Central Mindanao’s water lil, flood woes worsening PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 18 June 2011 14:26

Vast “carpets” of water lilies idly spread by thousands of hectares at the Liguasan Marsh are waiting to be fragmented by floodwaters and forced downstream to plug again big rivers crisscrossing populated areas in Central Mindanao, officials said.

A catch basin for a dozen rivers springing from watersheds in surrounding regions, the Liguasan Marsh, a 220,000 hectare delta, flow downstream into much larger waterways that traverse Cotabato City and towns in the first district of Maguindanao  before draining into the Illana Bay at the southwestern side of Central Mindanao.

Cotabato Arhcbishop Orlando Quevedo, chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Mindanao River Basin Rehabilitation and Development , told reporters the estimated 100,000 tons of water lilies that now clog the Rio Grande de Mindanao, the Matampay and Tamontaka rivers traversing hundreds of barangays in several towns in the first district of Maguindanao and Cotabato City was only an example of what kind of calamity Central Mindanao residents must brace for in the future.
Quevedo, along with private and government engineers, among them officials of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, conducted early this week an aerial survey of the Liguasan delta, which is located at the tri-boundary of Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat, and found out that much larger carpets of water lilies could be broken into chunks by rampaging floods from rivers upstream.

Other officials of the task force led by Quevedo, some of them representing the public works department, said one cause of the inundation of dozens of barangays in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and several villages at the east of Cotabato City is the apparently “flawed” design of a supposed mitigating cut-off channel for the Simuay river that springs from heavily-forested hinterlands in the towns in Maguindanao’s adjoining Buldon, Barira and Matanog towns.

The cut-off channel, costing about P100 million, was meant to divert the flow of the Simuay River into the Illana Bay, but failed to function as designed due to what  government experts here describe as “poor engineering work” that was questionably initiated up to the project’s completion despite strong objections from the local communities.

The Simuay river — that now overflows easily even in just few hours of rains in the forests from where it springs, straddles through more than 20 barangays in Sultan Kudarat that now looks like natural lakes –- also connects to the Rio Grande de Mindanao, whose level is now parallel with the surface of its banks.
“We have very serious problems to confront. We need to help one another in addressing these impending problems,” Quevedo told reporters during an emergency briefing yesterday.

Engineer Manuel Viloria, a senior official of the Department of Public Works in Region 12 who is supervising the removal of water lilies now stuck at portions of the Rio Grande, Matampay and Tamontaka rivers said the volume of the aquatic plants they can force downstream into the Illana bay is only a small fraction of what comes down from the Liguasan Marsh each day.

“We can only cut about 500 square meters of knitted water lilies from what plugs the rivers now and what comes up from the marsh is about three hectares of water lilies in contiguous chunks. Sometimes there are days where what we can remove is larger than those that comes down,” Viloria said in an interview with Catholic station dxMS in Cotabato City on Thursday.

Quevedo, who was president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines for two terms, said their task force has been operating on a very tight budget, but they have agreed not to be constrained in continuing their services aimed at mitigating the problems wrought by the floods now spread in hundreds of barangays in the city and the neighboring provinces of Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

The task force has not received any money from the national government since February, its officials said.
“Let it be clarified too that we in the task force don’t handle funds for projects intended to address these problems. The funds are handled by line agencies implementing the projects,” Quevedo lamented. “It’s all in the hands of concerned line agencies.

Quevedo said the role of the task force is only to monitor projects designed to address the problems on the perennial flooding in Central Mindanao and recommend solutions to the Office of the President.

The task force has recommended to the national government to focus attention on the problematic Simuay cut-off channel, the dredging of the Rio Grande de Mindanao, and many other measures meant to prevent the disruption of the downstream flow of big rivers traversing low-lying populated areas in Central Mindanao, and the deployment of more equipment needed in removing the water lilies floating on the waterways.

The water level in the flooded areas of Cotabato City, meanwhile, kept rising, according to local officials.
Heavy rains Wednesday night virtually swelled again the three rivers clogged by water lilies and traversing the city, causing the rise of floodwaters scattered in low-lying areas. —   Felix Ostrea