7 months after Sendong, Bukidnon and CDO river councils join forces to rehab watershed

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/15 July) —  The Cagayan de Oro River Basin Management Council and the Bukidnon Watershed Council Follow Through Committee are forming an alliance to achieve a “functioning watershed,”  a joint meeting agreed on Friday, nearly seven months after over a thousand persons died in the floods brought about by tphoon Sendong.

When the river flows from the ridge to the reef, it knows no provincial, municipal or barangay boundaries,  Dr. Joy Molina Mirasol,  Director of Research and Development of the  Bukidnon State University, said.  “The challenge is for us to think, plan and work like the flowing river” because the watershed “badly needs rehabilitation and restoration.”

“We are aware that a focused and integrated implementation of interventions can only be achieved with a broad alliance of people, governments, civil society, and private sector, all working together to secure the vision of reliability of the watershed as a protector of life and a provider of countless amenities,” the Joint Declaration of Commitment said.

The two water bodies agreed to accelerate rehabilitation, sustainable development and protection of the water basin as they envisioned a watershed “that we can rely on to shield us from the extremes of natural forces with resources we can depend on…”

The Declaration also noted that the December 16-17, 2011 Sendong disaster “may not be the last considering that the degradation of our mountain headwaters continue unrelenting to this day.”

The joint meeting, held at Grand Caprice Restaurant,  attended by sectoral heads and delegates, focused on the theme: “Accelerated rehabilitation of the Cagayan de Oro and Bukidnon River Basin thru Synergy in Alliance building.”

Malaybalay Bishop Jose Cabantan, who co-chairs the BWCFTC with Gov. Alex Calingasan, said the joint meeting was held to agree on a unified road map.

The meeting  was also intended to define and agree on the responsibility, authority, and accountability of each participating stakeholder.

The discussion on the organizational and governance strategies, one of the conference’s four workshops, however, did not end without arguments on whether the basin should be named “Cagayan de Oro River Basin” when portions of it geographically belong to Bukidnon. Some representatives also pushed  for a  wider scope covered by the CDO River Basin Management Council.

The Cagayan de Oro River Basin covers 177,000 hectares and includes three towns in Bukidnon, Lanao del Norte, and Cagayan de Oro. Its headwaters are Mt. Kalatungan and Mt. Kitanglad, both in Bukidnon.

The workshop sought to consult participants on strategies for nature of structures, alliances, and institutional arrangements needed to push for implementation of strategies.

Participants also identified main stakeholder groups and their roles and pushed for the formation of an alliance among three councils, including the one in Iligan City/Lanao del Norte.

Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, chair of the CDORBMC, said it is important for the two groups to understand the need for alliance and to see what roles each group will play.

The CDORBMC was set up in November 2010 to protect and rehabilitate the Cagayan de Oro River’s watershed in light of the rampant mining activities going on in the watershed area.

The river basin groups also vowed to do their share in fighting climate change at the local level with the help of the international community based on the National Framework on Climate Change, and to abide by the principles of holistic and integrated approaches to sustainable watershed planning and development.

The groups recommended that viable livelihood be generated to reform land use and farming practices as they acknowledged upland settlers and indigenous peoples rely on the watershed ecosystem for their livelihood and cultural heritage.

Raoul Geollegue, former environment regional director and one of the speakers at the conference, described the basin as “danger by design” and dysfunctional. He added that “land misuse and abuse” along with barren slopes and degraded headwaters made it a “danger by stupidity.”

Dr. Felix Mirasol, DENR-Bukidnon chief, however, noted that for Bukidnon, the picture is not at all gloomy as there are initiatives such as the Kitanglad Guard Volunteers, backed by the local government and the indigenous peoples, who protect the forests.

He cited the role of the Lumads (indigenous peoples) in protecting both the Mt. Kitanglad and Kalatungan range natural parks, headwater of the river basin.

“We need to work with people, not only with trees (in the rehabilitation efforts),” he added.

He also cited efforts of local government units in Bukidnon in stopping expansion of fruit plantations in the alienable and disposable lands. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)