Sendong may not yet be CDO’s Ormoc-like disaster, says expert

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT (MindaNews/21 January) – One of the persons who warned deadly floods in Cagayan de Oro after the Ormoc tragedy of November 1991 said that the December 16-17 Sendong floods may not yet be the “Ormoc-like” flood that is much feared in Northern Mindanao’s prime city.

Rainfall akin to typhoon Uring that dumped 500 mm of rains in 24 hours to Ormoc City in Leyte could bring 8 meters of floods in the center of Cagayan de Oro, according to Raoul Geollegue, a former regional executive director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Northern Mindanao.

The 180mm rains of Sendong caused about three-meter deep floods in Cagayan de Oro, whose city center of about 10,000 hectares is along the Cagayan de Oro River.

Geollegue was the one who pushed alarm bells in 1991 about possible tragic floods in the city. He was then a regional technical director of the DENR when he shared his analysis to Orlando R. Ravanera, c hairperson of the environmental watchdog Task Force Macajalar.

Geollegue said he made the warning to Ravanera amid alarming reports of unrelenting logging activities in the upper water catchment of Cagayan de Oro.

“My fear then was if the volume of rainfall similar to that of Ormoc is dumped in the mountains, the resulting floods would be as tragic as the November 1991 Ormoc floods,” Geollegue said.

Based on rainfall data and the topography and forest cover of Cagayan de Oro, the Sendong rains were far from the rains dumped by typhoon Uring in Ormoc.

In response to Geollegue’s warnings, TFM under the leadership of Ravanera staged several anti-logging barricades. The first big one that opened the Cagayanons to the evils of logging was in October 1993 in front of the Xavier University College of Agriculture campus, a place known locally as Manresa.

Geollegue recalled that he was often placed in quandary then as TFM would barricade and close their office to protest logging.

TFM held smaller barricades after it and again launched barricades in 1998, 1999 until the early months of 2000.

Ravanera, who is now a government executive with the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA), has renewed calls for vigilance after the Sendong tragedy. The TFM is now handling the environment committee of the Save CDO Movement.

The Save CDO Movement is proposing on working out long-term solutions to the problems, which include sustainable development policy options.

Among the short-term actions they are now advocating is to call for accountability of local officials by filing cases for violation of Republic Act 10121 or the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Law and the ongoing recall campaign against Cagayan de Oro Mayor Vicente Y. Emano, who is accused of mishandling disaster risk reduction management prior to Sendong and for bungling on disaster management.

“The warning of an impending tragedy, or ‘Recipe of Disaster’ as we coined it, has in fact several factual basis,” Geollegue said.

He pointed out that the total catchment area of Cagayan de Oro River is very extensive – 177,000 hectares wide.

He said, too, that the loss of mountain forest cover is substantial.

Furthermore, Geollegue said the elevation of the ridge and slopes from where the water starts to gather volume and force is steep and high.

“So all that is lacking in the recipe was substantial rainfall. Then, 20 years after, it came like a thief in the night, inundating most parts of the city and leaving in its swath close to 2,000 dead bodies,” Geollegue lamented. (BenCyrus G. Ellorin / MindaNews)