The Palace on Monday said it doubts that legal action against the managers of Magat Dam would prosper, even as the House of Representatives will investigate the cause of massive flooding that submerged the provinces of Cagayan and Isabela during the onslaught of Typhoon “Ulysses.”
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said those planning to push for the accountability from Magat dam management must first prove that the release of water from the dam was the main cause for the widespread flooding in Cagayan and Isabela provinces.
But there were other reasons for the flooding, he said. First, water would go downstream because the area was a valley. He also said flash floods were caused by deforestation, illegal mining and the contour of the river itself.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, and Minority Leader Joseph Stephen Paduano filed House Resolution 1348, directing the appropriate committee to immediately conduct the investigation.
“As the death toll continues to rise, and the extent of damage is slowly being revealed, there is an urgent need to examine the actions that were taken during, before and after the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses,” Velasco said.
To date, the death toll from Typhoon Ulysses has reached 67, with over 20 people missing, and the damage to agriculture and infrastructure has been estimated to be at least P1.5 billion.
In calling for a legislative inquiry, the three House leaders cited the “gravity and unprecedented nature of the situation, the geographic propensity of the country to natural calamities, and the need to prevent similar situations from occurring.”
The congressional leaders specifically wanted the House to probe the circumstances surrounding the rapid inflow of water into the reservoir, as well as any non-compliance with laws, rules or regulations that may have had a contributory effect to the swelling of Cagayan River.
They also wanted the chamber to look into the decision of the National Irrigation Administration to open the spillway gates of Magat Dam, which dumped the equivalent of 18 meters of water into Cagayan.
The predicted Category-4 strength of the typhoon should have prompted concerned government agencies and local government units to take necessary preemptive action to mitigate possible adverse effects on local communities, the lawmakers said.
Heavy winds and torrential rains battered parts of Metro Manila, the Bicol region, Central Luzon, Cordillera Administrative Region and Calabarzon, causing power failures, extreme flooding and heavy damage to infrastructure and property, and threatened the lives and livelihood of many Filipinos.
The effects of the typhoon also caused massive destruction in Cagayan Valley, particularly in the provinces of Cagayan and Isabela, as the region experienced unprecedented flooding in the wake of the typhoon.
The damage was reportedly due to the swelling of the Cagayan River from the amount of rainwater coming in from its 18 tributaries, exacerbated by the outflow of water from the Magat Dam.
It was reported that at the height of Ulysses, seven of Magat Dam’s gates were opened, and the discharge of water from the reservoir caused rapid and widespread flooding in the surrounding areas.
A few days after Ulysses had exited the Philippine area of responsibility, many areas of Cagayan and Isabela remained submerged, with hundreds stranded in their homes and clinging to rooftops with no access to food or water.
Also on Monday, Vice President Leni Robredo backed a probe of the worst floods that hit Cagayan and Isabela provinces to prevent it from happening again.
Interviewed over ANC, Robredo said without an investigation, the devastating floods could happen again.
“Definitely, there was incompetence,” she said. “As to who committed it, we still do not know.”
Terry Ridon of Infrawatch PH, an infrastructure-oriented think tank, earlier decried as “criminal incompetence” the decision of National Irrigation Authority and National Power Corp. to discharge water from several dams, including Magat Dam in Isabela, which triggering huge floods in many areas in Luzon.
Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba, in a previous statement, said flood victims in Cagayan Valley wanted local officials to file criminal charges against dam managers responsible for the release of water from Magat Dam at the height of typhoon “Ulysses” that caused their worst flooding in 48 years.
But in a statement, NIA Administrator Ricardo Visaya said residents had been advised about the release of water two days before Ulysses made landfall. He added it was necessary to release water from the reservoir to prevent the dam from reaching its critical level, which could compromise its structural integrity, which would lead to a catastrophe to nearby municipalities.
Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Undersecretary Renato Solidum Jr. said Cagayan Valley naturally has a lower topography compared to the mountains surrounding it.
"The rainwater coming from those mountains goes down and goes to Cagayan River, which also causes flood during heavy rainfall. The natural flow of the river, and cutting of trees also contribute to flooding," he said.
The spilling operations in Magat Dam would affect the following areas: San Mateo, Cabatuan, Luna, Reina Mercedes, Naguilian, Gamu, Ilagan City, Tumauini, Delfin Albano, Santo Tomas, Santa Maria, San Pablo, and Cabagan in Isabela; Aurora province; Tuguegarao City, Enrile, Solana, Iguig, Amulung, Alcala, Gattaran, Lasam, Lal-lo, Camalaniugan, and Aparri in Cagayan.
"Flooding has reached Aparri, Cagayan, as this is the exit point of Cagayan River," Solidum said.
Solidum said reforestation in mountains is vital to prevent another disastrous scenario from happening in the future.
"This would slow down the rainwater from going from mountains to the river," he said.
Another suggestion was to construct a temporary embankment, so that the water would go here.
Dredging the Cagayan River is also necessary since this is already shallow, he added.
Meanwhile, Isabela Gov. Rodolfo Albano III said the provincial government prepared for floods but did not anticipate the magnitude of water that came after Typhoon Ulysses’ onslaught.
“We were prepared but we were caught unaware of the magnitude of the volume of water coming into the Cagayan River,” he told the ANC news channel.
“We never expected this much water because the last time it happened was in 1978 so after more than 40 years of flooding this is the only time the Cagayan River swelled at this magnitude.”
The large amount of floodwater, which emanated from the heavy downpour of successive storms that battered the Philippines, came from 38 tributaries of Cagayan River, he added.
Albano said the flooding, which left three people dead while two others remain missing, submerged half of the province. To date, a fifth of Isabela, particularly in its first district, is still underwater.