BULUAN, Maguindanao: Threatened by floods, volunteers from concerned agencies, local government units (LGUs) and the military as well as Muslim rebels rallied to Datu Piang town to help local folks remove the huge water hyacinths that block the exit point of the largest river system in Mindanao.
Local officials, however, were uncertain if unclogging the river “Bayanihan-style” would work, believing that “it is impossible to remove the water hyacinths with just manual labor,” Datu Piang Vice Mayor Victor Samama said.
Workers from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), under Maguindanao 2nd District Engineer James Mlok, and the LGU of Datu Piang have been working around the clock removing the 10-hectare wide water hyacinths since last week. They used farm tools and chainsaws to remove the water hyacinths so the water can flow again along the river.
Officials said the size of the area clogged with water hyacinths has increased from four to 10 hectares as of last week that built up into islets.
The water hyacinths stop below the Datu Sajid Ampatuan Bridge in Dansalan River, the border of Datu Piang, Maguindanao and Midsayap, North Cotabato.
The river is part of the larger Pulangi River, one of the tributaries of Rio Grande de Mindanao, also known as the Mindanao Rivers. Surrounding it are areas where the radical jihadist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) also have their lairs.
On Friday, Brig. Gen. Arnel dela Vega, commanding officer of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said troops were deployed in Datu Piang three days ago to help in the removal of water plants.
The Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front also committed to send their fighters for the same humanitarian cause accompanied by the Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH).
Also helping in the drive are personnel from the Office of Civil Defense of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Accordingly, the manual remedy was temporarily stopped on Wednesday when Datu Piang Mayor Genuine Kamaong proposed the immediate acquisition of dredging machines to remove the water hyacinths.
The provincial government has already procured two huge dredging machines as part of its initiatives to solve the recurring problem of flooding in Maguindanao.
Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu said “personnel from the technical team are still undergoing training to operate the dredging machines and the trainees could not take responsibility if something went not right in the process.”
The province of Maguindanao, which literally means “land of flooded plains,” has been suffering from frequent heavy floods and combating the green menace for decades. Several long-term plans were designed after the worst disasters in 2011 and 2014.
The past national government administrations have allocated P6.9-billion to the Mindanao River Basin Rehabilitation and Development Project which fund is being handled by the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA).
Meanwhile, ARMM Executive Secretary Laisa Alamia said the ARMM is also eyeing another project to be funded by the People’s Republic of China that includes the proposed “installation of a water-control system” in different rivers.
Maguindanao Provincial Engineer Abdulrahman Asim said controlling the water in the 220,000-hectare Liguasan Marsh – a catch basin for more than a dozen large rivers that spring from the provinces of Bukidnon, Maguindanao, South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat – must be considered to prevent the supplying rivers to drain specially during the dry season.
JULMUNIR I. JANNARAL