Senators seek probe on causes, factors behind severe floodings from recent typhoons

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 17) — Senators Ramon 'Bong' Revilla Jr. and Risa Hontiveros have filed resolutions calling for an investigation into what triggered the massive flooding caused by Typhoon Ulysses particularly in Cagayan, Rizal, and Marikina City.

Revilla filed Senate Resolution No. 570, which urged the appropriate Senate committees to inquire into the "confluence of factors" that led to the recent torrential floods. The senator also noted that authorities were forced to open the gates of certain dams as water reached critical level following heavy rainfall from back-to-back typhoons.

RELATED: DILG wants disaster officials to oversee dam discharge following Ulysses onslaught

Among these dams is the Magat Dam in Cagayan. Governor Manuel Mamba said over the weekend that he is considering filing a complaint against the dam management for the release of water amid the typhoon's wrath.

However, during his briefing on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said it's difficult to prove liability on the dam management's end.

"Tama naman pong mag-imbestiga para siguro lalong mas mapabuti iyong coordination sa pagbubukas ng Magat Dam pero gaya ng aking sinabi kahapon, bilang abogado, let's give it the benefit of the doubt right now," he explained. "Dahil sa scientific study (on Cagayan River), ang liability ng Magat ay mahirap na mapruwebahan talaga."

[Translation: It's just but right to conduct an investigation to better improve coordination on the opening of the Magat Dam's gates but like what I said yesterday, as a lawyer I'm saying let's give it the benefit of the doubt right now. Because given what's indicated in the scientific study on the Cagayan River, it's difficult to prove Magat [Dam's] liability.]

Mahar Lagmay, director of the University of the Philippines Resilience Institute, also said researchers are still looking into what may have been the major contributor to the massive floods. He added that they cannot yet attribute it entirely to the Magat Dam spillage since there are also other tributaries that flow into the Cagayan River.

"There are many factors," Lagmay told CNN Philippines' Newsroom PH. "Hindi matukoy pa as of the moment kung ano ang primary one [We cannot pinpoint as of the moment which is the primary one] but we all know may bagyo na nagdala ng malakas na ulan [there was a storm that brought strong rains]."

However, he did note that the outflow from the dam was significantly large -- up to 6,500 cubic meters per second. For reference, 4,000 cubic meters of water per second was discharged into the Marikina River during the notorious tropical storm Ondoy in 2009.

Meanwhile, Hontiveros wants to look into the man-made causes of the severe flooding in Senate Resolution No. 571, noting the exploitation of natural resources has made the country more vulnerable to such disasters.

President Rodrigo Duterte has recently tasked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to look into illegal mining and logging activities in Cagayan Valley following the catastrophic floods the region had experienced due to Typhoon Ulysses.

"Natural calamities are beyond our control and can be unpredictable, but there are causes to the historic devastation of Typhoon Ulysses that could have been addressed," said Hontiveros.

Moving forward

Both senators said the country is no stranger to natural disasters like typhoons, so such situations must be avoided next time by crafting better approaches to future calamities.

"We must anticipate that the dams will release water, so dapat may mga naka in-place na infrastruktura tulad ng dadaluyan ng tubig at sasalo nito, para huwag rumagasa at manalanta ng mga kabahayan," said Revilla about the need for a comprehensive strategy and infrastructure development in anticipation of the next natural disasters.

[Translation: We must anticipate that the dams will release water, hence there should be infrastructure in place such as passageways and catchbasins for water so that it won't ravage and destroy homes.]

In a statement on Tuesday morning, Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan noted that there are protocols that should have been observed on dam discharge and flood warnings. He said he will also be filing a Senate resolution seeking a probe on the deadly flooding in Cagayan.

Ulysses has left at least 73 dead and 19 missing in six regions of the country, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council's latest report said. Cagayan was among the hardest hit provinces.

"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," said Hontiveros.

The lawmaker stressed the need to take the task of protecting nature seriously along with "drastically" upgrading the country's preparedness and response to future disasters.

Typhoon Ulysses alone had caused billions of pesos worth of damage to agriculture and infrastructure, hitting areas in Luzon still reeling from typhoons which came before it.