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Elson's Notes
The 2009 Floods in Cagayan de Oro: Findings and Recommendation

By Elson T. Elizaga
See also "Mayors waited for disaster to happen?"
August 6, 2010 -- Cagayan de Oro is traversed by several rivers and streams with origins in Bukidnon. On the first week of January 2009, an unusually massive cloud system covered almost the entire Philippines. The rivers and streams of Cagayan de Oro quickly overflowed on the 3rd, 11th, and 13th and submerged many residential areas, including barangay Lapasan and Carmen.
CNN weather map, January 13, 2009
CNN weather map, January 13, 2009.

Streets became murky rivers, and several vehicles and houses were submerged. The flood also affected many areas in Misamis Oriental and other parts of Mindanao. The multi-purpose halls of Bulua and Opol became evacuation centers.

Green right-pointing arrow, symbol of external website.Mindanews reports that in Cagayan de Oro "Illegal mining and wanton destruction of the remaining forests in Lanao provinces have been blamed for the series of flash floods in early January that left three people dead and affected 16,104 families or 83,321 individuals in 47 barangays or more than half of the city's 80 barangays."

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo flew to Cagayan de Oro on the 22nd to attend an emergency meeting of disaster coordinating councils. Speaking on TV and a radio station, Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma blamed deforestation, hydraulic mining, clogged canals, and poor subdivision planning for the calamity.

Hydraulic gold mining in the mountains of Cagayan de Oro
Hydraulic mining in the hills of Cagayan de Oro sends down mud to Iponan River. Copyright © Elson T. Elizaga.

Less than a year later, a bill declaring Cagayan de Oro a logging-free zone was passed in Congress. Representative Rufus Rodriguez was quoted by Sun.Star Daily: " ... our total log ban bill has been approved by the House of Representatives. I urged the Senate to act speedily on it because this will help ensure that the January flash floods won’t happen again in our city."

Mayor Constantino Jaraula invited geologists from the University of the Philippines to find ways to control the floods. The geologists in a press conference reported that a huge part of the city sits on the river delta, which is easily submerged during heavy rains. They recommended that futureGreen right-pointing arrow, symbol of external developments be made in higher grounds. [February 8, 2012 11:03 AM: The article in no longer exists.]

Geologists also identified a bottle neck in Cagayan River due to bank reclamation. The reclaimed area is the location of a Paseo del Rio, a commercial area under construction.

One of the geologists, Green right-pointing arrow, symbol of external website.Prof. Fernando Siringan, said, "Cagayan de Oro should encourage movement to higher grounds, not necessarily uplands ... Development of uplands should be carefully planned as the uplands play a major role in groundwater recharge. Forest cover should be improved and waste water should be properly handled ....".

Several environmentalists, like Bency Ellorin of Task Force Macajalar, remark that the massive flooding of Cagayan de Oro in 2009 was partly caused by the depletion of the forests in Bukidnon. Other people blame global warming.

Historian and anthropologist Antonio J. Montalvan II, however, took note of a great flood almost a hundred years ago. On page 100-102 of  A Cagayan de Oro Ethnohistory Reader, Montalvan describes The Great Cagayan River Flood of 1916:

"A very strong typhoon brought a continuous downpour for three days. The Cagayan River overflowed its banks. Houses along the riverside streets were inundated. But the low-lying Pabayo Street, then called Calle Nueva, was under water that residents there had to wade through the waters by boat.

"... It was the flood that apparently gave rise to the name Puntod, a slightly elevated land that remained dry during the flood, and the name has stuck till the present, despite its being in a lowland area ... The great flood changed the river's course, particularly in the areas southeast and southwest of San Agustin church."

In an email to the Heritage Conservation Advocates egroup on January 12, 2009, Montalvan wrote:

"The two recent flash floods we had, of the Cagayan River and the one yesterday of the Iponan River, were nothing compared to the great flood of 1916. In 1916, the rains poured continuously for three days. Some accounts say one week.. When the river changed course, it created new alluvial plains, particularly those of Tibasak -- which was hardest hit last week -- and [the area where] the new rotunda is [located]. [The rotunda] is a property belonging to Rafaelita Pelaez Golez. [It is] where she intends to build a new city designed by Felino Palafox.

"They never learn. Those areas are all alluvial plans, and chances are they will become river beds tomorrow when the river changes course again. That has always been a character of this river." end
Iponan River
A resident of Barra, Opol views the remains of houses carried by the swollen Iponan River. Copyright © Elson T. Elizaga.

Check out the Philippine Astronomical, Geophysical, and Astronomical Service Administration (PAGASA) for Green right-pointing arrow, symbol of external reports.

Statement of Prof. Fernando Seringan and link to added on February 8, 2012 11:13 AM.