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Sendong’s Christmastime Message

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It is easy especially for the victims to ask with anger or bitterness where God is amid the horrific tragedy wreaked by tropical depression Sendong upon northern Mindanao, especially at this time when people are supposed to be joyfully celebrating Christmas.  But yes, God is quite present in this tragedy, because Sendong is his message to tell us – all earthlings, in fact -  to take better care of His creation, of Nature.

The experts are in agreement that Sendong’s flashfloods, which wiped out villages and over a thousand lives in a flash in  the night of December 16, was an apocalypse waiting to happen.   The mountains surrounding hard-hit Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities have been considerably denuded by illegal logging.  The topography of these cities is such that flashfloods from their mountains can instantly inundate the low-lying residential areas – as it did disastrously. 

Zamboanga City’s topography and state of surrounding deforestation is not very different  from Cagayan de Oro’s.  Similarly, urbanization has clogged most of the natural waterways in our lowland areas, which is the reason why any heavy but relatively short  raining results in instant flooding of urban barangays like Tugbungan and San Jose Gusu.  Just imagine then how a rain of biblical proportion – like Sendong’s – could bring catastrophic damage to our city’s downtown areas.  The wildly swinging weather extremes brought about by the global warming phenomenon makes this possibility a real prospect.  Like it or not, going by the fast-changing weather pattern the Sendong tragedy can happen anytime in our city.

It will take a lot to counter or mitigate this threat.   Defensive action would require the relocation of the hundreds if not thousands of families living precariously along river banks by providing them with low-cost or subsidized housing in safer grounds.  Another would be a local government  and multi-sectoral initiative of a socialized, massive reforestation program that will enable  the many poor upland farmers to earn alternatively by planting trees and stop them from cutting down vegetations for household firewood  or for sale or for kaingin farming.   A third strategy is engineering:  improve the lowland drainage system to allow the swift and easy outflow of any massive rainwater. (As the glaciers around the world continue to melt fast because of global warming, the rates of rainfall around the world will proportionally continue to increase.)

According to the news, the President during his ocular inspection of the devastations in northern Mindanao has ordered an investigation to pinpoint culpabilities behind the tragedy.  The investigation should not just result in finger-pointing but instead in concrete action to prevent a similar recurrence.  For us people in Mindanao, the need for re-building environmental peace with Nature after Sendong is both obvious and urgent.  

To resolve and plan to take individual and collective action to prevent a Sendong-like tragedy from happening again in Mindanao would be our best gift to each other and especially to our children this Christmas.  And so with hearts full of faith and hope, let ours be a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

By Rey Luis Banagudos





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