Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said residents of his province want charges filed against the operators of Magat Dam, which opened seven spillway gates at the height of Typhoon “Ulysses.”
Mamba earlier blamed the heavily silted Cagayan River, rainfall from nearby provinces, and water release from Magat Dam for the massive floods that submerged the province and left at least nine people dead there.
Speaking to ANC’s Headstart, Mamba said “there is a real clamor from people” who text him every now and then to pursue the lawsuit.
"We will have to study this with our legal team just to effect change,” Mamba said.
He added that dam management must ensure that its watershed was well maintained and noted that his province does not even benefit from Magat Dam, either for irrigation or for power.
“You can't control the water coming in, you can't also control its release. The dam may break, that's what we want investigated, so it will not exacerbate hardships Cagayan faces when it doesn't even benefit from the dam,” the governor added.
“Since time immemorial, we have suffered,” he said in Filipino. “We did not want to sue. What will we do with the case? We don't know if we will win or not.”
Mamba said the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) must do a better job at managing the dam’s operation.
The NIA said it was compelled to release water from its spillway gates to prevent the dam from collapsing.
This developed as the death toll from Ulysses (international name: Vamco) reached 73, according to reports received by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council as of Tuesday morning.
Ulysses, which strafed Luzon from Nov. 11 to 12, left P8 billion in damages —P2.7 billion to agriculture, and P5.2 billion to infrastructure.
Cagayan, Isabela, and Cavite provinces have been placed under a state of calamity.
On Monday, the NDRRMC recommended that President Rodrigo Duterte declare a state of calamity for the entire Luzon.
The NDRRMC said Tuesday that the death toll from Ulysses had climbed to 73. Deaths were reported in Regions 2 (Cagayan Valley), 4A (Calabarzon), 5 (Bicol), and Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).
There were also 24 injuries and 19 people missing.
Some 727,738 families or about 3.05 million people living in 5,594 barangays in Regions 1 (Ilocos), 2, 3, 4A, 4B (Mimaropa), 5, the National Capital Region and CAR were affected by the typhoon.
Some 70,784 families or 283,656 persons were being served inside 2,205 evacuation centers while 41,203 families or 158,926 individuals were being aided outside.
Damage to agriculture was placed at P2.7 billion in Regions 1, 2, 3, 4A, 5, CAR, and the NCR while infrastructure damage was estimated at P5.2 billion.
Some 39,808 houses were damaged, including 4,473 that were destroyed.
Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday asked the Senate to investigate the man-made causes of the severe flooding in Cagayan, Rizal, and Marikina City in the aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said he, too, would file a resolution for a Senate investigation. Hontiveros’ proposed Senate Resolution No. 571 also seeks to create policy that better prepares the country for future calamities. She said this is a warning that the country must “take the consequences of exploiting nature seriously.”
“About 1.7 million Filipinos, many of whom are young children and senior citizens, are displaced and affected. Even worse, is that this happened in the middle of a pandemic in which lapses in physical distancing can mean life or death,” she said.
Hontiveros pointed out ‘shocking’ images and audio recordings from Isabela and Cagayan Valley circulating on social media of residents calling for rescue after water from Magat Dam caused the floodwaters to rise.
“The audio recordings were chilling. The cries of our countrymen and women sounded like they were abandoned in the pits of hell. The devastation of those floods is on us,” she said.
“The floods swept away the lives and livelihood of millions without warning, which could have been avoided if the alarm was rung loudly before they opened the dam.”
“We need to study the gaps and fill them immediately. This can’t keep on happening. Especially now, the climate disasters in the middle of a pandemic have created unique problems never before seen in the country. It is our responsibility to take seriously the protection of nature, investigate human-made causes of flooding and drastically upgrade the country’s preparedness and response,” she said.
Hontiveros added that the exploitation of natural resources increased the vulnerability of the country to intense typhoons.
Conservation experts from Masungi Georeserve said illegal logging and land-grabbing in the Upper Marikina Watershed and Sierra Madre could have caused the flooding, she said. The logging massively diminished the capacity of the mountain range to buffer the National Capital Region (NCR) and Rizal Province from the ravages of strong typhoons.
Pangilinan, who was chairman of the NIA from 2014-2015, said there are protocols that should have been followed on dam discharge and flood warnings.
According to Infrawatch PH convenor Terry Ridon, the gates of Magat Dam were still closed three to four days before Ulysses made landfall, as opposed to protocol where it should have been able to make a sufficient water drawdown two to three days before landfall.
At least 50 villages in Cagayan Province are still isolated by floods as of Nov. 16. Ulysses is the third major typhoon that have battered Luzon in as many weeks.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian visited Marikina City, one of the cities hardest hit by Ulysses, on Tuesday.
Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate energy committee, noted that some parts of the city are still submerged in mud and have an unstable supply of electricity.
Gatchalian met with Marikina City Mayor Marcelino Teodoro to turn over some food packs and other essentials containing rice, canned goods, noodles, slippers, and face shields for over 2,000 families.
Given the extensive damage wrought by typhoon Ulysses, Marikina City has been placed under a state of calamity. The declaration would allow the local government to gain access to calamity funds and speed up relief and rehabilitation efforts and provide other humanitarian assistance.
The Commission on Human Rights supported a probe of the floods that hit Cagayan and Isabela.
“There is also a need to ensure accountability and conduct an investigation as to whether the unprecedented flooding could have been prevented and the people sufficiently warned of its extent,” the commission's spokesperson, Jacqueline Ann de Guia, said.
The NDRRMC, on the other hand, said dams would break if they did not release water to prevent overtopping.
“Releasing water from dams is also a disaster-mitigation measure,” NDRRMC spokesman Mark Timbal told ABS-CBN Teleradyo. “If we don't release water, the dam may break due to the pressure and water level.
It will result in flash floods in communities.”
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Tuesday said he is fine with the proposal to put the NDRRMC in charge of dam discharge protocols in times of calamities and typhoons.
Lorenzana, who is NDRRMC chairman, said the proposal raised by Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año, is a good one so that there will be no finger-pointing if something goes wrong.
"We will take the responsibility if we make a mistake," he said.