DENR launches watershed protection campaign seven months after Cagayan flooding nightmare

Published June 30, 2021, 1:30 PM

by Ellson Quismorio

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) launched on Wednesday, June 30 a watershed protection drive that was arguably triggered by the massive flooding experienced by Cagayan Valley last year at the hands of typhoon “Ulysses”.

DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu (Screengrab from Zoom meeting)

No less than DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu led the virtual launch of the Save Our Watershed (SOW) campaign on the last day of Philippine Environment Month.

“Let us be constantly reminded that appropriate stewardship is needed in our watersheds…it is on this premise that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is launching today a national campaign to save our watersheds,” Cimatu said in his speech.

According to Cimatu, there are “more than 130 critical watersheds in the country that desperately need immediate protection and rehabilitation to minimize erosion and improve water yield.” “Watersheds do two things: if we have a lot of rain, it will prevent flooding, possibly. If there are no rains or typhoons, the water in the watershed as the reservoir will now become small streams and small creeks that will run to the river,” he explained.

(Screengrab from Zoom meeting)

A key partner of the DENR in the endeavor is the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). Eigo Azukizawa, JICA-Philippine office chief, was on hand during the mixed live and online event.

“We also like to point out another important reason for launching this campaign, which is to stress the importance and role of watershed especially for a country that is hit by an average of 20 typhoons or tropical depressions annually,” he said.

“Time and time again we are reminded of how destructive these typhoons are such as the case when typhoon Ulysses hit the Philippines last November 2020,” Azukizawa noted.

He said the flooding of Cagayan affected three million people and caused an estimated P10 billion worth of damages in both agriculture and infrastructure. He said that the incident is “one that we want to prevent from happening again in the future.”

JICA-Philippine office chief Eigo Azukizawa (Screengrab from Zoom meeting)

“In the aftermath of this typhoon, many key issues were identified as contributing factors in one of the worst flooding ever to happen in Cagayan region. And one of these reasons is the continuing forest degradation and logging of native species in watersheds that are expected to retain soil and regulate water in the area,” Azukizawa said.

DENR-Forest Management Bureau (FMB) director, Assistant Secretary Marcial Amaro Jr., said the agency’s objective with the SOW is “to propose through an executive issuance a formal document that would serve as a basis for a more less harmonized, uniform approach toward managing and protecting sustaining the services provided by our watersheds.” Amaro said the DENR is already drafting a proposed executive order to that effect.

What it all boils down to, according to Cimatu, is finding ways to protect watersheds from degradation and abuse.

“How will we save our watersheds? We have to protect it. We should not cut any trees in the watershed. That’s the reason why it is a protected area. A protected area should not be abused, meaning there should be no cutting. If we have to add trees, then we have to add,” he said.

“The trees that we will plant should not be cut forever,” Cimatu stressed.