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House sets probe on flooding in Cagayan, Isabela

The House of Representatives’ committee on agriculture and food has scheduled a hearing next Tuesday to investigate the massive floods that submerged areas in Cagayan and Isabela at the height of Typhoon “Ulysses.”

Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga, the panel chairman, said the probe was in response to House Resolution 1348 filed by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, and Minority Leader Joseph Stephen Paduano urging the House to look into what caused the massive flooding in Cagayan and Isabela.

“We have already communicated with the proper resource persons an invitation for Tuesday next week,” Enverga said at a news conference.

This developed as the chairman of the House of Representatives’ committee on Metro Manila development on Wednesday said the panel will review laws on rainwater management in light of the massive flooding caused by the series of typhoons that struck the country recently.

The committee’s chairman, Manila Rep. Manuel Luis T. Lopez, said the panel will look into the “unacceptable damage and loss of life brought about by the flooding caused by Typhoon Ulysses” and determine how to prevent similar disasters in the future.

“Why and how is it, that every year we remain witness to such catastrophes? Are there not enough disaster mitigation infrastructure and policies in place?” Lopez asked.

“We have to conduct investigations on why we cannot manage a large inflow of rainwater brought about by tropical storms,” he added.

In filing HR 1348, the House leaders wanted the chamber to probe the circumstances that led to the rapid inflow of water into the reservoir, as well as the possible non-compliance with laws, rules, or regulations that may have contributed to the swelling of Cagayan River.

In the resolution, they noted the House will also look into the decision of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) to open the spillway gates of Magat Dam, and if such a move was done following established guidelines and protocols.

Enverga said his panel is expected to wrap up its investigation before Congress goes on a Christmas break by Dec. 18.

Deputy Majority Leader and Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera, meanwhile, also urged the chamber to look into the alleged illegal logging and quarrying activities in the Marikina watershed, which may have caused massive flooding in Metro Manila and nearby provinces at the height of Ulysses.

“There is a need to conduct an investigation to determine the accountability of dam operators in the casualties that took the lives and livelihood of many Filipinos,” Herrera said in a resolution.

Typhoon Ulysses, the 21st typhoon to hit the country this year, brought rainfall ranging from 271 millimeters to 356 millimeters of rainfall, far below that brought by Tropical Storm Ondoy in 2009 of 455 millimeters of rainfall.

As of Nov. 15, the official death toll of Typhoon Ulysses climbed to 67, with dozens more injured or missing. To date, damage to agriculture and infrastructure was pegged at more than P1.5 billion.

Herrera noted that much of the flooding was further aggravated by the opening of six dams—Angat, Ipo, La Mesa, Ambulao, Binga, San Roque and Magat.

She said the opening of these dams intensified flash floods in Metro Manila and the provinces of Isabela, Pangasinan, Benguet, Isabela and Cagayan.

In her resolution, Herrera said there were numerous reports that the six dams released water “not in a gradual manner, but rather a hasty and rushed manner.”

“For Magat dam alone, on Nov. 12, 2020, the dam opened seven gates, discharging 6,244 cubic meters of water per second,” Herrera said.

The party-list lawmaker also cited the statement by Infrawatch PH that said two to three days prior to the arrival of Typhoon Ulysses, “Magat did not make sufficient water drawdown,” which is a violation of the Magat Dam protocol.

In another resolution she filed Monday, Herrera called for an investigation into the “continuous and long-standing illegal activities, such as logging and quarrying in the Marikina watershed.”

Herrera said such illegal activities hinder efforts to rehabilitate and reforest the watershed.

“The rehabilitation of the Marikina watershed is of utmost importance as it serves as the first line of defense against rainwater coming from the uplands of Luzon,” Herrera said.

“It also serves as home to various endangered wildlife species like Narra, red and white Lauan, Kamagong, Molave; Fauna birds like black-naped Oriole and jungle fowl; mammals like Philippine Deer, wild pig, Philippine monkey, among many others,” she added.

Herrera also cited the lack of catch basins in the area as another reason for the massive flooding during the height of Typhoon Ulysses.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel F. Zubiri during the hybrid plenary deliberation on the proposed 2021 national budget Wednesday, asked NIA officials to answer questions on protocols for discharges from Angat and Magat dams.

Finance Committee chairman Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said NIA’s proposed budget was already deemed submitted but he said NIA will be called again to answer questions raised by his colleagues.

Angara also provided Zubiri a list of dams in the Philippines operated by NIA, the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System and the National Power Corp.

A farmer’s group sought sanctions against NIA officials, saying they should be held accountable

for the massive flooding in Cagayan and Isabela. The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said the NIA-Magat River Integrated Irrigation System was responsible for the “abrupt and irresponsible” opening of Magat Dam spillway gates during last week’s onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses.

Also, on Wednesday, Senator Francis Pangilinan called for the establishment of an agency to oversee all water-related matters, including the release of water from dams during typhoons.

In an interview on ANC’s “Headstart”, Pangilinan underscored the need to create an integrated water resource management agency to prevent similar catastrophes from happening in the future.

Topics: House of Representatives , massive floods , Cagayan , Isabela , Typhoon “Ulysses"
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