MINDANAO PARALYZED, FLOODS FROM RIO GRANDE STALL CLASSES, SUBMERGE TOWNS
[PHOTO AT LEFT - WATER HYACINTH 'ISLANDS' - A massive deposit of water hyacinths clogs the Rio Grande de Mindanao River, a sight witnessed by President Aquino during his aerial inspection of the flood-hit areas of Cotabato City. The aquatic plants were driven into the river from the Liguasan Marsh by continuous heavy rains, causing the river to swell and flood low-lying barangays in the city. Although water hyacinths are considered nuisance, there are many ways they could be made useful. (MALACAÑANG Photo)]
COTABATO CITY, JUNE 21, 2011 (MANILA BULLETIN) By ALI G. MACABALANG - Classes have been stalled in 123 public schools in high-illiteracy rate-laden communities of Maguindanao due to floods that continue to submerge 21 of the 36 towns in the province, the Department of Education (DepEd) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said Thursday.
Lawyer Baratucal Caudang, DepEd-ARMM secretary, said more than 50 of the adversely affected schools were abandoned due to high floodwater level while the rest have been converted to evacuation centers for some of the 77,000 families displaced in the inundation.
Caudang said he and his survey team personally visited some of the abandoned school edifices and witnesses elementary pupils holding classes along the roads in what teachers described as “vital initiatives” to emancipate young residents from disturbing highly illiteracy rate.
[PHOTO - Rio Grande de Mindanao is the longest river in Mindanao and the second largest in the Philippines]
Maguindanao, one of the ARMM component provinces, belongs to the country’s bunch of areas beset with the highest illiteracy rate.
“The situation was awful. We are prompted now to search for alternatives, including initiatives to source out funds for the repair of buildings and facilities destroyed by flood,” Caudang said, referring to the idleness of the affected schools and the pupils’ plight in outdoor classes.
Caudang said they were validating reports from the two Maguindanao schools superintendents who had tallied 45,152 damaged instructional materials like books, 37,254 desks and chairs, 1,058 tables, and 1,095 chalkboards, some 30 percent of which were totally wrecked.
Heavy rains caused by a typhoon have swelled Rio Grande de Mindanao and its waters overflowing in nearby areas because of the menace of water lilies blocking the river’s current, causing the massive flooding in Central Mindanao.
This prompted President Benigno S. Aquino III to visit Cotabato City to check on relief operations for flood-ravaged communities in the area, which drew a mixture of rejoice and dismay from affected residents and officials.
After surveying the devastation from the air, the President visited the water lilies-clogged Delta Bridge in Cotabato and later presided a briefing of officials of state agencies including the Presidential Task Force on Mindanao River Basin Rehabilitation and Development (PTFMRBRD), where both short and long-term solutions on the “cycle of flooding” were presented.
Villar offers water lily expertise
With the current water lily problem in Cotabato City, the Villar Foundation expressed willingness to help the city and other areas in the country which are plagued by the said free floating nuisance that damages the natural water system.
Former Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar, managing director of Villar Foundation, revealed that the foundation is ready to extend its help to Cotabato City.
“We are willing to help Cotabato City by training them how to use water hyacinth as a means for them to earn a living,” she said in a phone interview.
Recently, the Villar Foundation championed its project on saving the Las Piñas-Zapote Rivers which bagged the United Nations award for Best Water Management Practices. The project involved weaving masses of water hyacinth that were harvested along the said river into baskets and bags.
Villar disclosed that the said project not only helped clean the river but created a livelihood for the people of Las Piñas. “The project was able to enjoin people in saving the river and at the same time earn for themselves,” she said.
Villar bared that the problem of water hyacinth mass is common to most areas around the country. She said that she agreed to help Cotabato City provided that the local government is also willing to learn. “We are now just waiting for them to call us so we can immediately send our trainor to teach them ways on saving their river as well,” Villar said.
She said that the foundation has already shared their experiences with other areas including Pasig City, Taguig City, Muntinlupa City, and Malabon in Metro Manila, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Bulacan, and even in South Cotabato.
Meanwhile, Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, PTFMRBRD chairman, pressed for the speedy completion of efforts on a stalled cut-off channel to divert the influx aquatic plants and water from the heavily silted Pulangi (Rio Grande de Mindanao) and Tamontaka Rivers.
But the President said his technical people will have to review first the proposed remedies since some of the built-in features appeared not convincing to him.
He said the government would study long-term plans to control the growth of water lilies, aside from just removing them from the river.
He said the aquatic plants may also be harvested on a commercial scale and turned into fiber or bio-fuel through the establishment of a processing plant in the Liguasan Marsh where they are growing and later cascading down to Cotabato City during rainy days.
President Aquino said he would ask the interior and science departments to make feasibility studies on the possible use of water lilies as alternative energy source.
But Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani Jr. complained that the President’s visit was “very short” and the relief goods distributed ceremonially in one of the evacuation centers in the affected areas were “borrowed” from the local governance.
