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Erosion and Development at

the Bicol River Basin

By Jose “Dong” Adolfo and Perry M. Calara

Kaiba News and Features-Bicol

(updated english version kan article na “Kinakain ng Bikol River ang Lupa”)


Canaman, Camarines Sur—The Bicol River is eating the riverbank and a foreign-funded government project was not able to stop it.


A total of about 24 hectares of the river bank have been lost due to erosion. In 1950s the width of the cut-off channels in Canaman was 15 meters.  Today the width of the constructed channel is already about 70 meters (see attached illustration).  


click pix to zoom


Flooding solution in the 1950s.


In 1957, it was decided by experts from the government that one of the solutions to the  perennial flooding in Camarines Sur and Albay was to construct cut-off channels. During that time, they observed that it took weeks before water, from continous and heavy rainfall, drained from the Bicol River Basin to the San Miguel Bay. The bay is facing the Pacific Ocean, east central of the Camarines provinces.


According to a supposed cut-off channel beneficiary in Canaman, the government had a simple solution: “if there is a relatively straight channel (compared to the zigzagging Bicol River), then the rate of draining the flood will be faster.” So, they constructed cut-off channels in Canaman and Gainza in Camarines Sur.  


This cut-off channel created two islets in Canaman within the Bicol River


The move of the government in 1957 was understandable.  A December 1956 flooding in Bicol caused heavy losses on palay, copra, livestock, public and private property. That flood killed eighty three Bicolanos.


The Bicol River Basin Development Project (BRBDP), in 1970s, believed that flooding was one of the key constrains in the development of the Bicol region.


Foreign Funding.


In the early 70s, the cut-off channel area in Canaman and Gainza was integrated into the BRBDP.


The BRBDP was a government project with about PhP1.5billion fund assistance from the USAID.  Albay and Camarines Sur provinces were the major beneficiaries of the project.


A significant portion of the PhP1.5billion came from the European Economic Community, and the Asian Development Bank.  The program objective was to increase the per capita income of rural families; particularly, it aimed to increase agricultural productivity and employment opportunities, provide for a more equitable distribution of wealth, and promote agro-industrial and industrial development.  The project ended in the late 1980s.



The affected area.


The BRDBP existed for more than a decade but it was not able to stop the erosion problem along the Bicol riverbank particularly along the cut-off channels in Canaman and Gainza.


Though BRBDP had a positive evaluation of its project in 1985, the residents of the affected barangays of the cut-off channel in Mangayawan, Iquin, San Francisco, Fundado and San Nicolas of Canaman are not happy.  They are losing their lands through erosion; and salt water is making its way into whatever land is left to them.


            Perhaps the BRBDP had focused too much on its strategy of  Integrated Area Development (IAD) of the Bicol region but forgot to address a very specific problem in Canaman and Gainza.


Was erosion control and environmental protection not part of the PhP1.5 billion budget?


Barangay Iquin is in one of the two islets created by the cut-off channel. According to one residents of barangays Iquin, “hindi lamang "isolation" ang epekto ng pagka-isla ang dulot ng cut-off channels, dahan dahan din itong ngumangatngat, na parang anay, sa aming lupain .” (It is not only isolation that the cut-off channel bestowed upon us due to the creation of an islet; the river is also like a termite that is slowing eating our land). 


This rapid erosion is expected when the natural contour of rivers are destroyed.  Environmentalists and engineers should know that very basic concept.




One technical consultant of the municipality of Canaman, in 2000, computed that about 24 hectares of agricultural land, near the cut-off channels, have been lost due to erosion.   In terms of volume, about one million cubic-meter of soil was eroded and drained to San Miguel Bay.  The width of the river increased by about  400%  from 15 meters in 1957 to about 70 meters today.


This soil sediment can easily destroy hundreds of hectare of corral reefs in San Miguel Bay and the Pacific Ocean,  where thousands of Bicolanos get their livelihood.  Unfortunately for these Bicolanos there was no strong environmental protection component in past government projects. Environmental protection was not at the BRBDP objectives.


Future foreign-funded government projects should understand that there can be no agricultural productivity and increase in per capita income if the environment is being destroyed by that project. They just have to look at the experience of Canaman and Gainza.  


Property and ownership.


Many houses along the cut-off channels in Canaman have been moved away from the riverbank.  Erosion has been constantly threatening to destroy these homes.


            There is also a continuing issue of the ownership of lands that are adjacent to the river easement.  Because of the eroding river easement, there are instances when it is no longer clear to the residents where the limit of the easement and their properties are.  Some thought that they own the property that they are occupying only to find out that other resident of  that barangay is claiming it.  There are incidents when this confusion becomes a source of conflict among the residents. 




In addition to erosion, barangay captain Edmundo Cortina of Barangay San Jose

East of Canaman, believe that, "isa pa sa dumadagungdong na epekto ng cut-off channel ay ang kagyat na pagpasok ng tubig-alat," (one detrimental effect of the cut-off channel is the inflow of sea water)  from San Miguel Bay.  It is true that during the rainy season the water drains fast into San Miguel Bay; but, during the dry season, water from the bay also moves rapidly upstream . 


About 65% of the ricefield in Canaman are affected by the inflow of seawater. 


Years after the billion-peso BRBDP was terminated, many of these rice areas still rely on  rain water for irrigation.


If there is no solution.


If there  will be no solution to the continuing erosion, it is estimated that in the year 2015 the width of the cut-off channel in Canaman and Gainza will be about 130 meters.  This is an additional one million cubic-meter of soil particles into the San Miguel bay.


Residents in Canaman have been observing brown-colored water of the river after a heavy rainfall—a manifestation of  heavy soil particles in the water. This means that sunlight can no longer penetrate the water and this can have a negative effect to the ecosystem of the river. 


In the past, concrete rip-rap was constructed along some portion of the Bicol River. But because of strong undercurrent, due to  the rapid water flow, these structures were easily destroyed.      


The erosion problem experienced by the people of Canaman and Gainza may just be a part of  a “collateral damage” brought about by a government project.   If  this is the case, they have all the right to pressure the government to help them preserve and conserve whatever land that is left to them—land that has given them life for generations (Kaiba News and Features, email:, URL:






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KAIBA News & Features, P.O. Box 6126, Naga City 4400.  email:  Tel No. 0917 8122107 Copyright © 1999  KAIBA News & Features. All rights reserved.  Revised: August 17, 2002