Authorities pointed to environmental abuse as a factor in the destructive floods this month in parts of Luzon, saying the government will crackdown on illegal loggers and miners in the country’s north.
Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya told a public press briefing that Interior Secretary Eduardo Año had directed police to prioritize crackdowns in provinces affected by floods over the past month.
Malaya said Año ordered PNP chief Debold Sinas to hold a crackdown in all sorts of illegal logging and illegal mining in areas affected by storms particularly in Cagayan, Isabela, and in the Bicol region because this was said to be the cause of unprecedented widespread flooding.
Parts of the Bicol region experienced lahar flow from the Mayon Volcano as Super Typhoon Rolly hit Luzon, particularly in Albay, earlier this month, with some residents blaming quarrying.
Cagayan and Isabela were, meanwhile, inundated last week with widespread flooding, with water levels reaching rooftops and residents appealing for rescue via social media. Among other reasons, officials said illegal logging was a factor in the worst floods seen in the area in decades.
DILG next year will roll out a project for local government units to encourage tree planting among their constituents, targeting the planting of 200 million trees nationwide.
Malaya said: “Our goal in strengthening national tree planting is to plant 200 million trees. Año wants this to start next year. Memorandum circulars will be released to encourage widespread tree planting campaigns in support of the national greening program from the barangays to the highest government level.
Meanwhile, with the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) under fire for the severe flooding in Isabela and Cagayan when Typhoon Ulysses swamped the provinces last week, Senator Richard Gordon said the agency should be properly supervised to avoid a repeat of the catastrophic incident.
“We cannot solve everything through legislation, all the laws are there. What is important is that NIA is properly supervised,” he said when asked how he could address the issue through legislation.
Gordon advised NIA to practice the 4Ps – Predict, Plan, Prepare and Practice like they do in the Philippine Red Cross where he is chairman and CEO -- to mitigate the effect of disasters and more lives and property will be saved.
The PRC head also supported the call to include dam releasing in the alerts issued by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, adding that in the Red Cross, they regularly monitor the water level in the different dams so they could warn residents to evacuate if they are nearing spilling level.
“The Red Cross monitors the status of the dams. For example, the Tullahan River, we ask people to evacuate, we tell them that it is about to overflow,” he said.
The release of water from the dams reportedly worsened flooding situations in Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, the Cordillera Administrative Region, and Metro Manila.
In Cagayan and Isabela, the release of water from Magat Dam, one of the biggest dams in Asia, at the height of the storm allegedly triggered massive flooding in Cagayan Valley and left at least nine dead.
Meanwhile, NIA chief Ricardo Visaya said the spillway gates of Magat Dam had to be opened amid the heavy rains from Typhoon Ulysses to prevent the dam from breaking and causing a bigger catastrophe that would have affected millions of people.
In a related development, the government has released P1.5 billion in funds for areas badly hit by recent storms that spawned severe flooding across Luzon, an official from the Department of the Interior and Local Government said Saturday.
Malaya said: “Since state of calamity was declared, the SARO and the NCA were already released, amounting to P1.5 billion for LGUs badly-hit by the consecutive typhoons.”
The funds were taken from a P16-billion budget the Department of Budget and Management allocated for disaster response.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier placed all of Luzon under a state of calamity after consecutive storms, notably Typhoons Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses, ravaged parts of the country’s biggest island, causing catastrophic floods.
Other local government units affected by the storms may request funds from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Malaya added.
Among other areas hit by widespread floods during Ulysses was Metro Manila, particularly Marikina.
Meanwhile, the number of injuries attributed to Typhoon Ulysses has climbed to 68, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said in its Saturday update.
The number of deaths remained at 73, and 19 people were still missing.
The deaths, injured, and missing were recorded in the Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, the Bicol, and the Cordillera regions, and the National Capital Region.
Affected families were placed at 912,912, which is equivalent to 3,747,201 persons residing in 6,197 barangays in Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Bicol, NCR, and the Cordillera region.
Damage to agriculture was placed at P4,213,681,074 incurred in Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Bicol, Cordillera, and the NCR.
Damage to infrastructures was estimated at P8,699,732,576 in Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Bicol, Cordillera, and the NCR.