Mayor of Cagayan town appeals to leaders: Heed science to save drowning towns

Alcala, Cagayan courtesy of Mayor Tin Antonio

A recent study found that the “mountains, slopes and watersheds in the whole Cagayan Valley have been stripped of native trees that hold soil and regulate water release.”


NAGUILIAN, Isabela — In Cagayan province, most of the towns remain in deep flood due to rains brought by the past six typhoons. The flooding in parts of Alcala and neighboring towns that sit right next to the Cagayan River, however, began to trouble residents and authorities there since last year.

In a post via social media, Mayor Tin Antonio of Alcala, Cagayan said that after six of their barangays were totally submerged in December 2019, they turned to Filipino scientists for answers. The result of the study conducted from July to September 2020 now becomes the blueprint to save their drowning towns.

After months of research, Dr. Fernando Siringan, former director of the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP MSI) and UP geologist Keanu Jershon Sarmiento explained that the location of Alcala town in the region is a factor why immense flooding happened there.

“The Pared River coming from Baggao and the Sierra Madre meets the big Cagayan River, causing a rise in water volume and backflow at the confluence; Alcala is situated to receive 80% of water run-off in the Cagayan River Basin that encompasses Cagayan and Isabela,” Antiono said, quoting the study of Siringan and Sarmiento. This, however, is not the only factor.

The study also highlights how human activities in the past, in Alcala and in the region, greatly damaged the environment thus leading to disasters such as the current flooding experienced in Cagayan and Isabela provinces.

Siringan and Sarmiento found that the “mountains, slopes and watersheds in the whole Cagayan Valley have been stripped of native trees that hold soil and regulate water release.”

A separate study published by the Conservation and Society in 2011 states that around 20,000 to 35,000 cubic meters of wood were extracted from the Northern part of Sierra Madre.

“The forestry service and municipal governments tolerate illegal logging in the protected area,” the study furthered.

With the massive flooding in the region, Antonio believes that human activities are mainly to be blamed. “It’s about us, it’s the way we live — as if we are apart from nature, as if what we do does not come back to us,” the local executive said.

Science-based solutions

“The problem being complex, the solution is also a combination of interventions that should be anchored on science and drawn after scientists have studied the Cagayan River itself,” Antonio said.

In the hopes to save the town from drowning in flood water, the local government of Alcala implemented changes as recommended by the scientists. These include moving the residents living near the river stream to a stable higher location. In the process however, they found that the river has begun to take parts of the riverbank. To avoid further erosion, a secondary channel will be put up and native trees will be planted, which she describes as “a mighty, green wall.”

The people near the watershed began to plant 300 hectares of trees. “We are set to plant native forest and flowering trees on all Alcala roadsides that span around 120 kilometers,” Antonio added.

The local government also asked farmers to abandon yellow corn since, as revealed by the research of Siringan and Sarmiento, the use of herbicide kills all vegetation and weakens the soil.

Part of the town’s plan is the river channel widening from Tupang, Alcala to Magapit, Lallo, which Antonio said, is the most challenging to do. Nevertheless, she is determined to heed the recommendations.

“I hope our leaders, and all of us, will help to save Alcala, and the whole Cagayan Valley. Please, let us listen to our scientists,” pleaded Antiono.

On Saturday, Philippine National Police in Alcala, Cagayan reported three deaths and three missing persons. Alcala town have 23 Barangays still underwater, affecting more than 4,000 families.

Death toll in Cagayan Valley now at 23 with most parts of the region still submerged in water. (

*This story was updated to reflect the correction. The study by UP scientists was conducted from July to September 2020, not 2019 as earlier stated.

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