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Worst flooding in decades: Cagayan Valley’s turn to cry for help

It is Cagayan Valley’s turn to cry for help as the swollen Cagayan River submerged many barangays along its banks that led to the region’s worst flooding in decades.

As heavy rains brought by Typhoon Ulysses (Vamco) inundated the region, Magat Dam has opened seven of its floodgates since Thursday, further swelling the country’s biggest river system and bringing near unprecedented flooding of communities from Central Isabela all the way to Aparri, Cagayan.

Infographic by PDRRMC Isabela

Hundreds of victims have spent days on their roofs, crying out to be rescued or be brought drinking water and food.

Local government units seemed overwhelmed and powerless, admitting they lack the equipment and personnel to deal with the crisis.

Even the region’s economic center, Tuguegarao City in Cagayan Province, is hard hit by the flooding with several of its barangays submerged in 15 feet of flood.

Water level reached as high as 13 meters at the city’s Buntun Bridge and the mighty river looked like the Pacific Ocean, Cagayan Provincial Risk Reduction and Management Office chief Ascio Macalan said on ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo.

Cagayan Provincial Risk Reduction Management Management Council (PDRRMC) reported eight deaths, and five injuries due to the flooding as of Saturday morning.

In a separate radio interview, Cagayan governor Manuel Mamba said several portions of the Maharlika Highway are impassable, hampering rescue and relief operations on nearly all municipalities located along the banks of the Cagayan River.

The local executive said that aside from the excess water continuously being released by the Dam, all from the Sierra Madre, Caraballo and Cordillera mountain ranges drain into the Cagayan River, worsening the flooding.

Cagayan River was already swollen due to incessant rains since Supertyphoon Rolly, and Typhoons Sonia and Tonyo.

“It has been two weeks since this (flooding) started,” the governor said.

Mamba said he already asked the Provincial Board to be declared Cagayan under a state of calamity, admitting that its calamity fund has already been exhausted from its coronavirus pandemic operations and earlier floods.

In San Pablo, Isabela, Barangay Auitan residents report of the worst flooding since the early 1980s and complain of lack of rescue and relief operations.

Residents with single-storey houses have evacuated to houses with upper floors but many victims have remained on their roofs, neighbors with boats failing to rescue them due to strong currents.

Flooding in San Pablo, Isabela. (Photo by Ninz Khalifa Mesa)

Some victims have been wet and hungry for at least two days already.

Only two Magat Dam floodgates remain open as of Saturday morning and the flood has receded by three inches, relatives of victims said on Facebook.

#CagayanNeedsHelp and #IsabelaNeedsHelp have trended on Twitter, highlighting the desperation of victims and their worried relatives in Metro Manila.

Rescue and relief plans have yet to be announced by the national government, still busy with similar operations in the Bicol, Southern Tagalog (ST), Central Luzon and National Capital Region (NCR).

Typhoon Ulysses floods in Northern Rizal Province, Marikina, as well as parts of Bulacan Province and other NCR provinces have exceeded 2009’s Tropical Storm Ondoy, reports said, overstretching rescue and relief operations of both local and national governments.

Meanwhile, several church groups and activist organizations have begun their relief operations in affected areas in Bicol, ST and NCR on top of bringing relief to the victims of the massive fire in Bacoor, Cavite at the height of Super Typhoon Rolly. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Governor apologizes after accusing teachers of ‘doing nothing’

Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba was forced to issue an apology following his accusation that teachers are doing less work with the government’s blended learning scheme.

Mamba told radio station DZRH Saturday that “teachers are simply enjoying themselves at home and receiving salaries without working.”

Mamba added that he thinks that the government is being shortchanged and hinted that teachers’ salaries may be slashed soon.

Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) president Joselyn Fegalan said Mamba had no right to accuse teachers of doing less work as teachers are in fact burdened by greater workload due to the Department of Education’s blended learning scheme.

“Teachers deserve an apology. You go back to that radio station and say sorry,” Fegalan said.

Mamba is ignorant of the situation of teachers even in his home province, ACT secretary general Raymond Basilio added.

“It seems he does not know that many teachers spend their already inadequate salaries to buy paper, laptops, printers and ink because the government has yet to fully provide these,” he said.

“Gov, it’s World Teachers Day on Monday (today, October 5) and this is your message to them? Is this how you thank them?” Basilio asked.

The Student Council of the University of the Philippines College of Education also condemned Mamba’s remarks as “patently insensitive, infuriating and disrespectful of the teachers’ effort to educate amid the pandemic.”

‘Just being fatherly’

Mamba in a statement Sunday he is sorry and did not mean to hurt any teacher, adding he wanted to challenge everyone with his remarks.

In another DZRH interview Sunday, Mamba said he has high regard for teachers as shown by his administration’s involvement of teachers in provincial government projects.

