The head of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) said Tuesday the release of water from Magat Dam was not a major cause of the recent severe flooding in Cagayan and Isabela provinces.
Legislators should investigate instead other causes, including illegal logging, mining, and quarrying on the slopes of the Sierra Madre, NIA Administrator Ricardo Visaya told the House committees on agriculture and food, and the North Luzon Quadrangle.
The joint committee hearing was called to look into the cause of the massive flooding in many areas in the Cagayan Valley region as Typhoon "Ulysses" rampaged through the area almost two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the Palace on Tuesday told mayors to stop being involved in illegal logging and mining operations in their towns, warning that they will have blood on their hands if they pursue activities that have dire environmental consequences.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque made this statement after Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said there were cases in which mayors either directly or indirectly benefited from illegal mining and logging that made nearby communities more vulnerable to floods.
Also, floods brought about by Ulysses dumped debris equivalent to one-and-a-half years’ worth of garbage, Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro said Tuesday.
In an interview on the ANC news channel, Teodoro said the city has cleared nearly half of the debris and hoped to finish the clean-up by the end of November.
“The debris that we are collecting is equivalent to that of one and a half years of garbage we collected in the city. That's 980,000 cubic meters of debris,” he said.
“After 11 days, we have accomplished 45 percent of the clearing operations, but still there’s still a lot. We are still clearing it,” he said.
From the effects of the recent flooding, the mayor said it would take 5 to 10 years for the city to recover.
Teodoro again called for the rehabilitation of the Marikina Watershed, which can reduce the risk of flooding.
Visaya presented a chart which showed that from Nov. 9 to 14 amid the typhoon, the peak water inflow at Magat Dam was 7,128 cubic meters per second but the dam released only 6,706 cubic meters per second.
The water level at Buntun Bridge, which measures the water level of Cagayan River, was 13.2 meters, he added.
The matrix alone would prove that the opening of the water gates of Magat Dam was not the major cause of the flooding in Cagayan and Isabela.
Visaya said the massive flooding in Cagayan and Isabela could have been prevented had there been better implementation of anti-illegal logging, mining, and quarrying activities.
"We have to look into the other factors that could have contributed to the flooding of Cagayan. If only anti-illegal logging, mining, and quarrying activities were implemented properly, maybe we could have prevented the overflowing of the Cagayan River," he said.
Visaya earlier said that the gates of Magat Dam had to be opened amid heavy rains from the typhoon to prevent the dam from collapsing and triggering a bigger catastrophe.
Visaya added that those who may be affected by the release of water are warned ahead of time.
"Six hours before release, the warning stations are activated. As much as possible, no release is made after 5:00 pm. Although the target is no release after 3:00 p.m. We give lead time to all concerned, including government offices, local governments, radio stations, et cetera, six hours so they can react," he said.
In addition, Visaya said there is redundancy in the warning system “and it is followed by a document that the affected LGUs sign.
As the hearing continued, the House committee on disaster resilience, chaired by Leyte Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez adopted House Resolution 535, declaring a disaster and climate emergency.
The author of the resolution, Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, House ways and means committee chair, said the declaration will be “the necessary first of many steps to secure broader international climate justice and local resilience.”
“We will eventually defeat COVID-19, as we have beaten all other pandemics. But the climate emergency will be here to stay. Unless we act now to make our communities safer, and to seek international climate justice, we will suffer the long-term consequences of this crisis,” Salceda said.
Lawmakers led by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco on Tuesday cited the need to revisit protocols on releasing water in dams to prevent a repeat of devastating floods that inundated the provinces of Cagayan and Isabela during the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses.
In his opening statement, Velasco underscored the importance to review dam protocols and other preventive measures to mitigate the destructive power of tropical cyclones as brought about by climate change.
The speaker pointed to climate change and the release of water from Magat Dam as potential causes for massive flooding in Cagayan and Isabela during the typhoon.
He said water discharge from the dam worsened flooding in Cagayan and Isabela at the height of Ulysses.
During the hearing, House Deputy Majority Leader Bernadette Herrera said “there doesn’t seem to be one agency that can account for what truly caused the flooding, nor analyze forecasts and recommend measures to mitigate damage in the future.”
Rules for releasing dam water are based on protocols set in 2006.
It was also stated during the hearing that the state weather bureau can predict only up to 50 percent accuracy the amount of rainfall that incoming storms bring.
Agriculture panel chair Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga said that there seemed to be several lapses in the coordination of concerned agencies within the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) during the onslaught of Ulysses.
“We will need to take a closer look at the way the interagency council coordinates with the different departments because it is apparent that what they’ve done was not enough to prevent deaths and destruction from happening,” Enverga said.
Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said Tuesday his department planned to immediately dredge the Cagayan River and strictly enforce the 20-meter easement rule to avoid a repeat of the massive flooding that submerged the provinces of Cagayan and Isabela.
“We will create a working group and conduct a joint meeting to come up with important engineering interventions along the Cagayan River,"Cimatu said.
The working group will be composed of the governors of Cagayan, Isabela, Quirino and Nueva Vizcaya, as well as the nearby Cordillera Administrative Region, he said.
Apart from the immediate dredging of the heavily silted Cagayan River, he said strict implementation of the easement rule along its riverbanks is a must.
"We have to follow the 20-meter easement. There should be no building or any structure within the easement zone," he said.