The past week, the Philippines, particularly the main island of Luzon, saw devastation that some have blamed on “environmental neglect” – defined as a serious health and safety hazard where those in authority have not taken the appropriate action to eliminate the problem.
Much of Cagayan Valley, Metro Manila and nearby provinces, Central Luzon and the Bicol Region suffered the left hook from super Typhoon Rolly and Typhoon Ulysses which, together, left at least 55 people dead and a swathe of destruction in agricultural lands and infrastructure in Luzon.
The sight does not include those who were evacuated to higher grounds, hundreds of thousands who were left without electricity and potable water following the typhoon’s onslaught.
In Cagayan. the provincial governor Manuel Mamba was quick to describe the deluge as a “summation of our wrongs to the environment” – the worst seen in the Valley in 40 years.
His words: ‘If you come to Cagayan now, parang ocean, ‘di mo makikita ang (Cagayan) river. I think through the years, napabayaan ang mga ito. We need to have a holistic approach on how to do this. Ito po ay summation ng mga mali sa environment natin.”
Mamba had told the Laging Handa briefing the local government prepared in advance since flooding was common in Cagayan, but the volume of water was worse than what they had prepared for.
He pointed to the debasement of the forests which, according to him, were abused in Cagayan, both the Cordillera and Sierra Madre sides.
Mamba was quick to add there was a need for an inter-regional approach in addressing environmental problems, stressing his province was the catch basin of rain water from Cagayan Valley – which includes the provinces of Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino on the northeastern seaboard, and Batanes in the far north – and the Cordillera Administrative Region on its western side.
He has also pointed to illegal logging as a problem in the province for the past 50 years. But we wonder why in that span officials have not acted enough and thoroughly, since every year the Valley is pounded by 20 typhoons.
We seem to always have questions and raise concerns during disasters, but when they are over, we keep our peace again until another tragedy whips the area.
We are prepared to say that Mamba’s reference to “environmental neglect” is a bull’s eye, a straight-out statement as it were, but chase that with why have not previous officials acted and stood up to the challenge when illegal logging confronted them in the eye?
Mamba’s call for an inter-regional approach in addressing environmental problems runs parallel to what Deputy Majority Leader and Rizal Rep. Fidel Nograles said was “a critical need to put up a government body to oversee, manage, and care for the 500 kilometer-long Sierra Madre Mountain Range to protect the biodiverse area’s forest cover and prevent flooding in several areas in Luzon.
Two towns in the second district of Rizal – Rodriguez (Montalban) and San Mateo – sustained destructive floods from cascading waters from Sierra Madre during the typhoons’ onslaught.
Like Nograles, we note, based on reports from the northeast, that flooding in eastern Metro Manila all the way to towns in the Cagayan Valley “emphasize the importance of taking concrete steps to care for the Sierra Madre mountain region.”
Nograles said: “The mountain really has a big impact during weather disturbances. The increased frequency and severity of flooding in areas close to the Marikina River, as well as in towns in the Cagayan Valley are attributed to the loss of Sierra Madre’s forest cover – and we can no longer ignore this.
“There is clearly a need to provide this vital mountain range with further safeguards and protection while finding ways to responsibly develop part of the range not under its Protected Areas.” (To be continued)