Maguindanao Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu also lamented that the President came and left with no definite assistance to end the perennial flooding in his province and Cotabato.
The governor earlier insisted at the Presidential briefing that more heady equipment should be brought in to dredge rivers and marshes in his province, but President Aquino replied that efforts and funds for dredging activities were hardly accounted for.
As this developed, 11 areas in Luzon were placed under Signal No. 1 as tropical storm “Falcon” (international name: Meari) intensified and moved at a slower pace over the Philippine Sea Thursday afternoon, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said.
Signal No. 1 was hoisted over Quezon, Aurora, Albay, Catanduanes, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Isabela, Cagayan including Calayan, Babuyan Group of Islands, and Batanes Group of Islands.
PAGASA senior weather forecaster Rene Paciente said Bicol Region started to experience heavy rains Thursday morning because “Falcon” was near the area.”
As of 4 p.m. Thursday, “Falcon” was located 420 km east of Casiguran, Aurora and has intensified with maximum sustained winds of 75 kph near the center and gustiness of up to 90 kph.
PAGASA said the enhancement of southwest monsoon or hanging habagat caused heavy rains over Metro Manila Thursday afternoon.
“Falcon” continues to move northwestward at 15 kph, lower than the normal tropical cyclone speed of 19 kph.
Paciente said the storm’s slower pace can be attributed to its interaction with a low pressure area (LPA) located at 550 km northeast of Virac, Catanduanes.
Although the new weather disturbance is not likely to develop into a tropical depression, Robert Sawi, PAGASA’s acting weather division chief, explained that there is a high possibility that “Falcon” and the LPA will merge.
“The weather disturbance will continue to enhance southwest monsoon bringing occasional rains over Luzon and Visayas starting on Thursday. Moderate to heavy rains will prevail over Eastern Visayas, Bicol Region, and the western section of Luzon and Visayas,” he added.
Sawi said Metro Manila will experience heavy rains this weekend due to the southwest monsoon or hanging habagat.
The weather disturbance is expected to be 270 km east-northeast of Aparri, Cagayan this afternoon, 320 km north-northeast of Basco, Batanes Saturday afternoon, and 740 km north-northeast of Basco, Batanes or 140 km northwest of Okinawa, Japan on Sunday afternoon.
It is expected to exit the Philippine area of responsibility Sunday morning and will move toward Japan.
Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon Soliman said DSWD has pre-positioned P276,707 worth of standby funds and P29.51 million worth of relief goods in all DSWD field offices along the typhoon path.
More than a thousand domestic passengers were stranded at the domestic terminals of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) after some 36 domestic flights were canceled due to tropical storm “Falcon.”
Connie Bungag, chief of the Media Affairs Division of NAIA, said canceled were 28 Cebu Pacific flights bound for Legaspi, Naga, Surigao, Caticlan, Catarman, Tuguegarao as well as six AirPhilippines flights bound for Legaspi and Naga and its turn around aircraft and two Philippine Airlines flights to Bicol Region.
Bungag noted that international flights at three passenger terminals remain normal.
Meanwhile, more than 200 passengers are currently stranded in various passenger port terminals in areas affected by “Falcon,” the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported.
Lieutenant Commander Algier Ricafrente, PCG Public Affairs chief, said that as of 12:30 p.m. Thursday, a total of 213 passengers were stranded in two major ports in the Bicol Region – 203 at the Tabaco Port Terminal, while 10 persons at the Pio Duran Port, both in Albay, since the province is under Signal No. 1.
The PCG spokesman added that rescue units were already deployed in the areas affected by the said weather disturbance, adding that they are ready to render immediate assistance for those affected residents. (With reports from Sarah Hilomen Velasco, Edd K. Usman, John Carlo M. Cahinhinan, Aaron B. Recuenco, Genalyn D. Kabiling, Ellalyn B. de Vera, and PNA)
FROM INTERAKSYON ONLINE
Don't blame water hyacinths for Cotabato floods, govt biologist, MILF spokesman say 23-Jun-11, 5:03 PM | Annie Ruth C. Sabangan, InterAksyon.com
MANILA, Philippines – The 20-hectare spread of water hyacinths that invaded the Rio Grande de Mindanao---and was blamed for compounding the effects of heavy rains in flooded Cotabato City—would not have turned into a menace if local officials and communities had not been as neglectful, a government biologist and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) spokesman said on Thursday.
Rose Cabrera, a biologist from the Laguna Lake Development Authority, said that water hyacinths could not have proliferated in the area and clogged waterways had the LGUs and the communities taken preventive actions to stop the spread of the aquatic plant.
“Sa tingin ko, isang problema itong pinalala nila bago sinolusyunan [I think this is a problem that they made worse before it was solved],” Cabrera told InterAksyon.com in a phone interview on Thursday.
According to Cabrera, while water hyacinths grow fast, doubling in five to 15 days, the LGUs and the communities shouldn’t have waited for the plant to mature, spread and cover 20 hectares of the Mindanao River with tangled weeds, and block waterways before they acted on the problem.
