BY WENDELL VIGILIA and JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR
THE National Irrigation Administration yesterday insisted the release of water from the Magat Dam located at the boundary of Ifugao and Isabela provinces should not be blamed for the massive flooding in Cagayan and Isabela at the height of typhoon “Ulysses.”
NIA chief Ricardo Visaya said illegal logging and mining activities were the main factors for the flooding.
“It’s very clear that the contribution of the Magat Dam to the flooding in Cagayan was not really the major cause but we have to look into the other factors that could have contributed to the flooding in Cagayan,” he told congressmen during a hearing of the House committee on agriculture and food and the special committee on North Luzon growth quadrangle.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Monday ordered a crackdown on illegal mining and quarrying operations as he said some local officials could be involved in the illegal activities.
Cagayan province in the Cagayan Valley region is still recovering from the damage from Ulysses which displaced thousands of residents. President Duterte last week placed the entire Luzon under a state of calamity due to damage from Ulysses and at least three other weather disturbances that hit the country this month.
The President on Monday night approved the release of P1.5 billion to augment calamity funds of local government units in areas affected by Ulysses. The amount is on top of the P1.5 billion the budget department released late last week to augment the calamity funds of LGUs in areas affected by typhoons “Quinta” and “Rolly.”
The hearing in to the massive flooding from Ulysses was held based on the resolution filed by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, majority leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, and minority leader Joseph Stephen Paduano and a separate one filed by Bagong Henerasyon party-list Bernadette Herrera who said water was released in a “rushed manner as the dam’s water levels were close to overflowing.”
Visaya, a retired army general, showed lawmakers a matrix, noting that 8,068 cubic meters per second of water was released from the Magat Dam in 2009 during typhoon “Emong,” with the water level at Buntun Bridge in Tuguegarao City in Cagayan province reaching 9.82 meters.
In November 2010, Visaya said, Magat Dam released a maximum of 1,351 cm because of heavy monsoon rains and the water level at Buntun Bridge reached 12.70 meters, higher compared to its level during typhoon Emong.
During typhoon “Ulysses” earlier this month, Magat Dam released 6,706 cm of water, which he said is lower than the amount released during Emong, and the water level at Buntun Bridge reached 13.2 meters.
“Now, can we draw a conclusion from this matrix? Yes. Is it really Magat Dam that provides or is the major cause of the flooding in Cagayan? I don’t think so,” Visaya said, adding that Magat Dam is contributing only 15 percent to the entire Cagayan River basin.
At least four dams in Luzon opened their gates to release water — Binga, Ambuklao, Angat and Magat. Seven gates were opened on November 12, releasing water equivalent in volume to 106.223 Olympic-size swimming pools, or about two swimming pools per second.
Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba has attributed the flooding not only to Ulysses but also to the silted Cagayan River, denudation of the forest, and release of water from Magat Dam, causing the river to overflow.
The governor was mulling filing charges against dam officials for the reported abrupt opening of the gates but President Duterte said water had to be released to prevent a worse “catastrophe.”
Visaya said blamed illegal logging and illegal mining for the denudation of forests, saying government officials should have done their job of going after culprits in the illegal operations.
Visaya said offices and individuals who may be affected by the release of water were warned six hours before actual release because “we are giving a lead time to all concerned including government offices, LGUs, radio stations, etc, six hours para makapag-react sila (for them to react).”
He said LGUs could not claim they were not notified of the water release “because we have the documents.”
During the typhoon, Visaya said, outflow from the dam was regulated to mitigate damage, contradicting those who said water was released all at once.
It was disclosed during the hearing that protocols for releasing waters from dams were based on protocols set in 2006 and that the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) can predict only up to 50 percent accuracy the amount of rainfall on incoming storms.
Herrera pointed out the possibility of outdated protocols contributing to the massive floods that killed at least 29 people in Cagayan Valley, saying Congress needs to “look at the current structural framework as it seems to me that we are merely acting on early warnings and not being proactive in times of critical danger.”
Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, during a meeting in Davao City Monday night, reported to the President that the Department of Budget and Management recently released P1.5 billion to augment the calamity funds of the LGUs in three regions — Calabarzon, Mimaropa, and Bicol. He said the funds can be used for relief and rehabilitation efforts. Another P500 million has been set aside as standby funds.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said that as of November 24, P134.34 million worth of assistance from the DSWD, LGUs, non-government organizations, and private groups has been provided to some 1.01 million families or 4.152 individuals affected by Ulysses.
Sen. Cynthia Villar filed a resolution calling for an investigation into denuded state of forests and watersheds, and heavy siltation in rivers and tributaries, which apparently contributed to the severe flooding in Luzon.
“Science taught us that forests and watersheds should be kept healthy and protected and that deforestation should be avoided so that abundant forest trees could help forest soil absorb and retain rainwater, thereby naturally regulating the release of rainwater from the hills and mountains,” Villar said in the resolution.
She said government must also stop deforestation, which is caused by illegal logging, quarrying, unregulated and open-pit mining, and slash-and-burn agriculture, among others.
Villar said siltation of rivers and tributaries also contribute to flooding.
“The destruction on lives and properties caused by floods during the recent typhoons underscores the necessity to protect and conserve the country’s forests and watersheds as well as to maintain our rivers and its tributaries in good condition and ensure that it is free from heavy siltation, which measures appear to be the most effective ways of preventing destructive flooding,” she added. — With Raymond Africa