Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The former DENR secretary Gina Lopez warned us about flooding the magnitude of Typhoon Ulysses.
In a now-widely shared Facebook post in 2017, the late cabinet secretary shared photos of the denuded area near the Marikina Watershed. The photos were accompanied by a short plea for urgency regarding the importance of rehabilitating the area. She said, “As long as there is quarrying there and the Marikina Watershed is denuded, the Pasig River water will be brown!! And it will become more and more shallow — and it will cause flooding in Metro Manila! It is imperative that the Marikina Watershed is reforested!!!!!”
Lopez’s use of many exclamation points can be gleaned OA if you were just casually reading it in 2017. But given the events of the last week, it’s Lopez’s sounding the last alarm for a dire situation that needed to be fixed years ago.
The onslaught of Typhoon Ondoy in 2009 has prompted more attention to the precarious geography of Marikina. Proclamation No. 296, s. 2011 upgraded the status of the Marikina watershed and was declared a protected area, referred to as the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscape. The DENR website has cited several issues and problems, including “improper land uses, management and allocation, rapid population growth, rapid urban development, and depleting water resources.”
Efforts for the reforestation of the watershed have been continuing throughout the years, with big companies pitching in with tree planting, fun runs to raise funds, and other similar activities. Yet, a wholesale effort to restore the area’s ecosystem is still needed. Issues such as land grabbing, quarrying, and fencing off areas important to the conservation overtake the efforts to save the watershed — which spans from the Sierra Madre in Rizal to the Pasig River.
The Environmental Science for Social Change released historical mapping data of the Marikina Valley in 2010, pointing out specific changes in its geography that has led to its delicate state — keeping in mind that Marikina is a flood zone owing to its natural shape (“This flooding potential lay dormant, but scientifically is no surprise; it is just a question of when.”) According to data from the ESSC, by 1997, only 8% of the original marshland remained in the original 11.23 square kilometers. An area that used to be only for rice and mangroves has been transformed into an industrial valley with subdivisions and factories.
“The powerful public or private operating dams need much more critical integration with the life and the land downstream. We need to build dams that we can manage at times of risk, otherwise this development only undermines the life of the poor and destroys the little security they have,” the report pleaded.
Here, photojournalist Jake Verzosa captures the dire aftermath of the typhoon in several areas in Marikina and Pasig, urgently reminding us that there is much work to be done to save and conserve the area.