DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/21 December) – Riverside barangays that bore the brunt of typhoon Sendong’s fury in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities early Saturday morning “stood no chance to the torrent, the onslaught of large volumes of water and mud,” Neric Acosta, Presidential Adviser for Environmental Protection said as he lamented the state of deforestation in the Bukidnon-Lanao watershed.
Acosta, who joined President Aquino Tuessday in an aerial survey of the devastation in the two cities, described it as “like a tsunami in reverse-from coast to sea, a tsunami from the uplands” and the estimated 6,000 logs that rolled down the mountains as a “carpet of logs and debris lining the Iligan coast.”
At 10:33 a.m., Acosta sent a message on Facebook and Twitter about what he saw during the helicopter ride. “In CDO. It’s a vast wasteland, horrific – logs and debris everywhere. It was a tsunami in reverse, coming from the uplands instead of the sea.”
At 11 a.m, while flying over Iligan, Acosta wrote: “logs, logs, logs n tons of debris like a carpet lining d coast of Iligan – a sad narrative of the degraded Bukidnon-Lanao watershed!”
From the Lanao to Iligan side, the bridges looked like a wrecking ball had rammed through.
In both Cagayan and Iligan cities, “the rivers did not follow their usual path” but “snaked their way into settlements and communities,” he told MindaNews in a telephone interview.
In Cagayan de Oro, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has been repeatedly requested through resolutions from the Cagayan de Oro City government to have the lands titled but the DENR did not approve the requests, Acosta noted, adding some of the barangays are on the riverbed itself.
Mayor Vicente Emano told ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel) that they cannot prevent the people from returning to their homes.”
Hundreds of residents were killed and hundreds more remain missing when their areas were hit by flash floods spawned by typhoon Sendong.
Acosta said President Aquino has emphasized that these areas are a “no go zone” – meaning, residents should not return to these high-risk areas to avoid more loss of lives.
“He emphasized geo hazard zones as no go high risk areas,” Acosta said.
He cited the report of Iligan Mayor Lawrence Cruz that the area where the logs rolled is reeking of rotting corpses. “The stench is really bad they had been finding more bodies trapped under floating logs,” he said.
Quoting figures from Iligan City, ABS-CBN reported 448 are confirmed dead while 599 remain missing.
Acosta said the two cities should assess and make a new land use plan and pay attention to all those geo-hazard zones to avoid another disaster.
He said the two cities “can make a turnaround and use this tragedy as an opportunity to showcase that a city can be more green, more climate-resilient, has better land use and geo-hazard driven. This is a new form of governance.”
Acosta stressed that the life support systems of our country are “already severely undermined.”
He said it is easy to measure economic losses but “how do you measure beyond psychological trauma” and ensure life support, human security.
“The real social security system of 80% of our people is our natural environment,” he said. A healthy environment sustains life and ensures human security, he said.
On reports that small-scale mining is also to blame for what happened, Acosta said deforestation is the main problem., aggravated by small-scale mining.
Acosta said the Office of the Executive Secretary had sought his and Presidential Assistant on Climate Change Elisea Gozun’s opinon on Executive Order 23 following complaints from the private sector, the wood industry, indigenous peoples and non-governmental organizations.
Following a series of flooding incidents, President Aquino issued EO 23 on February 1, declaring a “moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in the natural and residual forests and creating the anti-illegal logging task force.”
Acosta said the log ban should be studied because “it might have fueled a black market for logs.“
“In enforcing the ban, we must see to it that enforceability is in place so that the market doesn’t drive an underground economy for wood,” Acosta said.
He said the implementing rules and regulations should be redefined and clarified, especially for the regions.
An inventory could be made on the demand for wood in a radius, for instance between Cagayan and Bukidnon
Acosta said they submitted their recommendations to the Executive Secretary a month ago. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)