MANILA - Senators on Thursday called out an Environment department official for saying that reforestation efforts and a crusade against illegal logging and quarrying in the Marikina Watershed would not help solve flooding woes in low-lying areas in Metro Manila.
Wilfredo Moncano, director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Bureau of Mines and Geosciences, told senators that even if the government plants "10-year-old tress" and stop "all urban development and quarrying" activities at the Marikina watershed, flooding would still occur in Marikina and nearby areas as the area is too small to hold heavy downpour during such typhoons as last month's Ulysses.
"Na-shock ako sa inyong department kasi parang sinasabi niyo, pabayaan na lang kasi hindi kaya 'pag parang Typhoon Ulysses," Senate Committee on Environment chair Cynthia Villar said in a Senate hearing.
(I am shocked because it's like your department is saying to just let things be because if it's something similar to Typhoon Ulysses, no intervention is effective to mitigate any impact.)
"Don't make statements like that...because if the DENR is not bent on protecting our watershed, who will?" she said.
"Your primary responsibility is to protect the environment. You should not say things like that... You should always be for the environment, not to justify the destruction of the environment."
Senators Risa Hontiveros and Imee Marcos expressed their disbelief that a DENR official would say that tree-planting efforts are useless in saving the Marikina Watershed.
"Medyo hinimatay tayo na ang DENR, surrender na," Marcos said.
(We nearly fainted after learning that the DENR said it has given up.)
"I could not believe it also. It would seem to be an argument setting up to fail doon sa pagprotekata ng (in protecting the) watershed," Hontiveros said.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said that while the DENR is keen on protecting watersheds in the country, officials have yet to discuss technicalities on how much water each area could hold.
The committee will file a resolution expressing dissent against the DENR's statement that stopping quarrying activities in the the Marikina Watershed would not help solve flooding woes in the capital region.
"That statement would make all our efforts in protecting protected areas useless," Villar said.
"It should not come from the DENR... You let the other departments say that, but not you. You should be for the environment," she added.
The Marikina Watershed has long been considered as Metro Manila's "first line of defense" against rainwater from strong storms.
Several public and private groups have been pushing to keep quarrying companies and "professional squatters" off the Marikina Watershed to mitigate the deluge in low-lying Marikina City, especially during the typhoon season.
Netizens have also joined the call to restore the Marikina Watershed after Typhoon Ulysses' onslaught last month swamped homes, forcing thousands of residents to either flee to evacuation centers or escape to their houses' roofs.