Up until now, some towns in the provinces of Cagayan and Isabela are still submerged in deep floodwater after the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses, the 21st tropical storm to enter the Philippines this year. However, the heavy flooding is actually attributed to the release of water from the Magat Dam in Region 2, rather than the typhoon itself.
According to experts from Infrawatch PH, the Magat Dam operators failed to follow the protocol of pre-releasing water and lowering the level of water in the dam three days before Typhoon Ulysses arrived in the region.
“Magat did not make sufficient water drawdown 2 to 3 days prior to Ulysses, as mandated by its protocol, because its gates were not even open 3 to 4 days prior to landfall,” said Terry Ridon, Infrawatch PH convenor. (Read: Yes, Donor Fatigue is Real — Here’s How to Overcome It)
Initially, the number of gates that were opened for drawdown was at seven, but is continuously being decreased as water levels are going back to its normal levels.
Magat Dam Protocol
According to the protocol set by the National Irrigation Administration-Magat River Integrated Irrigation System (NIA-MARIIS), drawdown should be made 2 to 3 days “before expected landfall of the typhoon.” (LIST: Where to Give Food Donations for Typhoon Ulysses Victims)
Additionally, they should inform concerned agencies about the pre-release and coordinate with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) to be informed of the expected amount of rainfall and the date and time of landfall.
In a statement from NIA on November 15, they clarified that they “advised residents of the Provinces of Isabela and Cagayan in Region II of its water release from the Magat Reservoir to maintain safe water level of the Magat Dam on Monday, November 9, 2020—two (2) days before Typhoon Ulysses (Vamco) made its first landfall in Patnanungan, Quezon, at 10:30 PM of November 11, 2020.”
They also reiterated that pre-release is mandated before a typhoon hits the region, so as not to reach the dam’s spilling level which is at 193.0 meters.
Pre-Release Before Landfall
However, UP Resilience Institute executive director Mahar Lagmay said that the amount of rainfall may be estimated to determine how much water should be released. “They had 3 days in advance [to pre-release water], the forecast was made at least 3 days in advance. If you did not contain the release within 1-2 days only but rather within 5 days, then the rivers will be able to handle it better,” he said in an interview.
Even Vice President Leni Robredo emphasized that the drawdown should have been done earlier and that the operators should have probed which areas would be most affected. (Read: Typhoon Rolly Wrecks Albay Churches, Bishop Asks For Help) “Kunwari isang gate yung bubuksan, alin yung may danger of flooding? Kung 3 gates ang bubuksan, alin?,” Robredo questioned. She added that it was important to know these things as it would affect communities, especially low-lying ones, if too much gates were opened at the same time.
Accountable for Flooding
Infrawatch PH said that what had happened in the region is ‘criminal incompetence’. “Did they not authorize an aggressive but programmatic dam discharge in preparation for heavy rainfall during this time? If they did not, then the deaths and economic damage in all these communities rest solely on their shoulders,” they said. “We demand answers from the highest levels of government. Tell us again, Mr President: how is this not criminal incompetence?” their executive director said.
In addition, Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba said in an interview that his constituents wanted to file cases against the operators of the dam for what had happened now and even in the past years where flooding also occurred when Magat Dam released water. ”
Minsan ang tao sa Cagayan, gusto nila magkaron ng lawsuit against them [Magat Dam] for damages dahil wala naman kami nakikita [na benepisyo sa amin] sa Magat Dam o kahit ano, yet we suffer the flooding woes from the Magat Dam every year,” the governor said. (Read: Pinoy Celebs Start Initiatives to Help Typhoon Victims)
Mamba adds that as of the moment, he will not be heeding his constituents’ calls for charges against the operators, but says he understands where they are coming from.
“Hindi po natin matatanggal sa kanila iyon kasi naaagrabyado kami. We do not get anything from Magat except that our neighbors are much much richer than us. Kaya sana makita naman nila iyon,” the governor said.