NIA open to probe following criticism after Ulysses

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Floodwaters in Cagayan after the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 18) — The National Irrigation Administration is open to an investigation of its performance during the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses (international name: Vamco), its chief said on Thursday.

"Ready naman po kami na ipapakita yung ginawa namin. Because that is well-documented yung mga actions taken by our reservoir...and dam division sa Magat," NIA Administrator Ricardo Visaya said in a televised briefing.

[Translation: We are ready to show what we did. Because the actions taken by our reservoir and dam division in Magat are well documented.]

Calls for an investigation of the NIA mounted after the release of water from the Magat Dam was largely blamed for the massive flooding in Isabela and Cagayan.

"Maganda na rin nga po 'yan, dahil para talagang sa susunod e wala nang mangyari (na ganito). Para at least, sabi ko nga, this is an opportunity for us to review everything," he said.

[Translation: It's a good move, so that this will not happen again. At least, this is an opportunity for us to review everything.]

Visaya said they followed protocol which has been in place since 2006, adding that the order to release water comes from PAGASA and is relayed to them.

He said the protocol also states this order is made two to three days prior the release of water.

"Makikita ninyo na despite na pinapakita namin na documents...despite yung sinasabi ng ating local chief executives, na nareceive nila yung mga abiso namin ng mga November 9, still parang hindi maniwala ang ating mga kababayan. Nasunod po ang protocol," said Visaya.

[Translation: You will see that despite the documents we've shown...despite what local chief executives are saying, that they received our advisory on November 9, the people seem to still not believe. The protocol was followed.]

He did say they are now reviewing the protocol along with PAGASA, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the National Power Corporation.

"Masakit man ang nangyari sa atin [While what happened was painful], this gave us the chance to review our protocol," he said.

Visaya also said people had the right to express their feelings.

"Nasa kanila po yun, right nila na magsabi ng sakit. It's okay for me," he said.

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, something the agency vehemently denied.

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.]

Vice President Leni Robredo 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.