Mamba added he was just being fatherly in lecturing just as he was in admitting mistakes.

A source from Mamba’s camp told Kodao that the interviewer did not give the governor a chance to fully explain what he meant as the interview was at its end. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Cagayanos want blacksand mining ‘disguised as dredging’ stopped

By ACE ALEGRE
www.nordis.net

BAGUIO CITY — Cagayanos asked President Rodrigo Duterte’s help in stopping dredging activities at the mouth of Cagayan River they said is “disguised” magnetite mining.

The Cagayan Province Provincial Board approved last August 7 a resolution asking the president to suspend the dredging operations at the mouth of the Cagayan River in Aparri town.

This came after the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) confirmed that it did not issue any dredging permit to the private firm involved in the dredging.

Pacific Offshore Exploration Inc.  (POEI), a firm owned by a former Isabela town mayor, has been dredging the country’s biggest river system for months.

The company reportedly ships the dredged materials to a reclamation project in Hong Kong and may earn about $50 million monthly if it sells the sand at current local prices, according to the resolution.

A cubic meter of sand in Cagayan is being sold at P160 to P180.

The exportation of black sand to Hong Kong was met with protests from locals.

Provincial Board member and resolution author Mila Lauigan said the deal with the dredgers has to be investigated.

“That is why we are appealing to the President to immediately suspend the dredging operations and inquire whether the company has complied with all the requirements before it proceeds,” Lauigan said.

According to the provincial legislator, “the contractor is only extracting black sand and leaves waste (non-mineral sand) material back into the river.”

It is reason why environmentalists and locals are raising heaven and hell [while] Gov. Manuel Mamba had been defending POEI’s operations amidst the environmental mess it has been causing, she said.

Mamba’s camp had been defending the dredging operation they said is meant to prepare for the reopening the Port of Aparri.

Mamba said the port’s reopening would improve economic and trade relations between Cagayan province and China as well as neighboring Asian countries.

Mamba, who entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with Pacific Offshore Exploration Inc. (POEI) under the authority of a resolution passed by the Cagayan Provincial Board last January, insists there is only dredging activities in the area and not magnetite (black sand) mining.

The provincial board has yet to be shown a copy of the memorandum of agreement between Mamba and POEI.

Mamba’s camp said there is no economic value to the exportation and the dredging activities help clear the river of heavy silt for free.

Engr. Mario Ancheta of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau agreed with the governor that there is no mining but dredging operations that should be sanctioned by the DPWH.

“There is sand extraction, but it is not mining but dredging,” Ancheta said.

The Cagayan Export Zone Authority (CEZA), meanwhile, had been silent on the controversial dredging and “exporting” of the dredged sand to HK.

Immigration officials and the maritime police in Cagayan are also silent on the presence of foreign workers on the sand barges regularly approaching the shores of Aparri town. # (With additional reports from Raymund B. Villanueva) nordis.net / Photo from Gising Cagayan Facebook Page

Cagayan execs urge new Ceza chief: probe Port Irene ‘skeletons’

Report and photo by Melvin Gascon

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya—Local leaders in Cagayan recently called on the newly-installed administrator of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza) to launch an “honest-to-goodness” investigation of supposed irregularities in the operations of its freeport in Santa Ana town.

Gov.  Manuel Mamba urged lawyer Raul Lambino, who took his oath as new Ceza administrator last July 24, to immediately order a probe “to stop all illegal activities and corruption perpetuated by the past administration.”

The governor said the new Ceza chief should reassess the viability of Port Irene as an international port, the operations of which, he said, have been marred by allegations of corruption.

“Billions of public funds have been poured into Port Irene, for which only a pittance was derived by government in the last 23 years of its existence, and for which transparency and accountability in its operation is seriously demanded,” Mamba said. 

Bloated

Port Irene is the main port of the CSEZFP in Casambalangan village in Santa Ana, which for several years became the hub of two of Ceza’s controversial industries: used car importation and export of magnetite sand.

It is also the location of the P5-billion breakwater project, for which the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago raised red flags in a Senate expose for alleged overpricing, having been constructed by a firm linked to Senator Juan Ponce Enrile. 

Enrile was the main author of Republic Act 7922, the law which created CEZA and declared inclusion of the entire Santa Ana town and two island territories of Aparri town within the economic zone. 

Enrile’s daughter, Katrina, sits as a Ceza board director.

In 2013, the sale of second-hand vehicles at the Cagayan freeport was stopped after the Bureau of Customs clamped down on the trade by refusing to process their release and registration papers, citing a Supreme Court ruling earlier nullifying an executive order Ceza used as basis for the importations.

The shutdown led to the eventual wastage of about 900 second-hand vehicles imported from Japan and Korea, which until today are left rotting in a five-hectare car depot in Casambalangan.

