Didn’t Gina Lopez Warn Us?
By Rose de la Cruz | Published: November 21, 2020
In the 70s, since I was covering the Elliptical Road beat — that consisted of the Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Mining, Philippine Coconut Authority, National Sugar Administration, Quezon City Hall, National Housing Administration — us, reporters, had been harping hard on illegal loggers, the biggest of which were politicians operating wantonly in the Cagayan Valley.
We repeatedly warned that the day would come when these pristine forests would be gone for good and would cause rampaging waters that would destroy crops, homes and people.
For 2019 and 2020 at least, our prediction was proven right.
As Gina Lopez Warned
Before she died, then DENR Secretary Regina “Gina” Lopez had been warning against commercial ((and irresponsible) mining and logging that would take a great toll in Philippine society and economy. This was it!
As Inquirer columnist Joel Ruiz Butuan said the “100-year flood” because it had a 1 percent chance of taking place each year, in December 2019 (which had no typhoon but persistent days of steady rainfall) inundated an unprecedented number of towns in the northern Luzon provinces of Cagayan and Isabela.
Less than one year from the supposed “100-year flood”, an even bigger deluge came to wreak havoc on the two provinces last week, again with no typhoon signal raised over Cagayan but heavy monsoon rains and floodwaters from nearby provinces affected by Typhoon “Ulysses” caused more towns to be submerged in water levels higher than last year.
Beyond Magat Dam
In our town of Alcala, Cagayan, only one of the 25 barangays was not underwater.
The flooding was widely blamed on the release of floodwaters from Magat Dam in Isabela but old-timers remember that the floods were even bigger before the dam was built in the 1970s because heavy floodwaters flowed continuously without a dam’s catch basin to fill up first.
Beyond the dam, the principal culprit is the massive deforestation of our watershed areas which serve to regulate the release of rainwater from our hills and mountains, and the decimation of so many trees in our communities which function to increase the absorptive capacity of our grounds.
The conversion of hills and mountains into corn fields is a major cause of deforestation, apart from illegal logging.
Corn farming entails the clearing of trees and the use of herbicides that kill all vegetation and weaken the soil. Corn farmers are among our poorest agricultural workers.
Local government units should encourage farmers to abandon yellow corn and to shift to agroforestry such as fruit-bearing trees, intercropping them with coffee, cacao, citrus, ginger, with native timber as windbreaks, he says.
With the recent flooding, the call for more river dredging (due to soil erosion) and concreting of river dikes, which Butuan describes as the most graft-prone government projects, backed by scientific support, making them ineffective and a waste of funds.
Alcala Mayor Cristina Antonio analyzed the cause of flooding as: “The problem of flood in Alcala and Cagayan Valley cannot be attributed to just one cause but to a complex, interrelated web with us right at the center.
“It is not just about Magat Dam protocols, although in our state of despair Magat Dam is the most visible target. It is about us and the way we live—as if we are apart from nature, as if what we do does not come back to us. It is 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.”
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 by agriculture in slopes and mountains, particularly yellow corn farming, and the use of herbicide that kills all vegetation and weakens the soil.
The mayor said that 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 fruiting trees at these watersheds, which have a combined area of 300 hectares. We have engaged our 25 barangays to plant tiny, dense, native forests in their communities.”
Bloomberg’s Ditas Lopez reported that the last three typhoons to hit the country have killed over 100 people and damaged farms and infrastructures worth P25 billion ($518 million) based on the reports of the disaster agency.
Many provinces north of Metro Manila are still under flood water after Typhoon Vamco (Ulysses) swept across Luzon last week, just after typhoons Goni (Rolly) and Molave (Quinta).