‘We who protect water sources have no clean water’

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/13 July) – Speakers before him explained the technical side of managing a river basin, in the joint meeting and planning workshop of the Bukidnon and Cagayan de Oro river basin management councils held today in this city.

But Datu Makapukaw Adolino Saway, supreme chieftain of the Talaandig tribe in Lantapan, Bukidnon gave his fellow participants something to reflect on. “Kami nga maoy nagbantay sa kalasangan ug nagpuyo duol sa kasapaan walay limpiyong tubig.” (We who guard the forests and live near the rivers have no clean water)

Saway said that while they are living near water sources in Mt. Kitanglad Range, it is hard for them to get water from springs and rivers due to the area’s rugged landscape.

“You have to pass through cliffs or gullies in order to reach the creeks and rivers. In fact, this is one of the reasons why government forest guards don’t like to patrol our place, they are afraid they might break their legs,” he said in the vernacular.

The lumad (indigenous people) leader explained their houses stand on elevated portions while water sources are in the lower part.

“We make use of rainwater that falls from our roof made of tree bark. That’s why the water in our house is yellowish,” Saway, who lives in Barangay Songco, Lantapan said.

According to a survey made in 2006 by the Kitanglad Integrated NGOs, residents of Mt. Kitanglad’s buffer zone “get drinking water from rivers, springs, streams, deep wells and flowing creeks. They use the same water sources for bathing and washing their laundry. This means that raw water from the river might be unsafe to drink because of possible contamination from human waste.”

“In-house plumbing seems to be absent in the houses of the occupants,” the survey added.

Lumad volunteers like Saway and the members of his tribe have been tapped to protect Mt. Kitanglad Range from timber poaching and other illegal extraction of resources. Since 1996, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has relied on these volunteers in reporting and thwarting illegal activities in the mountain range, which is a protected area.

The planning workshop aimed to come up with plans for the “accelerated
rehabilitation” of the interconnected river basins of Bukidnon and Cagayan de Oro City. It was an offshoot of the floods caused by storm Sendong in December last year that hit northern Mindanao and killed hundreds of people and displaced thousands in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities.

Raoul Geollegue, protected area management specialist of EnterpriseWorks Worldwide Philippines, called the Cagayan de Oro river basin a “danger by design.”

Geollegue, former DENR regional director for northern Mindanao, noted that the river basin’s headwaters come from two protected areas in Bukidnon – Mt. Kitanglad Range and Mt. Kalatungan Range – with high elevations and steep slopes, and rivers flanked by rock walls and high embankments.

He added that large areas around the river basin no longer have enough forest cover. Its total area is around 137,000 hectares but the closed canopy forest is only 18,812 hectares owing to logging and cultivations, he said.

“This is danger by stupidity,” he said.

“The last ingredient to complete the disaster was the unusual path of Sendong,” he said. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)