The shipping of magnetite sand, meanwhile, was halted in 2014 following the departure of several Chinese firms earlier given what critics described as “dubious” permits to extract black sand (magnetite) from the coastal and riverbank communities of northern Cagayan.

Wasted

According to government records, Chinese firms shipped out more than 2.4 million tons of magnetite from Cagayan to China through Port Irene for a period of five years, from 2009 to 2014.

Two of its biggest licensees for its gambling operations, Eastern Hawaii Gaming and Leisure and Meridien Vista Gaming Corp., have been dragged in suits and investigations over alleged money laundering and illegal gambling operations.

Ceza-issued working visas were also cited at a Senate investigation last year for their involvement in alleged human trafficking, economic sabotage and bribery charges against Chinese gambling operator Jack Lam.

“(The previous use of Port Irene) has been a waste of opportunity and government funds in its 23 years of existence. We have to look for a new alternative port that is more secure, and can allow the entry of bigger ships with international routes,” Mamba said.

Santa Ana Mayor Darwin Tobias, for his part, also said Lambino should first clean up the mess that was left behind by his predecessor, to “start with a clean slate.”

“He should be wary whom he trusts (within Ceza) because there are some people there who are behind all the anomalies that hounded the agency for many years,” he said.

Tobias, who sits as a member of the Ceza board, expressed hope, however, of having “better” working relations with Lambino. 

Ceza and the Santa Ana government have perennially been at odds over conflicts of policies between officials, mainly between Tobias and Jose Mari Ponce, the former Ceza administrator and Lambino’s predecessor.

Things came to a head in 2013 when Ponce’s son lost to Tobias in a hotly-contested mayoralty race.

Upon taking up his post, Lambino, in a press statement, announced his plans of repairing Port Irene, the dredging of its “heavily silted” seabed, and the construction of additional wharves “to expand its capacity.”

“As the President’s personal choice, I will lead by example and turn the (CSEZFP) into his vision of a vibrant economic growth center that is efficient and clean and free of corruption,” said Lambino, described as “a stalwart” of President Duterte’s party”, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino Lakas ng Bayan (PDP Laban).

He vowed to transform CSEZFP “into a bustling economic growth center and tourist destination and a major trans-shipment and logistics hub in Northern Luzon.” #

Cagayan police abducts farmer; AFP harasses peasants opposing rubber plantation

CAGAYAN peasant group Kagimungan condemned the abduction of farmer leader Sofronio Pascua last July 17 in Tuguegarao City.

Pascua was arrested by four men in civilian clothing he suspected were police officer at one o’clock in the afternoon Monday.

“They trained a gun at me while ordering me to raise my hands. They forcibly took my phone and money away. They did not give me back my money,” Pascua said.

He later told Kagimungan members he was forced to lie face down inside a police vehicle and was beaten before being taken to a building in a secluded place.

While inside the vehicle, his abductors also took away his bag containing important documents and other personal property, Pascua said.

He said there were police officers in uniform around the safe house where he was taken and interrogated for about an hour.

Pascua was released after an hour without explanation without charges.

The victim is a resident of Barangay Banguian, Abulug, Cagayan where he is the local Anakpawis chapter leader. He is active in their group’s campaign for land distribution to poor farmers, Kagimungan said.

“This is clearly a human rights violation that shows the real face of the Duterte regime’s all-out war. The regime targets civilians, especially members of progressive and patriotic organizations,” Kagimungan’s Roderick Deric said.

Greening program as landgrabbing

Meanwhile, the peasant group also complained of ongoing military surveillance and harassments against farmers opposed to the government’s National Greening Program (NGP) projects in Baggao, Cagayan.

The group said elements of the 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army conducted surveillance operations in Sitio Kagurungan, Baranggay Awallan at Sitio Reggaay, Barangay Hacienda Intal last July 15 to intimidate six farmer leaders opposing the NGP.

The farmers are opposing the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) plans to plant rubber trees under the NGP.

“This is simply land-grabbing as the lands they have identified have already been cultivated by the residents for generations,” Kagimungan-Baggao spokesperson Pacencia Mercado said.

The DENR and the local government unit have earlier held a consultation in Sitio Reggaay and promised the residents scholarships for students and medical assistance to farmers in exchange for the use of their lands.

“But the project could only mean the permanent loss of livelihood of the farmers,” Mercado said.

Kagimungan said they also received information that a military camp would soon be built in Sitio Reggaay because of the farmers’ ongoing campaign for land and opposition to the establishment of a rubber tree plantation.

“We have won over many other anti-farmer projects in the past. We are confident we will defeat these new schemes again,” Mercado added. # (Deo Montesclaros and Patricia Anne Lactao Guerrero)