Bitan-ag Creek is a major waterway in Cagayan de Oro City.
It cuts across the major residential and business districts of the city, from Barangay Camaman-an, to Cogon Market, through Limketkai Center, and into Agora Market and Barangay Lapasan.
The creek is also the main drain of the drainage systems of the Cogon Market area, Osmeña Street, Provincial Capitol Compound, Ramonal Village, Barangay Nazareth, and a big portion of Divisoria.
In the early 1980s, the Regional Cities Development Program implemented a project that resulted in concreting the creek bed and banks from Barangay Camaman-an all the way to its outfall in Macajalar Bay in Barangay Lapasan. It also straightened the circuitous route of the old creek.
In the years since the completion of the project, informal settlers have built their homes along the creek, making it hard to clean and maintain. Years of neglect and bad management have made the creek a dumpsite and a major contributor to the regular flooding that has plagued the major business and residential districts of the city.
The present administration organized the Hapsay Sapa Council whose main objective is to rehabilitate Bitan-ag Creek, not only cleaning it of garbage and silt, but also to provide a resettlement area for the informal settlers.
The challenges and approaches toward this end are many. Initially, the council has adapted a five-point strategy, namely, 1. Solid waste management, 2. Creek and waste water management, 3. Social mobilization and advocacy, 4. Livelihood and economic opportunities, and 5. Relocation and resettlement.
In the second half of 2014, UN Habitat joined hands with us and launched the linear park project at Barangay 22.
The project is a semi-permeable pavement along the creek (Zone 2, Barangay 22) that will serve as an access road for heavy equipment that will be used to dredge the creek. It will also serve as a public space for community events.
The linear park project was launched last October 22, 2015. Affected structures like houses, a chapel, and communal gardens, among others, were moved back by 3.25 meters to accommodate the width of the park.
The rebuilding of the affected structures is being done by the community and supervised by people from the City Engineering Office and other stakeholders as well, like CEPALCO and the Cagayan de Oro Water District.
The linear park was completed in May 2017 with a length of 180 meters from Gaabucayan extension to the first footbridge in the boundary between Barangays 22 and 26.
The construction and installation of streetlights, plant boxes and benches further enhanced the linear park.
The next phase of the project will be at Barangays 26, 35, 36 and Camaman-an sections of the creek.
There is also a proposed linear park project at Mindulog Creek in Barangay Puerto will start in the next few months.
What sets our project apart from the others is our approach in its implementation. We don’t issue notices of violation and demolition.
Instead we talk to the people living along the creek and tell them what the project is all about. We usually start with a public forum where all the stakeholders and partners are there to explain and answer questions.
Then we visit people in their homes, have breakfast, or lunch with them and further explain the impact of the project on a more personal level. Through these activities, we are able to make them active participants in building a better community.
The program has won an International award, the Asian Townscapes Award in Hong Kong from the Asia-Pacific regional office of U.N. Habitat in 2018. It was cited for its community engagement approach towards the rehabilitation of Bitan-ag creek.
As of now, more people and institutions are more than willing to join and help in the Happy Sapa projects.
The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has funded the construction of a linear park in Mindulog creek in Barangay Puerto.
SM CDO Downtown Premier management has pledged to construct waste traps along designated sections of the creek.
The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has committed in helping set up a water treatment facility and has engaged the services of a Dutch water expert to help on the endeavor.
The University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines (USTP), through its Cagayan de Oro City campus will help in coming up with flood mitigation infrastructure.
There is also a regular information, education and communication campaign conducted together with stakeholders and partner schools, such as (USTP) and Xavier University, wherein teachers and students go to the different barangays along the creek to educate and talk about solid waste management and waste water management, among other things.
These are usually done with food provided by partners and prepared by community members. Through these informal gatherings, a lot has been talked about, argued and resolved on a convivial atmosphere.
This is just the start of a more comprehensive initiative for urban transformation — envisioning the whole stretch of the creek, from its headwaters in Barangay Indahag to its outfall in Barangay Lapasan, into a park that will showcase the resilience of the communities along Bitan-ag Creek, Kolambog Creek, Mindulog Creek and other major creeks in the city.