DUTERTE TO USE P46 B FROM ROAD USERS’ FUND TO REVIVE BICOL RIVER BASIN DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM— SALCEDA
President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to revive the Bicol River Basin Development Program to solve the perennial flooding in the Bicol River Basin area is an example of a Disaster Risk Reduction-led sustainable development initiative, according to Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda.
During his recent visit to Bicol, the President pledged to fund a massive flood control program with some P46 billion from the road user’s tax to solve the frequent disastrous floods that destroy huge agricultural crops in the Bicol River Basin (BRB) area comprising 317,103 hectares straddling Albay, Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte. The area has abundant resources and provides the ecological services support of communities in the area, with about 77% or 243,800 hectares of it cultivated as agricultural lands. Close to 81% of the areas within the BRB are relatively flat and prone to flooding.
After 40 years of neglect, Salceda said, Bicolanos are glad the BRB -- a most central economic pillar of Bicol’s development -- is finally getting serious government attention. He proposed that instead of focusing only on solving the flooding alone, “the government should focus on its comprehensive integrated area development, which has received little national funding despite robust lobbying by the Regional Development Council.”
This development, Salceda noted, has turned the adversity of Usman into an opportunity to fix national attention and funding on a long-term development program for Bicol. The lawmaker is a member of the House Committee on Bicol Recovery and Economic Development, He chaired and steered the Bicol Regional Development Council from 2007 to 2016 when he was Albay governor.
Salceda said the government’s long-term Bicol River Basin Development Program (BRBDP) masterplan, started in the ’70s, would bring the BRB area into the “mainstream of national development by increasing rice production, improving rural income, creating employment opportunities, and upgrading the living standards of the local population through a combination of irrigation development, watershed development and flood control.”
BRB’s potential, he pointed out, is huge and if properly protected from the hazards of natural disasters, it could greatly help the regional economy especially its agriculture to grow fast. He said Duterte’s plan is a “sensible strategic move as it would lessen the ever-present risk to life and livelihood in the area while putting to optimal use the controversial P46 billion road user’s tax.”
The President, who attended the situation briefing on tropical depression Usman in Pili, Camarines Sur earlier this month, was shocked at the devastation brought by floods and landslides in the Bicol Region and vowed to take immediate measures to remedy the problem, particularly in the BRB area which sustained extensive damage to agriculture and livelihood.
During the briefing, Duterte said he wants the P46 billion road user’s tax to be used for BRBDP which includes flood control projects by, among others, dredging lakes and waterways within the most area’s problematic sections. Lawmakers are poised to tackle the abolition of the Road Board in a bicameral conference shortly.
The original plan was, among others, to convert the low-lying areas particularly in Baao, Camarines Sur, into a regular catch basin reservoir for all floodwaters in the area. The plan did not push through due to local opposition, but nature took over and turned the area into an inland water body throughout the year.
During the Usman briefing in Pili, the President reiterated his earlier wish for the abolition of the graft-ridden Road Board. He said he does not want to release a single centavo from the controversial road user’s tax, but is willing to release the fund if it can be put to good use, like solving the floods in the Bicol River Basin.
With only 55-kph winds, Usman dumped heavy rains that triggered widespread floods and landslides in Bicol and the Visayas during the Christmas Season, and claimed some 155 lives — 105 of them Bicol — with 27 more missing, and displaced thousands. Due to BRB’s topography, heavy rains easily submerge rice fields and take months to subside, rendering them unproductive and depriving communities their livelihood, which the President wanted to immediately solve.