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COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/17 June) – Cotabato City and the neighboring municipalities are under the state of calamity. Flooded rivers brought downstream tons of water hyacinth or water lilies that clog the Rio Grande de Mindanao. Tens of kilometers of water hyacinths block the Cotabato Delta River spilling the flooded water on both banks submerging almost 36 barangays of Cotabato City and some areas in the Municipality of Sultan Kudarat..

For almost a week now, the people are practically living in a “water world” wading through a waist deep of water. Classes are suspended and people scamper to higher grounds.

The flooding in Central Mindanao has given rise to urgent call to revisit and change policies and behavior that directly impact the fragile eco-system.

First, by its very name, Maguindanao, the place tells a story of water inundation every time the Rio Grande de Mindanao is swollen. This is an annual occurrence as far back as memory remembers.

Second is the fact that Cotabato Delta and all low lying areas of Cotabato City and the neighboring municipalities are actually part of the great Cotabato Marsh consisting of three major subdivisions.

The upper Cotabato that constitutes an upper arc covering roughly the Municipalities of Pikit, Pagalungan, Datu Montawal, Kabacan, Matalam, Mlang, Tulunan, Datu Paglas, Datu Paglat, Sultan sa Barongis, Rajah Buayan, Mamasapano, Datu Salibo and Datu Piang. This upper arc is also known as the Liguasan Marsh.

The middle Cotabato has its own body of water that borders the municipalities of Pigcauayan, Libungan, Midsayap, Upper Kabuntalan and Talayan. This middle portion is officially known as the Libungan Marsh.

The lower Cotabato covers the areas of Lower Kabuntalan, Dinaig, Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City. It is officially known as the Ebpanan Marsh.

The three said marshes are the natural catchment of flooded waters when the major Cotabato Rivers are swollen due to heavy rains. These rivers are (1) Rio Grande de Mindanao or Pulangi; (2) the Kabacan-Marbel River; (3) the Kabulnan River; (4) Allah River; and (5) Libungan River. From Datu Piang, all these great rivers form one mighty Pulangi which forks again at the upper Cotabato City into two rivers (Mindanao River and Tamontaka River) and empty their water to Illana Bay.

Once upon a time, before the ‘honorable’ men and women of the empire province of Cotabato altered their eco-system, the yearly water inundation was a normal occurrence and formed part of the cultures of the peoples of the flooded plains (Maguindanao).

They three Cotabato Marshes cover about 288,000 hectares. By design, they serve as natural filters and flood control for the plains of Cotabato. But due to heavy siltation and proliferation of water hyacinths, these three marshes no longer serve their natural ecological functions.

Things began to change when the forests of Cotabato were given as logging concessions to big families. They wantonly cut trees without provisions for reforestation – a complete violation of existing laws. With the logging concessionaires came the settlers and they gave the coup de grace to the rape of remaining forests by cutting the secondary growth for agriculture.

In time, the soil erosion becomes a phenomenon every heavy downpour. People suddenly wake up to behold the heavy siltation of all the major rivers. Since they all empty their waters into the Illana Bay, it, inevitably, condemns the Bucana lost, because of heavy siltation.

The second man-made major catastrophe was the so-called rechanneling the combined water of Pulangi and Kabacan River to the Liguasan Marsh. The man-made channel in Tungol re-directed the natural water flow of these two mighty rivers. By redirecting the river to the Liguasan Marsh, the Liguasan “return” all the flooded waters to Mindanao River plus water hyacinths and the thick marsh grasses. The Liguasan will never be lacking of water hyacinths and grasses. There are thousands of cubic tons of these waiting to be washed away into the Mindanao River. And there is NO way of stopping them.

The Cotabato City flood has only short-term solutions that constitute only immediate relief from the menace of water hyacinth. The long-term solution would require not only a change of policies and behavior but also a gargantuan budget that the country cannot afford in the next 15 or 20 years.

It is for this reason that I passionately believe that the millions spent (more than P52 million) for the STUDY of the Cotabato River System to give a long and permanent solution to the Cotabato flooding is not only ill advised but an utter waste of money. The study when completed would end into our collection of rare books that would end in our bookshelves. The Task Force Mindanao River Basin has become the biggest joke in Southern Philippines, particularly Central Mindanao.

The most that can be done is to give immediate relief to the people who are victims of flood by making sure that the water hyacinth and the marsh grass do not clog the Delta River and the Tamontaka River. This means a regular watch of these two rivers both by use of massive man-labor and water master to clear the clogging of the Delta River.

By setting our eyes to long-term solutions to the flooding of Cotabato City and its environs we go for the impossible dreams and the unreachable stars.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Balintataw is Fr. Eliseo “Jun” Mercado’s column for the weekly Mindanao Cross in Cotabato City.)

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