FASTLANES: Oro officials are not dumb but…

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/07 Febaruary) – A the height of the  post-Sendong recovery efforts and amid dire warnings of another human-induced tragedy – the inundation of the Iponan River watershed due to illegal mining – city officials are again looking away from the problem.

In sidelining the issue of illegal mining in the upland barangays by the Iponan River in the western part of the city, the City Council in its session last week, talked of the alleged dam owned by the Cagayan de Oro Power and Light Company (Cepalco) at the Bubunawan River, one of the tributaries of the Cagayan de Oro River that originates from the slopes of Mt. Kitanglad.

As per pronouncements made by Councilor President Elipe, who chairs the council’s environment committee, the Bubunawan mini hydro-electric power plant of Cepalco in Baungon town in Bukidnon is intact.

The Cepalco hydro-electric power facility is not a dam type technically speaking, but a run-of-the-river type hydro plant. A run-of-the-river hydro-electric-plant generates electricity primarily through gravity.

Water from a river is funneled to a penstock or a pipe that drops water to turbines located below it. According to Elipe, the water holding capacity of the small pond in the Bubunawan facility is 75,000 cubic meters. But he added that the facility is intact and that huge volumes were not released at once, belying perceptions that the huge torrents of water that washed out the riverine communities of the city was caused by “dams”.

I am sure Elipe knows his numbers. He should, otherwise he would not have passed the licensure examination for certified public accountants.

But what is so disturbing here is that the City Council is again looking the other side, the wrong side of the problem. Why not focus attention on the illegal mining issue in the Iponan River. For the record, there are no large dams upstream of the Cagayan de Oro River. The large dams in Mindanao are in Lake Lanao and in the Pulangi River.

Although the flood in the Iponan River was not as deadly as the ones in the Cagayan de Oro River side, my relatives shared to me how they ran for dear life and cried over damaged property when water rose so fast on the riverbanks around six o’clock in the morning of Dec. 17, 2011.

One need not be a rocket scientist to understand why the river overflowed easily; it is the silt from hydraulic or flush mining upstream deposited in the riverbeds that has reduced significantly the water carrying capacity of the river as it traverses Macajalar Bay.

Elipe is known to play jetski in the beaches of Opol and he should not miss the murky, muddy waters in the estuary of the Iponan River.

I wrote in November last year about how this mining problem in the Iponan River became the elephant that officials of City Hall refuse to acknowledge. Now despite Sendong, they still refuse to acknowledge the presence of that elephant.

It is absolutely appalling now that after Sendong made the city quiver to its knees, the fiddling public officials in City Hall are still not awakened to the urgency called for by reality.

Going back to the Bubunawan hydroelectric plant that has an installed capacity of 12 megawatts, even if all the 75,000 cubic meters of water it holds is released all at once the impact would be minimal downstream.

As computed by forester and watershed expert Raoul Geollegue, at an estimated rainfall volume of 250 mm, Sendong delivered 375,000,000 cubic meters of water to the Cagayan de Oro  River in approximately 10 hours. If you divide it by 10 hours, that’s 37.5 million cubic meters of water flowing all at once in the river.

Elipe’s 75,000 cubic meters, even if released in a span of one hour will just be 0.2 percent of the floodwaters.

I think Elipe as a CPA knows this. He is not dumb. Vice Mayor Ian Acenas, who studied engineering, should know how to play this arithmetic, and is not dumb despite his vicious English.

The City Council and their Lord Dongkoy, aside from covering up their dirt in the Iponan River mining mess should study in earnest the Cagayan de Oro River’s vast 177,000-hectare watersheds that originate 2,000 meters above sea level in the Kitanglad and Kalatungan mountains. They should study why the same feature of the river which makes whitewater rafting very accessible is one of the ingredients for disaster in the city when moderate to severe weather events happen.

They should translate into policies and projects aimed at disaster risk reduction the fact that the energy of water cascading from the watersheds packs power. Looking at the Bubunawan River only and neglecting the other river tributaries is surely inadequate to come up with sensible action. Just to illustrate the point, the Bubunawan hydro facility is small compared to the other tributaries of the Cagayan de Oro River.

A similar run-of-the-river hydroelectric power plant, the proposed Bulanog-Batang project can have an installed capacity of 130 megawatts. It can generate more than 200 megawatts if they construct a dam.  Good that the proponents have abandoned the dam-type design and are now working on the safer run-of-the-river design.

Sendong may be correctly referred to as a moderate weather disturbance because it only brought 250-400 mm of rainfall. On the other hand, typhoon Uring delivered 600 mm of rains in Ormoc and typhoon Winnie poured about 1,600 mm of rains in Aurora and Quezon provinces and the Bicol Region in 2004, claiming about 1,400 lives.

But if you rank it in terms of impacts, Sendong now ranks second to Uring’s more than 5,000 lives lost.

If Sendong was not as bad as Uring or Winnie, why then was its impact so severe? It could only be human-induced. It could only be caused by the wanton abandon by public officials to the people’s right to live in safety.

Tell me, do we have time to be complacent? Tell me, are we being unreasonable for demanding accountability and rational action from public servants now?

This Councilor Elipe, this Vice Mayor Acenas, their Lord Dongkoy and the other members of the City Council are not dumb. Many are lawyers, businessmen, doctors. They should not be dumb not to understand the writings on the wall.

But being intelligent or dumb may not be the issue here; maybe the heart or the soul is what Sendong wanted us to probe deeper. Whatever, they are not dumb, they must be something else.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. The writer, a Cagayanon environmentalist is a Senior Editor of the Philippine and South Asia Bureau of an Arabian newspaper. Comments can be sent to