NIA stresses no lapses in Magat Dam water release amid calls for probe

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 16) — As calls for an investigation mount, the National Irrigation Administration on Monday reiterated it covered all bases in informing the public of water discharge from the Magat Dam prior to Typhoon Ulysses' onslaught.

The release of water from the Magat Dam was largely blamed for the massive flooding in Isabela and Cagayan, which left local government officials and hundreds of residents surprised by the amount of water from the dam.

The National Irrigation Administration-Magat River Integrated Irrigation System said they informed officials using every venue possible two days before the typhoon's expected landfall. Department Manager Wilfredo Gloria added they sounded the siren six hours before the discharge to inform residents in the area.

"As early as November 9, nagkaroon na tayo ng paghahanda. We already started the pre-release operation," Gloria told CNN Philippines. "Halos parang nagkadoble-doble na: We sent emails, mayroong hard copy na dini-distribute, at through texting. Tumulong din ang radio stations na sa ganitong oras, ganito ang ipapakawala ng Magat Dam."

[Translation: We started the pre-release operation on November 9. There were many advisories. We sent it via email, distributed hard copies, sent text messages. Radio stations also announced how much water will be released at a certain time.]

The official said it would have caused greater destruction if they did not release water from the Magat Dam during the strong rainfall.

Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba, who is planning to file a class suit against the administrators of Magat Dam, said there were lapses on the part of NIA.

"Practically inoopen mo po ang river kapag inopen mo ang pitong outlets diyan... Alam namin may mangyayaring ganyan but not the magnitude of what we have gone through," Mamba said in a media briefing.

[Translation: You practically opened a river when you opened seven gates. We knew they were going to release water, but not in that magnitude.]

Vice President Leni Robredo also backed calls for an investigation on the "oversight," saying it's necessary to conduct a probe to avoid another catastrophic flooding caused by release from dams.

Infrastructure-oriented think tank Infrawatch Philippines said the heads of NIA and National Power Corporation should be made "accountable for this unacceptable criminal oversight."

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año has recommended that National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council should oversee dam discharge protocols to better prepare residents of nearby localities for disasters.