“The plants grow rapidly but not overnight. P’wede namang tanggalin agad, kung nakita nilang nagsisismula na itong tumubo. Bakit pa hihintaying lumaki ng sobra…Baka pinapanood lang, hanggang umabot na ng 20 hectares [They could have plucked out the plants early on if they saw that these had started growing. Why wait for the pants to mature…Perhaps they were just watching until the plant covered 20 hectares of the river],” she said.
Hyacinths helpful when small
Water hyacinths only start to become a menace when the plants start to occupy a large portion of a body of water, according to Cabrera. She said the plants serve as breeding grounds for fingerlings. But when these grow unabated, the plants cause floods because they clog up rivers.
Also, Caberara said water hyacinths can cause fishkills. “The plants compete with the oxygen needed by fish and other aquatic animals to survive.”
Meanwhile, MILF spokesperson Eid Kabalu said the proliferation of water hyacinths in the area “has been a continuing problem.” He said the area encountered the same problem in 2008. “At that time, the MILF sent about three thousand people to help solve the problem immediately.”
He said one of the causes of the problem in the Rio Grande could be the infrastructure development on Delta Bridge where many posts had been built.
“Maraming posteng itinayo doon na siyang maaring pumipigil sa pagdaan ng water hyacinths [Many posts were constructed there. These could be blocking the flow of the water hyacinths],” Kabalu told InterAksyon in a separate phone interview on Thursday.
Kabalu added the heavily silted river could have also blocked the passage of the plants to the sea. “Masyado nang mababaw ang Rio Grande dahil sa siltation [The Rio Grande has become shallow due to siltation]. The water hyacinths could no longer flow smoothly.”
Needlessly politicized problem
The problem in Cotabato City has become politicized. On Wednesday, Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani Jr. criticized President Benigno Aquino III for allegedly not bringing relief goods to the affected residents and providing a quick solution to the water hyacinth problem.
On Thursday, Malacanang defended Aquino and called Guiani a liar, accusing the mayor of politicizing relief efforts. Department of Social Welfare and Development Corazon Soliman also lashed out at Guiani, saying the LGU has its own calamity fund and the national government is only supposed to augment relief goods when necessary.
Kabalu and Cabrera both said that the issue isn’t political, but environmental. For the problem to be solved, it needs cooperation from all stakeholders especially the communities and LGUs in Cotabato City and nearby areas, according to them.
“I think, hindi tamang magsisihan [it’s not right to blame each other]. Let’s face the problem squarely. Alisin agad ang water hyacinths [Pluck out the water hyacinths immediately]. Somebody from the Department of Public Works and Highways should also be stationed in the area for regular monitoring of the problems there,” said Kabalu.
Cabrera, meanwhile, said that the people shouldn’t regard Aquino as “a superman ready to solve all their problems.”
“They should learn how to protect their own environment…Bakuran nila ‘yon, sila ang unang dapat maglinis [It’s their backyard, they should be the first ones cleaning it],” said Cabrera.
In fact, according to Cabrera, the water hyacinth disaster could be turned into a blessing for Cotabato residents. “Pwedeng pagkakakitaan ang water hyacinths [They can earn from water hyacinths.] These could be used for craft-making, or as organic fertilizer or animal feeds for farms.”
THE MINDANAO RIVER From WIKIPEDIA
The Mindanao River, also known as the Rio Grande de Mindanao, is the second largest river system in the Philippines, after the Cagayan River of Luzon. It is also the largest river on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao having a drainage area of 23,169 square kilometers, draining majority of the central and eastern portion of the island. It is also the second longest river in the country with a length of approximately 373 km (231.8 miles). It is an important transportation artery on the island, used mainly in transporting agricultural products and, formerly, timber.
Its headwaters are in the mountains of Impasug-ong, Bukidnon, south of Gingoog City in Misamis Oriental, where it is called the Pulangi River. Joining the Kabacan River, it becomes the Mindanao River. Flowing out of the mountains, it forms the center of a broad, fertile plain in the south-central portion of the island. Before its mouth in the Moro Gulf, it splits into two parallel sections, the Cotabato and Tamentaka, separated by a 180 m (600 ft) hill.
Population centers along the river include Cotabato City, Datu Piang, and Midsayap.
The Mindanao River has its source in the Central Mindanao Highlands near the northern coast of the island, specifically on the northeastern part of the province of Bukidnon, where it is known as the Pulangi River. It then flows southward across the Bukidnon Plateau, fed up by its tributaries along the way and then emerges onto the Cotabato plains, depositing fertile mountain silt as it widens and arcs westward through the 1,000-square-mile (2,600 km2) Cotabato River Basin. It finally empties into Illana Bay at its mouth in Cotabato City.
Details of the delta of the Mindanao River  Tributaries Pulangi River Buluan River Allah River Libungan River
As the Mindanao River meets Illana Bay, it branches out into two distributaries, the Cotabato in the north and the Tamontaka in the south at Cotabato City.
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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