COTABATO CITY—The military commander supervising the removal of tons of water lilies clogging the Rio Grande de Mindanao has called for more volunteers as floodwaters here continue to rise “by the minute.”
“This is alarming and we need every available human and material resource to contain it,” said Brigadier General Rey Ardo, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.
“Whether or not help comes from the outside, this is the time to save our own skin through bayanihan (community cooperation),” he said, adding that the entire city was in danger of being submerged.
Ardo said he had ordered the deployment of more soldiers to help in the clearing of the Rio Grande, the country’s second largest river.
“(Flood)waters are getting deeper every day, in some villages reaching five to six feet,” said Halima Satol, city government information chief.
Currently, there are about 500 soldiers armed with machetes, shovels, crowbars and power-cutting tools working to unclog the water from the river to the sea.
As a result of the clogging, water had inundated low-lying villages—33 out of 37 in this city—and about a dozen more in nearby Sultan Kudarat and Sultan Mastura towns in Maguindanao.
A similar situation confronts several riverside villages in North Cotabato.
Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said the declogging efforts appeared to be working but the problem of the water lilies was being compounded by new plants being swept down from upstream.
Typhoon-induced rains are also causing the Rio Grande to swell further. As of Saturday, there were 25,375 families displaced in this city alone.
Liguasan Marsh overflows
In nearby Maguindanao and North Cotabato, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao government reported 30,000 families displaced by the floods caused by the overflowing Liguasan Marsh, which is also clogged with water lilies.
Zenaida Laidan, director of the Department of Science and Technology in central Mindanao, said the agency was studying the possibility of gathering the water lilies for its fiber.
Laidan said water lily fiber can be used to make mats, baskets and other handicraft that could become a source of livelihood for residents.
But in the meantime, Ardo said the immediate concern was to remove the water lilies and stop the flooding.
Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani Jr., chair of the local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said the sight of civilians working alongside soldiers in the declogging effort was “delighting.”
Due to the floods brought by the erratic weather condition, sports, cultural and other festivities related to the forthcoming city Foundation Day on June 19 were cancelled, according to Aniceto Rasalan Jr., the city’s program coordinator.
Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo paid a surprise visit on Friday and called on the Department of Public Works and Highways central office to dispatch with urgency all available backhoes and barges.
Bashir Ibrahim, city district engineer, said, “there’s money for fuel but the problem lies with the availability of barges to haul tons of water lilies.”
A ranking rebel officer said that more should be done to address the perennial problem of flooding, aside from the declogging activities.
“It’s a failure. The effort was not enough to contain the problem. We need concrete efforts this time to address our flooding problems,” MILF spokesperson Eid Kabalu told the Inquirer by phone.
Quevedo, chair of the Malacañang-formed Mindanao River Basin Task Force, said the declogging efforts were also hounded by issues of irregularity in the disbursement of funds.
“We have included this in our report to the President, but this is a time to unite and not to fingerpoint. The people need our immediate assistance.” He said the issue of fund misuse could be tackled later.
Colonel Prudencio Asto, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division, agreed with Quevedo, warning that floodwaters could submerge the entire city of Cotabato in no time if authorities fail to remove the water lilies.
In Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur, heavy rains have unleashed floods that have so far displaced 100 families.
Meanwhile, storm signal No. 1 was raised over 11 provinces in eastern Visayas and Luzon. Those threatened by Tropical Depression “Egay” include Northern Samar, Catanduanes, Sorsogon, Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Polillo Island, Aurora, Quezon, Cagayan and Isabela.
The weather bureau on Saturday said Egay was moving northwest at 20 km per hour, with winds of 55 km per hour near the center. With reports from Jeoffrey Maitem and Orlando B. Dinoy, Inquirer Mindanao; Jhunnex Napallacan, Inquirer Visayas; Mar Arguelles and Jonas Soltes, Inquirer Southern Luzon