take off from the airports of Davao City or General Santos. “Pag start ng engine ng eroplano, patak na ang metro” (The billing starts from when the aircraft’s engine is switched on), Magliwan sa

He said the first objective of the cloud seeding operations is “to recharge our watershed, so we can recharge the rivers and save our existing crops.”

The provincial government opted to do their own cloud seeding because even as the Department of Agriculture has been doing it, these are likely on a regional scope and “we’re not receiving sufficient rainfall,”

Magliwan said the hardest hit areas are the upland towns of Arakan, Antipas, upper part of President Roxas, upper part of Matalam, Pigcawayan and Banisilian.

He said the corn farmers were still able to plant in October-November but what was supposed to be due for harvest in February 2016 did not survive as rainfall had been below normal since the latter part of November.

He said the estimate yield loss for high value crops like oil palm, rubber and coconcut is 30%

The February 5 report said that out of a total PhP 402.72 million losses as of February 5, rice suffered the biggest loss at PhP 118.9M followed by coconut at PhP 115.7M, corn at PhP 110.8M, rubber at PhP 48.3, oil palm at PhP 5.9 M, cacao at PhP 2.3M, and coffee at PhP 713,406.

M’lang airport

Then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo inaugurated the terminal building and the 1.2 kilometer concrete runway of the Central Mindanao Airport in M’lang in November 2009 but the airport, a brainchild of Emmanuel Pinol, North Cotabato governor from 1998 to 2007 and Vice Governor from 2007 to 2010.

He said his political defeat in 2010 “sidelined the biggest infrastructure project ever to be constructed in the North Cotabato” when Governor Emmylou Talino Mendoza “declared that she will not touch the project claiming its construction was sub-standard,” Pinol said in an article he wrote and was posted on the M’lang local government website on January 17, 2013.

A cow grazes not far from the runway of the Central Mindanao Airport in Barangay Tawan-tawan, Mlang, North Cotabato in this file photo taken on August 3, 2015. MindaNews photo by Totoo Lozano A cow grazes not far from the runway of the Central Mindanao Airport in Barangay Tawan-tawan, Mlang, North Cotabato in this file photo taken on August 3, 2015. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO 

In that article, Pinol announced the airport would likely be operational by 2014 as PhP 160-million had managed to work for the allocation of P160-M for the project.

Additional work in the airport, now known as the Central Mindanao Airport, is the result of the efforts of the North Cotabato’s congressional representatives — Jesus N. Sacdalan and Nancy Catamco “who were able to work for the allocation of P160-M for the project.

He said the allocation came following his personal appeal to President Aquino who in turn directed then Transportation and Communications Secretary Mar Roxas “to work on the completion of the M’lang Airport.” Roxas was named DILG chief after Secretary Jesse Robredo was killed in a plane crash in August 2012.

Additional work on the M’lang airport includes the extension of the existing runway from 1.2 kilometers to over 2 kilometers and the construction of the instruments tower and firefighter’s building.

The provincial government then under Pinol acquired the 62-hectare property for the airport project in M’lang, his hometown.

Pinol ran for Governor in the 2010 elections but lost to Emmylou Talino-Mendoza.

MindaNews checked on the airport on August 3 last year and found the unused terminal needing repairs.

A construction firm had a makeshift office in the airport compound but its staff said they were not authorized to speak about the project. The airport’s fire station was still a skeletal structure then. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)