Too late the hero

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Credit: Read the original article from PhilStar Business.

DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu could have been the hero. The general obviously knows what went wrong and what the solutions are. He mentioned a number of things that would have helped, but the hero was too late. He should have done those things when he took on the DENR job.

Cimatu noted that the province is prone to flooding. He proposed the immediate dredging of Cagayan River and planting of some 200 million tree seedlings in Cagayan. JICA proposed dredging the river way back in 1987.

The general also blamed climate change. He gave the impression that they did some tree planting and that he has approved the dredging, but the force of climate change was too much to overcome.

I noted a Facebook post of Gigo Alampay that featured the efforts of the mayor of Alcala, Cagayan to address that perennial flooding problem. Mayor Tin Antonio even sought the help of UP experts and the recommendations are obvious.

Dredging is apparently the most important. Even a 1987 JICA study said as much. Imagine that… 1987 yet. But the government just takes too long to do anything.

Indeed, I was wondering why Cagayan’s most powerful son, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, did nothing to address this problem.

Let me just quote liberally from the piece written by the Alcala mayor.

“In December 2019, the municipality of Alcala, six barangays were totally submerged, more than 10,000 families affected, and more than 5,000 homes went underwater. There was no typhoon signal, just rain due to monsoon, and water coming from the Sierra Madre, water released by Magat Dam, water coming from everywhere.

“We turned to our Filipino scientists to ask why. The municipality requested Fernando Siringan, former director of the UP Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) and one of the country’s top river and marine geologists, to conduct a study on flood and riverbank erosion on the Cagayan and Pared Rivers in Alcala.

“From July to September 2020, Siringan and fellow UP geologist Keanu Jershon Sarmiento travelled the length of the Cagayan and Pared Rivers in our town. They looked at rocks and banks, the vegetation, the meandering of the rivers, the width of the channel and flood plain, the depth of the rivers all throughout, the flow of water, the facilities and communities impacted by flood and erosion through time.

“The final study describes the confluence of factors that brings severe flood and suffering not just to the town and people of Alcala, but to all towns and peoples throughout the length of the Cagayan River from Isabela to Aparri, Cagayan where the river empties into the sea:

“In Alcala, the river channel – which goes as wide as 400 meters – suddenly constricts to a narrow 180-meters from Barangay Tupang all the way to Barangay Magapit, Lallo.

“Alcala is situated to receive 80 percent of water run-off in the Cagayan River Basin that encompasses Cagayan and Isabela.

“Mountains, slopes and watersheds in the whole Cagayan Valley have been stripped of native trees that hold soil and regulate water release.

“Trees are cut down and forests threatened not only by illegal logging, but also by agriculture in slopes and mountains, particularly yellow corn farming and the use of herbicide that kills all vegetation and weakens the soil.

“Steered by the Siringan and Sarmiento study, the municipality of Alcala has started to implement changes. We moved the Tamban Bangkero to a safer, more stable location upstream. We were shocked to learn that the river current had eaten away at the cliff of the old Bangkero and could collapse to plunge people to the 18-meter swirling depths below.

“To save Barangay Pagbangkeruan from being taken by the Pared River, we need to create a secondary channel… Then we have to plant a 30 meter-wide vegetation shield of native trees to form a belt of protection for the riverbank and community – a mighty, green wall…

“In the past two months, we have convinced the farmers in our 12 irrigation dam watershed areas to abandon yellow corn and to shift to agroforestry. We have started to plant native forest, flowering and fruit trees on these watersheds that have a combined area of 300 hectares.

“We have engaged our 25 barangays to plant tiny, dense, native forests in their communities, using the Miyawaki method.

“We are set to plant native forest and flowering trees on all Alcala roadsides that span around 120 kilometers.

“But the biggest, most challenging work of all, the one most urged by Siringan, is the river channel widening from Tupang, Alcala to Magapit, Lallo. This work would help not only Alcala, but the whole Cagayan Valley Region, tremendously. This is not a new idea – this is one of the recommendations of the 1987 JICA report on flood and the Cagayan River. Sadly, this has not been acted upon…

“It’s not just about Magat Dam protocols, although in our state of despair Magat Dam is the most visible target. It’s about us, it’s the way we live – as if we are apart from nature, as if what we do does not come back to us. It’s us – how we have cut our trees and destroyed our forests, our soil and groundwater, how we have eaten up the land with farms and buildings.

“The problem being complex, the solution is also a combination of interventions that should be anchored on science and drawn after scientists have studied the Cagayan River itself… It is not dredging every which way, it is not putting up a dike here and there. It is knowing, based on sound science, what to do and what not to do…

“I believe in Siringan. I believe in our Filipino scientists. They stand by their science, and the people of Alcala are glad to lean on their strength…

“As I write this today, Nov. 15, 2020, my beloved town Alcala and many parts of Cagayan are underwater… Our people are suffering. They are cold, tired, hungry, thirsty, their homes gone, their animals gone, their belongings gone.

“Please, let us listen to our scientists.”

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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