The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is pushing for construction of big river dikes as an “ultimate” remedy to the perennial flooding, which currently displaced over 60,000 families in the provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Cotabato City.
Engineer Emil Sadain, ARMM’s regional DPWH secretary, said he would strongly endorse to his central office and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) the idle master plan of the disbanded Task Force on Mindanao River Basin Rehabilitation and Development (TFMRBRD) for possible use and funding.
President Aquino 3rd abolished in 2011 the TFMRBRD chaired then by Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo and transferred its functions to the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA).
But due to lack of technical expertise, MinDA has not reviewed, modified or carried out the flood control master plan, which ate up largely the P50-million state subsidy provided for the task force operations, according to DPWH experts.
At the height of last week’s heavy downpours that caused flooding in 18 of Maguindanao 36 towns as well as some towns in North Cotabato and 50 percent of 37 barangays here, Sadain reviewed the plan.
“We’ve reviewed and found it [master plan]very viable against perennial flooding,” Sadain told a press conference on Thursday.
Sadain flew to Manila on Friday to meet the consultants who framed the blueprint and “get more insights” on its recommendations before coming up with an official endorsement to the DPWH main office and the JICA.
The TFMRBRD master plan recommends the dredging of the two heavily silted exit streams of the marsh—the Rio Grande de Mindanao and Tamontaka River—and the construction of dikes on their banks out of the sediments excavated from such waterways.
When piled up to a height substantial to prevent flood, the soil dikes should be planted with bamboos and deep-rooted grasses to prevent erosion, the blueprint prescribes.
Sadain recommended Vetiver grass (Chrysopogon zizanioides), a fast growing perennial grass originally native to India and Sri Lanka and is now being propagated in the country. It can grow up to 1.5 meter high and form wide base, he said.
The dredging should be done during summer time starting from the downstream of the two rivers, said Sadain.
The Muslim engineer was extensively involved in the construction of flood control projects on the Pasig River and in the provinces affected by the Mount Pinatubo eruption, on national water works projects, bridge and road constructions, and on operation and administrative innovations that earned for him his promotion as national assistant secretary, the highest career position in the DPWH.
“We have done it in other flood-prone areas of the country. We can do it in ARMM if given the support from our national office and the JICA,” said Sadain.
Construction of soil dikes is a short-term remedy against flooding estimated to cost at least of P1-billion, while a long-term remedy can be done with installation of high concrete walls on the two river-exits of the Liaguasan Marsh, said Sadain, who has been acclaimed for his cost-saving innovations in the former graft-ridden DPWH office in ARMM.
The 24,000-square kilometer marsh is the water basin of four major rivers in Mindanao—Pulangi River, Rio Grande de Mindanao, Simuay River and Ala River. It is known for its perceived huge natural gas deposits and rich fish habitats.
Huge carpets of water lilies rapidly grow in the marsh, serving as source of livelihood for locals engaged in handicraft industry and organic fertilizers manufacturing. But during rainy seasons, the heavy flow of the four rivers force the water lilies to cascade down and clog the two river outlets, and spill floodwaters over to low-lying villages of this city and Maguindanao.
“When Rio Grande de Mindanao and Tamontaka River are properly dredged and built-in with big dikes, overflow in both streams and ecological balance in the marsh will follow,” Sadain said.
The DPWH official was confident the national government or JICA would bankroll the revival of the idle flood control project proposal, considering its perceived viability and massive development impact on ecology and economy of the coastal towns of Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat around the Liguasan Marsh. Moh I. Saaduddin