Massive flooding caused by environmental destruction

Ang Bayan
January 7, 2012

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Filipinos are used to typhoons and rains. The Philippines is the third country most often visited by typhoons worldwide. Every year, more than 20 typhoons pound the country.

But the breadth and intensity of the destruction wrought by the massive flooding caused by typhoons have decidedly worsened in the past 20 years. This is due to the widespread denudation of the forests, the destruction of watersheds and the massive siltation of rivers. Areas at the foot of mountains, especially those that are near rivers are in danger of being buried in mud and logs from the uplands. Most of the victims of such flooding are the toiling masses who live on river banks, at the foot of mountainous areas and in cramped shantytowns.

These conditions have been worsened by an inutile government devoid of any plans on how to confront such potential disasters. Despite repeated massive flooding, the reactionary government has failed to prepare measures to prevent the deaths of large numbers of people.

In December, torrential rains brought by typhoon Sendong poured into various parts of Mindanao and the Visayas, including the Bukidnon plateau and the denuded mountains of Lanao. Decades of logging and plantation operations had already destroyed the Bukidnon watershed. After days of rain, the rivers of Bukidnon overflowed into Cagayan de Oro City. At about the same time, the rivers of Lanao del Norte swelled and flowed towards Iligal City. These caused massive, widespread destruction, killing close to 2,000 people. Hundreds more were swept away by rampaging mud water as they slept in the early morning of December 17.

Faced with strong condemnation over its inutility and antipathy, the Aquino regime had the gall to blame the residents for not evacuating from the areas along the typhoon's path. In fact, the Aquino regime and the local governments failed to take the typhoon's threat seriously. There was not enough warning and no steps taken to evacuate residents living near rivers and in areas that would likely serve as catchbasins for floodwaters that would be flowing down the mountainsides. There was no infrastructure and support in place for the evacuees.

The regime does not have a comprehensive plan to save the remaining watersheds, a failure that had long been cited as a condition that would lead to massive flooding. It has no competent plans in place to create decent housing for the thousands of residents living along river banks and other endangered areas.

Criminal negligence

Since the Aquino regime came to power in 2010, the Climate Change Congress of the Philippines (CCCP) has warned it thrice about the dangers resulting from the massive siltation of the Rio Grande de Cagayan. In particular, it cited the possibility of widespread flooding in Cagayan de Oro on the same scale as the inundation of Metro Manila due to typhoon Ondoy in 2009.

More frequent rains had led the CCCP to conclude that more severe floods and landslides were in store for the country. More than 20 million hectares would be affected or 67% of the Philippines' land area. The 69 provinces that lie along the country's eastern side would be affected by massive rains brought by La Niña and would therefore be most vulnerable to flooding and landslides the whole year round.

The Aquino government ignored the CCCP's warnings, with Malacañang claiming that it had more urgent things to attend to. Thus, the regime did nothing to put the people out of harm's way. Aquino even reduced funds allotted for disaster preparedness in 2011. Instead of laying out plans to avert the loss of lives, the government merely ordered the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council to prepare for the effects of disasters, including purchasing coffins for the victims.

The Aquino regime's worst crime lies in its perpetuation of the policies that have caused widespread environmental destruction—decades of large-scale mining and logging; the clearing of thousands of hectares of forest land to give way to the operations of multinational plantations, real estate companies and other businesses; and indiscriminate quarrying and mining activities in rivers that have aggravated siltation.

Despite the tragedy wrought by typhoon Sendong, the regime has not revoked the mining permits it has granted to foreign mining companies. Most of these companies have also been granted logging permits as an incentive for them to invest in the country.

Neither have the logging permits in Bukidnon and most of Lanao del Norte been revoked. The forests in these areas have largely been denuded by the large-scale logging operations of foreign companies and their local big bourgeois comprador partners, as well as by illegal loggers.

The unmitigated expansion of plantations has worsened the denudation of the forests. In Bukidnon, in particular, only 25% remains of its original forest land due to the expansion of sugar cane, corn, pineapple and banana plantations.

The denudation of forest lands in Bukidnon, which serve as watersheds to neighboring provinces has long been known to cause massive flooding.

Misamis Oriental’s six major rivers flow not only within the province but towards Northeastern Mindanao and Davao. These are the Upper and Lower Pulangi River, Tagaloan River, the Rio Grande de Cagayan, the Maridugao River, the Agusan-Cugman River and the Davao-Salug River. On December 23, a few days after typhoon Sendong, the waters of the Lumbayao Dam in Valencia City, Bukidnon swelled due to continuous rains. Up to 300 people had to be evacuated from their houses along the Pulangi River.