On Wednesday, the Philippine Information Agency Region 10 in partnership with the Limketkai Luxe Hotel, once again held its weekly program, Talakayan sa Limketkai at PIA, at the Kave Restaurant function room of the Limketkai Luxe Hotel. The week’s program topic deals with the issues concerning the recent and past history of flooding in Cagayan de Oro City. Guests included representatives from the RDRRMC (Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council), CDRRMC (City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council), DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways), PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration), and PHIVOLCS (Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology).
As everyone knows, the recent flooding that occurred in January 16 of this year, and to a lesser extent, on January 28, opened up the floodgate to media discussions and debates since the said flooding that occurred was even worse than those experienced during Typhoon Sendong in 2009 and during the heavy rains in 2011. The flooding also comes at a time when the DPWH had just finished their flood control improvements along the portions of highway beside the University of Science and Technology in Southern Philippines and at the crossroads of the Western Bus Terminal in Bulua.
First to open the discussions was PAGASA as they explained how they report weather disturbances and give warnings for such potential disasters. They also explained about the rainfall warning alerts now commonly seen in news reports such as the Yellow, Blue, and Red Rainfall Alerts and how they are differentiated in terms of flooding dangers. Even during power outages, PAGASA may still send out limited warnings and advisories by informing radio stations to broadcast them, using social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook as well as sending out SMS to mobile phone users, and providing said information to the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) for further dissemination.
This drew some mixed concerns from the audience and hosts because during power outages the use of computers and mobile phones becomes limited as battery power runs out. Also, battery powered transistor radios are no longer being sold and used since people are more dependent on present technology. Some are calling for all telecommunication providers to coordinate with disaster agencies to send out free SMS advisories and warnings.
According to PAGASA, although they did not give any rainfall warnings on the night of January 15 and in the early morning of January 16 because the weather anomaly of a cold front and inter-tropical convergence zone joining together did not manifest any danger signals. It was not until 10:00 a.m. of the 16th that heavy rainfall warning advisories were sent out due to heavy rains starting to be dumped in areas in Bukidnon. It was not until before 2:00 p.m. that heavy rainfall began in and around Misamis Oriental.
Ironically, the heavy flooding that occurred on the 16th did not come from any overflowing creeks or the Cagayan River, since none occurred. But unfortunately, when the DPWH was questioned as to the possible areas in Cagayan de Oro that could be prone to flooding due to heavy rains, they could not give a constructive answer and only mentioned parts of Lapasan and parts of lower Carmen. When pressed as to the concept behind for raising up certain areas of the highway and drainage for so-called flood control, they could not give answers as well.
PAGASA and DPWH gave separate PowerPoint presentations pertaining to the rainfall and flood warnings and advisories as well as the different flood control and waterway projects in the city.
They also showed the studies and surveys of how the waters coming from the upper areas of Bukidnon flows down to Cagayan de Oro that acts as a sort of catchment basin that needs to empty out into Macajalar Bay.
It was clearly shown in the presentation that although the catchment waterways and canals in the city are big enough to accommodate flood waters, their exit points into the bay are smaller than the waterways, sort of like bottleneck. Also, these water exit points were constructed lower than the high tide that comes in, so should high tide occur, the waterways and canals tend to counter flow, resulting in flooding in low areas.
Another problem revealed that resulted in the flooding of January 16 is the still unfinished widening of the drainage systems and waterways. These unfinished infrastructures resulted in clogging due to the heavy volume of garbage thrown into the open drainages. What was then made clear is that the problem of flooding in the city will happen again just as intense as the last flooding that occurred.
Some people were wondering what role PHIVOLCS played in the recent flooding, but instead launched into a discussion about earthquake-prone fault lines running around Mindanao, one running very near Cagayan de Oro, as well as discussing the earthquake that occurred in Surigao.
Whether this had anything to do with flood control or the like was anyone’s guess as to why they were even invited. Minor frustration set in during the discussions since the local government admitted that the city’s drainage system and even the present drainage projects for catchment waters are all outdated and based on 1970’s designs.
They admitted that this flood problem started as far back as the 1970’s, but when pressed for answers, no representative could give an answer as to the two issues concerned. Also, no one could answer why the outdated designs could not be improved since most waterway and drainage systems in the city are the “open” type and not underground or at least covered. Finally, some questioned as to why the garbage problem is being blamed for the flooding when it fact it was the inadequate drainage and waterway system that was the real culprit. Also, no government official could give an adequate answer as to why no real survey was done as to the history of flooding in the city that started as early as the 1970’s and why the drainage system is being improved only this decade.