Arroyo to Aquino: Look into Mindanao River basin project

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Friday, June 24, 2011

DAVAO CITY -- Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo urged the Aquino administration to look into the Mindanao River basin program, the project that was initially carried out during her term, to address flood problems in Cotabato City.

Apart from the floods caused by the erratic weather, the water level in Cotabato villages remains high because of the water hyacinths clogging the Rio Grande de Mindanao, the second largest river in the country.

Arroyo, who is now congresswoman representing Pampanga, said the project was the long-term solution proposed by Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo then.


Quevedo currently chairs the Presidential Task Force on Mindanao River Basin Rehabilitation and Development Program.

"I released I think P50 million for the master plan and some elements of the master plan that could be carried out have already been carried out but just as this one, this has to be an ongoing project," Arroyo said during a press conference at his hometown in Lubao, Pampanga.

"I read that the people in Cotabato were asking for solution; there is a solution and it's being done by Archbishop Quevedo if they would support to continue the work," she added.

Arroyo likened the Mindanao River basin program with the flood control program in her hometown in Pampanga, an area that was affected by floods and mudflows for several years after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo 20 years ago.

The former President, however, said that for the plan to work, the government must pour in more funds because unlike the flood control project in Pampanga, the Mindanao River basin program has no foreign counterpart.

When asked about the Aquino administration's reported plans of cancelling some foreign-assisted projects her administration entered into, the congresswoman said "it's not so much about how I feel. It's what the investors feel. I think they're the ones who are talking."

Arroyo does not intend to ask her successor to continue projects to be financed with official development assistance (ODA).

"I don't give unsolicited advice," she said. "Are they followed? Or are they responded to with respect even if let's say it's not followed?"

Last Wednesday, Cotabato City Mayor Japal Guiani castigated the visiting President Benigno Aquino III for the National Government's alleged neglect to help the flood victims, and for apparently failing to provide immediate and long-term solution to the recurring flood problem of the city.

President Aquino belied the mayor's claim.

In his speech in the launching of Gawad Kalinga Center for Social Innovations Social Enterprise Movement on Friday, Aquino said Guiani seemed deaf for being unable to hear the solutions he presented during his meeting with local officials in Cotabato.

Enough assistance has been provided by the National Government to the province, he said.

Despite the mayor's comment, Aquino assured the people of Cotabato of continuing solution to their problem, particularly the removal of water hyacinths along Rio Grande de Mindanao River.

Aquino, meanwhile, found an ally in Maguindanao and Cotabato City Representative Bai Sema, who testified that the President indeed provided sufficient assistance to the flood-ravaged province.

"President Aquino has responded to our call for help in the Cotabato City and Maguindanao flood situation," said Sema.

She also recalled that when she informed the President last June 11 about the situation in their province, the President immediately called Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson for help.

She said the President's visit in Cotabato City on June 22 was a demonstration of his genuine concern for the people of the flood stricken province.

Need volunteers

Meanwhile, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Soccsksargen needs more volunteers to help the rising number of flood victims in Cotabato City, officials said Friday.

Zorahayda T. Taha, DSWD-Soccsksargen director, placed the number of flood-affected families inside evacuation centers at 9,077 families or 45,385 individuals, up from last Saturday's 6,107 families or an estimated 30,535 persons.

"We need more volunteers for the repacking of food items," she said.

Bonifacio Selma, DSWD-Soccsksargen Disaster Response, Monitoring and Crisis Intervention Unit head, said the volunteers needed for Cotabato City may run to at least 70, as there are flood victims also outside of evacuation centers in the area.

He placed the latest figure of flood victims who sought refuge with their relatives at 18,947 families or 108,914 individuals.

There are at least 39 evacuation centers across Cotabato City for victims of the flooding, Taha said.

But many more have built makeshift tents along the roads because the refugee centers could not accommodate them, she added.

The flooding in Cotabato City has been blamed on the accumulation of water hyacinths or water lilies along the Rio Grande de Mindanao River.

Selma, meantime, took exceptions to reports that relief goods for the flood victims have not been distributed and are being stock piled.

He said the agency distributes every day food packs but because of lack of manpower, they could not deliver them all to the flood victims.

Selma said they have food supplies enough to meet the needs of the flood victims for the next 10 days, reiterating that they need volunteers to repack the items.

As of their latest monitoring, Selma said there's a total of 76,559 families or 382,788 individuals still affected by floods in the whole Soccsksargen Region.

North Cotabato has 37,421 affected families from 11 towns, he added.

Livelihood training

As the number of displaced families and individuals is increasing, the government has prepared an emergency livelihood assistance program worth P300,000 for the flood-stricken residents in Cotabato, the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) announced on Thursday.

The agency will also hire 100 workers to help decongest clogged waterways in the city, particularly the Rio Grande de Mindanao River.

The funds will come from the department's adjustment measure fund, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said in a statement.

For its part, the local government of Cotabato is looking to donate P254,000 for the program, she added.

"I have also directed our Dole Regional Office in Soccsksargen to provide additional intervention to alleviate the plight of the workers in the area," she said.

The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) will also conduct training program that will help affected residents convert water hyacinths into fashion accessories.

Local residents are invited to apply for the free training program, Tesda Director General Joel Villanueva said in a separate statement.

Priority will be given to flood victims in the area so that they can be trained to turn the plant's dried fibers into slippers, shoes, mats, bags and other home decorations and furnishing, he added.

"The flooding in Cotabato that was caused by water lilies will give us opportunity to turn calamity into employment-generating activities and livelihood program for our people as we will turn the tons of green menace into green products," Villanueva said. (With FP/AMN/Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 25, 2011.

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