Annual inundation in Calumpit
CALUMPIT, Bulacan, is one of the first places outside Manila that I came to know because it is my father’s hometown.
I remember visiting Calumpit at least twice during the year when I was young: June 24 to celebrate the town fiesta and Nov. 1 to visit my grandfather’s grave. I’d look forward to eating fried hito (catfish), ulang (freshwater shrimp) in sour broth despite my allergy to it, and gatas ng kalabaw (carabao’s milk) which went well with steamed rice, banana, and a little salt to taste. I brag about the place as producing one of the best garlic longganisa (sausage) in Luzon, which is at par with, if not surpasses, the taste of what Lucban and Vigan produce.
Calumpit has been in the news lately, albeit for something unpleasant. Rains brought by Typhoon “Lando,” which flowed from Nueva Ecija and Pampanga River, caused enormous floods in the town. Twenty-five villages remained flooded six days after Lando hit Northern and Central Luzon. Some 550 families in Northville 9 (a government relocation area) reportedly evacuated to the barangay multipurpose hall and to the school grounds, which were also flooded. Some parts of MacArthur Highway, including the Calumpit-Pulilan and Calumpit-Hagonoy roads, were impassable to all types of vehicles. As of this writing, paddy fields remain underwater.
In 2011 when Typhoons “Pedring” and “Quiel” battered Central Luzon consecutively within two months, thousands of families in Calumpit and nearby towns experienced neck-deep floods due to the rains, bursting dikes and the release of water from dams that had reached critical levels. The monsoon rains (habagat) in August 2012 also resulted in floods that stayed for weeks even when the weather had turned sunny. Bulacan officials reported that 21 villages in Hagonoy and 11 in Obando were under two feet of water, while 29 villages in Calumpit had to endure floods as high as six feet.
Floods have become an annual occurrence in Calumpit and nearby towns. In an effort to goad local and national authorities into proper and immediate action, a concerned citizen of Malolos and Calumpit wrote the Department of Public Works and Highways in 2003 about the local government’s grant of permission to build Calumpit Institute on a natural drainage. The construction resulted in the reduced flow of waters toward Calumpit River, consequently raising the level of floods and retaining them for a longer period.
DPWH Central Luzon promptly responded with a recommendation addressed to the municipal mayor and Calumpit Institute and involving the “provision of sufficient cross-drain/pipe culvert from MNR (Manila North Road) to the C.I. construction site … to preclude worsening of the situation in the future…”
True enough, the floods worsened after 2003. Previously ankle-deep, the waters even on the highways rose to waist-high level and took longer to recede. Instead of installing pipes and clearing the waterways as a mitigating measure, the local government apparently even allowed several constructions, including a mini-mall, on lots immediately adjoining the eastern shoulder of MacArthur Highway from the latter’s confluence with Pulilan-Calumpit Highway. Such structures, spanning some 300 meters, occupied lots that were precisely the bed on which water flowed through passages under MacArthur Highway and the railroad tracks. There are also four small bridges built on MacArthur Highway under which floodwaters are supposed to pass, but owing to the structures, are now blocked from flowing to Calumpit River.
Eight years later in the aftermath of Pedring and Quiel, another mail exchange occurred
between the concerned citizen and the local and national offices of the DPWH. The Office of the Regional Director of DPWH Central Luzon filed an inspection report validating the insufficient waterways caused by buildings and houses, and reiterating the provision for cross-drains/pipes to effectively drain accumulated floodwaters from upstream.
Another report prepared by the Bulacan (first district) Engineering Office of the DPWH corroborated the presence of structures, encroachments and water hyacinths on the waterways of Labangan Bridge (Nos. 2-6) which hampered the flow of water especially during calamities and flooding incidents. The same report cited the Sangguniang Bayan’s October 2006 resolution declaring Labangan Bridge No. 5 (located in Barangay Caniogan, Calumpit) a public nuisance. Instead of directing attention to the problem of constricted waterways and lenient issuance of building permits, it was strange that the Sangguniang Bayan passed a resolution that regarded a bridge as the problem.
The two reports recommended the removal of the obstructions on canals and waterways pursuant to relevant provisions in the Water Code of the Philippines, and the strict enforcement by local governments of regulations on the issuance of building and site development permits, particularly the provision of easement on waterways and setbacks along national roads.
One of the last communications related to this ordeal came from DPWH Central Luzon to the department’s undersecretary for operations. It stated that the recent public works on the MNR and Labangan Bridge were part of the DPWH’s long-term plan to upgrade the road and make it a reliable transport route for the delivery of goods and services in times of calamity. It was not at all conceived to address the flooding in Calumpit.
Meanwhile, the people of Calumpit are not complaining. They seem to have accepted this annual inundation and its consequences on their daily life, and say that they have gotten used to it. On the other hand, they can always choose not to be complacent, and decisively demand corrective as well as preventive actions from their local officials.
They can begin by becoming active themselves in their communities, and by choosing the right leaders/public servants come the 2016 elections.
Gemma Rita R. Marin is the executive director of John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues.
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