MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/17 December) – I had worked in Cagayan de Oro City for twelve years, from 1984 to 1996, long enough to know how to grope around the place even with my eyes closed. At the time, the city still possessed that pleasant hometown aura, although it was already fast becoming one of Mindanao’s main commercial hubs. More importantly, floods were not a major issue then.
As far as I can remember, the first flood that affected hundreds of families occurred early in 1995, when heavy rains caused the Agusan and Cugman Rivers to overflow, displacing people living along the riverbanks. I went with priests, nuns and church workers who distributed food and relief goods to the victims who lost all of their belongings.
Sadly, nobody seemed to take the incident as a portent of things to come, and many may have even faulted the victims for building homes along harm’s way. If they only saw the blank faces of the victims as they gratefully received the donations.
Now, however, the floods have sort of leveled the playing field for both the rich and poor of Cagayan de Oro but for the fact that the poor will find it more difficult to cope and recover. What used to be unthinkable years ago has happened: floodwaters in the city center rising to as high as one meter or more.
The usual reaction is to blame forest denudation in the uplands and changes in the climate pattern as the causes of the floods. I agree. But that’s not the whole story in as far as Cagayan de Oro is concerned. The recurring disasters can also be attributed to the city’s reckless submission to the interests of real estate developers and other businesses, and the opening of roads that have greatly altered its original terrain.
As early as 1995, a priest had warned that developments in what is now Cagayan de Oro’s uptown area would have devastating effects on the city’s lower districts. He had concrete basis for his doomsday prediction: the massive changes in the landscape to give way to subdivisions and commercial sites. The conversion had likely altered the flow of a great amount of water from the upper to the lower parts of the city.
Rapid urbanization has also greatly changed the topography around the downtown. Natural barriers like hills have been wantonly leveled down. New roads, plush residences and commercial establishments have taken their place. But of what use are these “developments” if they exact too high a price?
So blame not only forest destruction and climatic change for the recurring mess in Cagayan de Oro. As lawyers are wont to say, there are aggravating circumstances. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])