GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – A Sarangani province town was placed under state of calamity after floods from overflowing rivers devastated the municipality early this week.
The Maitum town council approved the declaration in a measure passed on Thursday, March 10.
Maitum Mayor Alexander Bryan Reganit said the local government approved the official declaration to allow it to use funds reserved for calamity situations. These funds have been earmarked to aid farmers who lost crops and livestock, and to cushion the impact of damages to vital public infrastructure in the town.
He said heavy rains the past few days triggered rampaging murky floodwaters from the Pangi and Kalaong Rivers, inundating more than a dozen villages along the riverbanks and forcing mass evacuations on Tuesday, March 8.
Beth Ramos, a local environmental protection advocate, said the government should start looking into what caused the rivers to overflow instead of just blaming it on bad weather. The rivers, she said, have not been known to overflow in recent years.
Ramos said there were illegal logging activities in the hinterlands, particularly along the boundaries of Maitum and the towns of Kiamba in Sarangani, and Lake Sebu in South Cotabato province.
“We are all stewards of the environment. Mother Nature is getting back at us for the many years that we have taken for granted her call for the protection and sustainability of our natural resources,” she said.
Raganit said initial conservative estimates placed the damages to agriculture and infrastructure in the western Sarangani town at P200 million.
Floodwaters also destroyed three bridges in the town, overwhelmed roads, and destroyed 2,000 houses in many farming and fishing villages.
Villages badly affected by the floods are:
- New La Union
- Old Poblacion
The Pangi River, once considered as one of the country’s cleanest rivers, turned muddy as it rampaged downstream, sweeping away houses, damaging roads and bridges, and isolating communities from the town center.
Officials said floodwaters swept away at least 100 houses along Pangi and Kalaong rivers.
Reganit said the town government also estimated damages to crops and livestock at P50 million.
With Maitum under a state of calamity, the local government can use its P4.5-million calamity fund to help the affected families, many of whom failed to save their belongings.
As of last count, 700 families have evacuated to safer grounds, Reganit said.
The declaration also allows authorities to impose a price freeze on basic goods. The local government instructed the police to help make sure that price controls are observed by traders.
Rene Punzalan, head of the Sarangani Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office, said they were monitoring the situation and were in close contact with town officials because rains continued to pour as of Thursday.
Punzalan said they also evacuated several residents from the towns of Kiamba and Alabel due to the flooding.
In nearby Lake Sebu town in South Cotabato, over 100 residents evacuated on Wednesday as floodwaters wiped away houses in the upland town, Mayor Floro Gandam said.
He said the heavy downpour the past days also triggered landslides that isolated villages. – Rappler.com
Rommel Rebollido is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship