Vision, realism, hope needed to address “cycle of flooding”

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/18 June) —  The chair of the Presidential Task Force on Mindanao River Basin Rehabilitation and Development (PTFMRBRD) said it is “a matter of justice to the present and future generations”  residing in the flood-affected city of Cotabato and neighboring areas in Maguindanao and North Cotabato to “look for solutions, plan their implementation, and implement them.”

“We cannot afford to be mired in pessimism about the future of the Mindanao River Basin. We need vision, solid realism, and hope,” Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, PTFMRBRD chair wrote.

“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,” he said, adding, “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.”

“In this world of immense hope and possibilities, with God, the impossible becomes possible,” he said.

Last Friday, Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo  assured  Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu, Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani, Jr., and other local officials during a meeting at the City Hall that he would take up the flood problem with President Aquino for possible emergency assistance from the national government.

Robredo noted the difficulties in clearing the Delta Bridge of water hyacinths estimated to have spanned 20 hectares wide and eight kilometers long.

More water hyacinths cascaded from the Ligawasan Marsh Friday night until Saturday morning due to rains brought about by tropical depression Egay,  replacing tons of the aquatic plants earlier removed by 500 soldiers and hundreds of civilians.

Robredo said he would ask the Department of Public Works and Highways to send more heavy equipment to help remove the water hyacinths. He also asked the Department of Social Welfare and Development to bring in more relief goods for 83,375 families that have been affected by continuous flooding.

Technical experts from the PTFMRBRD earlier reported that water hyacinths grow fast in Ligawasan Marsh and gradually cascade to the Tamontaka and Rio Grande de Mindanao rivers during heavy rains.

Quevedo said the marsh catches waters from four major tributaries including Pulangi, where the National Power Corporation has an existing hydroelectric dam in Bukidnon.

Quevedo told a press briefing here last Wednesday that in the last 20 rainy days, Napocor has released 98.8-milion cubic meters of water, believed to have compounded the volume of natural streams towards the marsh and then to the sea through this city.

According to a situation report of the Task Force dated  June 17, 2011, “the  continuous simultaneous rain aggravated by emergency releases of water from the Napocor Pulangui IV (totally around 98million cubic meters in 20 days) immediately caused the level of the said marsh to rise and as the water rose, it uprooted the water hyacinths that have over the years proliferated in the said marshes. With the swelling of the river mouths and increase in current, huge volumes of said plants began break away and slowly drifted to Cotabato City.”

Quevedo cited short-term and long-term solutions proposed by the Task Force to address the flooding problem.

The four short-term solutions, he said, are clearing of water hyacinths; 24-hour dredging of the Rio Grande de Mindanao; fast-tracking of work at the Simuay cut-off channel in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao; and the protection of Matampay Bridge here and the Tunggol Bridge bordering North Cotabato and Maguindanao.

Among the long term-solutions to the “cycle of flooding” in Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Cotabato City, Quevedo said is reforestation of the denuded portions of the Mindanao River Basin, which has a total area of more than 23,000 square kilometers, only 10 per cent of which is covered by forests.

Massive reforestation in such river basin would entail billions of pesos which he hopes  national and foreign institutions would help address.

The June 17, 2001 situation report of the Task Force said the Development Master Plan being prepared by the Task Force would play a vital role in addressing the flooding problem. “The master plan which is expected to be completed by July or August of this year will identify projects and programs that will address several of these problems. The master plan will identify the issues, causes of the problems and will propose long term solutions,” it said.

Critics say the master plan is a “waste of money.” Fr. Eliseo Mercado, Jr., wrote in a recent column that long-term solutions “would require not only a change of policies and behavior but also a gargantuan budget that the country cannot afford in the next 15 or 20 years.”

He said the millions of pesos spent “for the study of the Cotabato River System to give a
long and permanent solution to the Cotabato flooding is not only ill advised but an utter waste of money,” adding the study when completed “would end in our collection of rare books that would end in our bookshelves. The Task Force Mindanao River Basin has become the biggest joke in Southern Philippines, particularly Central Mindanao.”

“By setting our eyes to long-term solutions to the flooding of Cotabato City and its environs we go for the impossible dreams and the unreachable stars,” Mercado wrote.

The ARMM Bureau of Public Information reported that ARMM Executive Secretary Naguib Sinarimbo, who coordinated on Thursday the deployment of 500 Army and Marine troops backed by hundreds of civilian employees, to help clear the river of water hyacinths, said the long-planned massive planting of rubber trees on a 600-hectare area in Upi, Maguindanao will be launched this week.

“The Tuesday activity will cover 300 hectares with 100 families subsidized with free rice supply assigned three hectares each to plant,” Sinarimbo said. (MindaNews)