FASTLANES: Open Letter to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, DENR Secretary Ramon J. Paje and DENR ARMM Sec. Mujiv Hataman

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Dear Mr. President, Sec. Paje and Sec. Hataman:

Greetings!

Amidst the grief suffered in my hometown Cagayan de Oro, neighboring Iligan and elsewhere wrecked by typhoon Sendong, I am constrained to write you this letter.

This tragedy is indeed human induced and could have been mitigated.

1. Poor disaster risk reduction management. Non-implementation of Republic Act 10101 otherwise known as the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Act of 2010.

Sec. 21 of said law mandates local government units to allocate at least five percent of its income as DRR Fund, 70 percent of which can be spent for disaster preparedness, adaptation and mitigation and 30 percent for disaster response.

What have the local government units done? This is an accountability issue.

2. Poor early warning. As in my analysis in post 2009 floods, early warning systems should have been done.

The situation in 2009, where Cagayan de Oro City was hit by three floods (Jan. 3, Jan. 7 and Jan. 14), was that abnormal rainfall, which totalled about 400mm or one-fourth of the annual rainfall average, hitting the city in the first 14 days of the year. Compared to Dec. 17, 2011 floods, records in PAGASA was 180mm, or 3x the December average rainfall (63mm).

Had there been an early warning system, people in Baungon or even in Talakag, Bukidnon or in Brgy. Tignapoloan in Cagayan de Oro could have warned people downstream.

It may also be worthy to investigate how Rio Verde and Bubunawan mini-hydro power plant in Baungon managed the release of their water those fateful days of Dec. 16 and 17, 2011.

3. Cagayan de Oro River is fed by about a dozen tributaries coming from Mt. Kitanglad and Mt. Kalatungan in Bukidnon.

There is a high possibility (in the absence of actual data as of the moment) that the floods on Dec. 17 that hit Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities may have come from Mt. Kalatungan as it serves as watershed of both cities, draining to the Cagayan de Oro River through its tributaries like the Bulanog River, and to Iligan through the Mandulog River.

Logging in this areas is rampant. Among the operators is the IFMA no.1 issued in 1997 to Vicmar Development Corporation. Several CBFMA issued huge cutting permits called Resource Use Permits like the Buayan Multipurpose Cooperative, which was issued an exception in the transport of logs when President PNoy issued a log ban after floods hit the country, especially eastern Mindanao in January this year.

On May 11, 2011, I have written in MindaNews “Despite ban, logging business as usual.” (https://www.mindanews.com/top-stories/2011/05/11/despite-ban-logging-is-business-as-usual/) This article cited among others the following:

“Further investigation on the trade of logs which Malacañang had ordered stopped revealed that the DENR central office issued last April 26 a permit to transport 1,668.28 cubic meters of logs from Maguing, Lanao del Sur to M and Jr. sawmill in Camaman-an,Cagayan de Oro City and to Chua’s White and Son Sawmill in Opol town.

“Environmentalists are furious upon learning of this development.

“DENR Undersecretary Ernesto Adobo issued permit to allow the shipment of timber products from Lanao del Sur of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) after ARMM Environment Secretary Usman Sarangani certified that the logs owned by the Bualan Rebel Returness Cooperative led by a certain Kumander Camar M. Disambaron were harvested or “cut prior to the effectivity E.O 23.”

The logging in the Kalatungan mountains have been the subject of massive non-violent protests/ human barricades by the environmental group Task Force Macajalar in the 1990s until 2000.

A group Rapalin cleared about 4,000 hectares purportedly for a palm oil plantation in Kapai, Lanao del Sur. This area at the foot of Kalatungan mountain range drains to the Mandulog River in Iligan city and partly to Cagayan de Oro River.

Cagayan de Oro River has more than a dozen tributaries, among the more important ones are the Batang River, some 2,500 meters in the Kalatungan Range and flows to the Bulanog River in the Lanao-Talakag boundaries then going down to the jurisdiction of Cagayan de Oro City. Along the way, several tributaries from the Mt. Kitanglad Range, like the Tumalaong and Bubunawan Rivers, and the Monigue Creek from the mountains of Dansolihon, Mambuaya and Bayanga, join the river. (Monigue Creek joins the river in the Macahambus Gorge and Cave Area)

4. PAGASA needs a lot of explaining why they have not made accurate projections. When Sendong made landfall, it was exactly where their Doppler radar in Mindanao is located – in Hinatuan and Bislig, Surigao del Sur areas.

In the aftermath of the Jan. 2009 floods that hit Cagayan de Oro, I interviewed PAGASA officials on why they cannot predict rainfall volume. The answer was that they need a Doppler radar to do that. Now that they have a Doppler radar exactly where Sendong made landfall, I wonder how they could explain that. Said radars have coverage of 480 kilometers, making Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon and Lanao del Norte (Iligan) within its coverage.

Even if they had issued the warning Thursday, it is already very late.

As early as Friday morning, flood warnings should have been up. In the afternoon of Friday, further intensified and forced evacuation could have been crucial, especially in Kala-kala, Tambo and other low lying areas in Macasandig, which were badly hit by the 2009 floods, and also in Isla de Oro, Isla Delta and other riverine barangays. Macasandig is located in an area of the Cagayan de Oro River which goes in a curve and constricted. You can imagine water pressure in these areas; it could be very high during flash floods.

In a column in January 2009, I have made these recommendations:

* Improve our disaster preparedness so that people will not helplessly get flushed from their homes to the Macajalar Bay when flashfloods come. Global Warming may bring more bad rains;

* Conduct a comprehensive watershed physical characterization of the Cagayan de Oro River and its tributaries. We do have competent people and facilities to do this using GIS technology in generating natural hazard maps, watershed drainage maps, so on and so forth, of the Cagayan de Oro River and its tributaries;

* Develop a warning mechanism so that people downstream are alerted whenever there are abnormal build-up of water upstream;

* Implement a comprehensive reforestation and river rehabilitation program along the path of the Cagayan de Oro River. Definitely, not the one they are doing now, which is mostly aesthetic in nature focusing only in the downstream. Those things they are doing in, what is that, CORDA??? will just be flushed to Macajalar Bay if nothing is done upstream. Inputs on how to go about this may come from number 2.

For the full story, please go to the hyperlink below:

Flooding in Cagayan de Oro

You can also read some of my articles on the issue for reference:

https://www.mindanews.com/environment/floods/2010/10/18/northmin-warned-of-more-floods-until-2011/

Oro river eco region and Homo politikus

https://www.mindanews.com/top-stories/2011/09/16/phl-3rd-in-world-risk-index-qatar-most-risk-free/

I hope that with your anti-corruption drive, you will have political will in addressing this long-standing problem in honor of the victims.

Very sincerely,

BenCyrus G. Ellorin
Journalist and Environmentalist. I was one of the leaders of the anti-logging human barricades in Cagayan de Oro from 1993 to 2000 as then spokesperson of the environmental coalition Task Force Macajalar. I can be contacted by email ([email protected]) or by mobile phone (0905-5072453).

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