"This is a lesson we learned from the typhoon."
A powerful river is a blessing for a country. The more powerful the river, the many important economic uses of a river: As a means of transportation and interaction, as a source of water for households and for irrigation, as the basis for hydro-electric power, and as a means for maintaining balance in the nation’s ecology.
The havoc wrought by the last of 2020’s typhoons, Ulysses (International name: Vamco) reminded the people of this country of the existence in Luzon of a mighty river – the Cagayan River: Running down the entire length of Luzon’s northern half, the Cagayan River separates the Cordillera mountain range on the island’s western side from the Sierra Madre range on its eastern side. The nation’s second longest river – longest is Rio Grande of Mindanao – the Cagayan River flows through the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino and Nueva Ecija. So powerful is the flow of the Cagayan River’s water that two of this country’s largest multi-purpose dams – Magat Dam in Isabela and Pantabangan Dam in Nueva Ecija — are located along its course.
Over the decades, typhoons have traversed Northern Luzon and in the process have caused damage to the economies of that region’s component provinces, especially their farms and infrastructure. But typhoon Ulysses was different. It brought more destruction than its predecessors, from which the Northern Luzon provinces were able to recover more painlessly and more quickly.
Ulysses placed much of the region – especially Cagayan and Isabela – under a large volume of water, which took weeks to drain away. Much of this country’s dry-season rice crop was lost as a result. A large part of the cost of repairing farms and reconstructing facilities had to be formed by LGUs (local government units) already heavily burdened by expenditures associated with the pandemic.
Disasters give rise to lessons, and the Ulysses experience of the Cagayan Valley provinces is this: The area comprising the valley of the Cagayan River needs to be regarded as one entity and must be accorded a special administrative structure if the provinces in the area are able to cope effectively with future disasters of Ulysses’ magnitude. The reasons for regarding the Cagayan Valley differently, administratively speaking, have been indicated above, namely, that it is a distinct part of Luzon with a common geographical feature, that the Cagayan Valley provinces comprise Luzon’s major granary and that the Cagayan River is a source of numerous benefits for Luzon’s economy.
The new instrumentality should be called the Cagayan Valley Development Authority (CVDA) and should encompass the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Nueva Ecija and, because of its close proximity, Aurora. Isabela City – either Santiago or Ilagan – being central, would be the ideal seat of CVDA.
An authority charged with the Cagayan Valley’s development would make possible a focused and comprehensive approach to economic issues specific to the area. Since all the would-be component provinces have agriculture-based economies, agriculture would be the main focus of CVDA planning and spending. The maintenance and improvement of the Cagayan River, especially the waterway’s dredging, would naturally be another top concern. Strengthening the river’s ability to provide water for households, irrigation, electricity generation and ecological balance would be the common goal of the Cagayan Valley provinces.
There are examples in other countries of governments designating river valleys or deltas as special administrative entities. Perhaps the best-known example is the U.S.’s Tennessee Valley Authority, which the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt established as part of a program to create industries and jobs in a time of deep economic depression.
It is probably correct to say that when Filipinos hear the name Cagayan, what immediately comes to mind is the Cagayan Economic Processing Zone (CEPZ). CEPZ was created to please an at-the-time-powerful senator and has proven to be a waste of taxpayer’s money, with smuggling, not economic processing, its principal activity. CEPZ should be wound up and its budgetary appropriation transferred to the Cagayan Valley Development Authority.