COMMENTARY: On the Cotabato flooding: “It is a matter of justice to the present and future generations to look for solutions”

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COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/18 June) — The rehabilitation and development of the Mindanao River Basin is the long term solution to the natural disasters and man made calamities afflicting Central Mindanao.

Some believe that  because of natural and man-made disasters that cause regular flooding in Central Mindanao, we and all future generations shall live and die, unable to cope with the disasters. Attempts at master planning and even short term solutions are, it is said, a big joke because one can’t undo what nature and man have done to the degradation of the Mindanao River Basin for decades. It would only be a waste of billions of money.

Such an attitude betrays a tragic lack of realism as well as creative imagination. I once thought that the whole problem was one thick impenetrable forest. Until I saw, through some of the studies on and scientific surveys of the Mindanao River Basin, where possible solutions lie. I could now identify the trees in the forest.

If the thousands of hectares of water hyacinths rise and are dislodged from their natural moorings in Ebpanan and Ligawasan Marshes, and if the water, bringing silt and mud, comes most significantly not from rainfall in the marshes but from rivers and tributaries feeding the marshes, are there solutions to resolve the situation or at least mitigate its effects? That’s a question for engineers, geologists and hydrologists, etc to answer. With their scientific knowledge, they do have answers. We who might not be well versed with the whole phenomenon might think that the whole exercise is a waste of money.

If the Simuay River continues to disgorge flood waters and silt into the municipality of Sultan Kudarat and Rio Grande de Mindanao, because once upon a time a volcano upriver erupted with millions of cubic meters of lahar and sand that are now silting the Simuay River, are there solutions to this situation? Again that’s a question for engineers, geologist,and hydrologists, etc., to answer. Their solutions and certainly the implementation of those solutions are far from a joke. They are serious matters that affect future generations. The experts tell us that above Simuay River is the convergence of two rivers, Ambal and Simuay, each of these once upon a time had their own exits into Illana Bay. Is there a possible solution at the convergence? Still yet another  question for engineers, geologists, hydrologists, etc., to answer. They believe that a series of sabo dams at the area of river convergence would not only control the flow of water, provide irrigation, but also catch a lot of the silt that flows down to the present Simuay river.

And so with many of the present problems affecting the people of the Mindanao River Basin. I do not think God wants us and future generations to live at the mercy of nature and man-made disasters. It is a matter of justice to the present and future generations to look for solutions, plan their implementation, and implement them. Billions of pesos for projects that will be completed within three, five, seven, 10,  15 years – where in the world can we get that money? Partly from some of the billions secured by preventing corruption, partly from countries that see hope in the Philippines.

Already JICA is more than contemplating at looking at the Ambal-Simuay River convergence for a long term solution to the flooding caused by the Simuay River. And perhaps some daring entrepreneur would want to try putting up a dentro-thermal power plant factory at Kabuntalan? The project would intercept the water hyacinth from Mindanao River before it branches into the Rio Grande and Tamontaka Rivers. After all, water hyacinths can be used for generating energy. And the solutions to flooding that could be put in place in the upper reaches of Pulangi River and as it approaches Pikit River — ah, the combination of scientific realism and creative imagination can do wonders!

We cannot afford to be mired in pessimism about the future of the Mindanao River Basin. We need vision, solid realism, and hope.

As one gazed down at the tens of hectares of water hyacinth continually building up at the Delta Bridge, there was a great depressing feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. We could have just sat down and cried — and blamed the government agencies for not doing their work.

But people began to move into action. One of the great lessons we learn from various sectors of society, united in solidarity clearing the water hyacinth from the Delta Bridge area, is how persistence and unity can bring unexpected wonderful results. No, in this world of immense hope and possibilities, with God, the impossible becomes possible.

The exclamation point is provided when I witnessed the Muslim volunteers and members of local government units, soldiers and police, etc. They took a break from their work of clearing the water hyacinth, seated themselves in groups on the mass of water hyacinth, and offered their Friday noon prayers to God.  (Archbishop Orlando B. Quevedo of the Archdiocese of Cotabato is also chair of the Presidential Task Force for the Mindanao River Basin Rehabilitation and Development)

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