PAGASA: Magat dam administrator warned of strong rains before Typhoon Ulysses

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 19) — State weather forecasters rejected blame from the administrator of Magat Dam, insisting PAGASA issued flood warnings to the National Irrigation Administration days before Typhoon Ulysses hit the country.

During the Senate plenary debate on the Department of Science and Technology’s 2021 budget on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said NIA claimed that they still had to wait for PAGASA to authorize them to open the gates of the dams. PAGASA, through its budget sponsor Senator Joel Villanueva, debunked the claim of NIA, the agency in charge of the Magat, Angat, and Ipo dams.

“It’s not true that they are waiting for PAGASA’s orders or instructions to open the dikes… The authority was lodged with NIA… In general, the dam operators decide the conduct of gate opening, discharge warning while PAGASA provides the flood warning within the target areas of the dam,” Villanueva explained.

“So mali ang sinabi ng NIA head today because NIA is blaming PAGASA,” Zubiri said.

[Translation: So the head of NIA was wrong, because it was blaming PAGASA.]

Despite the possible devastating effects of the typhoon, NIA discharged water from the Magat Dam only once on November 9, a day after PAGASA's warning that the typhoon will bring torrential rains. Typhoon Ulysses hit the country in November 11. It was also on that same day that all of Magat Dam's gates were opened. The opening of Magat Dam's gates at the height of the typhoon is seen to have largely contributed to the unprecedented flooding in Cagayan and Isabela.

Both Villanueva and Zubiri questioned why it was only then that NIA released a significant amount of water from the Magat Dam’s reservoir.

“You already know it’s coming. You already know there is torrential rains. They already know about it, why not release excess water sa dam? Hindi 'yung kasagsagan ng bagyo doon ire-release [You don't release water at the height of the typhoon],” Villanueva said.

While NIA opened one of the dam's gates on November 9, Zubiri said it was not enough and the proof is that central and northern Luzon were submerged in floodwater.

RELATED: NDRRMC: Dams do not worsen flooding

Senate to probe flooding

Zubiri said the Senate will look deeper into this issue when it holds a hearing next week on the severe flooding in many parts of the country during Typhoon Ulysses. He and Senator Francis Pangilinan want to invite the agencies involved in the management of water resources such as the NIA, National Power Corporation, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, Department of Energy, and the Department of Public Works and Highways.

Senator Imee Marcos said aside from the DPWH, the Senate should also invite the DENR to discuss their alleged failure to maintain the water shed. She also wants PAGASA to be present in the hearing due to allegations that the agency did not give flood warnings in northern and central Luzon.

READ: NIA open to probe following criticism after Ulysses

The House of Representatives is also set to hold a similar probe on November 24.

Ulysses left at least 73 dead, 24 injured and 19 missing as of Thursday due to heavy flooding in a number of provinces in Luzon.