Officials of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) denied on Wednesday that its order is needed before dams could release water.
During the plenary debates on the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) proposed 2021 budget, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri inquired about the protocols being followed by the government on water discharges from dams following the severe flooding in the provinces of Cagayan and Isabela.
Zubiri said he heard from the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) that it has to get the go-signal from PAGASA to allow dams to release water.
“I’m being told here, distinguished colleague, that it’s not true that they are waiting for PAGASA’s order or instruction to open the valves,” Senator Joel Villanueva, who was sponsoring the DOST budget, said, quoting PAGASA officials who were in the Senate plenary hall.
“In 2006, during the presidency of GMA (former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo), there was a memorandum for PAGASA to take over but they did not agree, Mr. President. It was again, lodged, the authority’s again lodged with NIA,” he added.
“So mali po ‘yong sinabi ng NIA head today (So the NIA head’s statement today was wrong)? Kasi (Because) NIA is now blaming PAGASA,” Zubiri asked.
“According to PAGASA, it’s wrong. They lied, Mr. President,” Villanueva responded.
“In fact, the dam operators decided the conduct of gate opening, discharge warnings, while PAGASA provides flood warnings within the target areas of the dam,” he further explained.
The release of water from the NIA-operated Magat Dam was blamed for the widespread flooding in Cagayan and Isabela during the onslaught of the Typhoon Ulysses.
During Wednesday’s Laging Handa public briefing, NIA Administrator Ricardo Visaya said that under their protocols, the PAGASA would have to greenlight and inform them on the need to release water.
“Ang nakalagay sa protocol ang pagpapalabas ng tubig ay actually manggagaling sa PAGASA at sasabihin sa amin na nasa preemptive ano na tayo at kailangan na magrelease ng tubig. (The protocol states that the discharge will actually come from PAGASA and will tell us that we are in the preemptive stage and need to release water). That is about two to three days ang nakalagay sa protocol before dumating ang bagyo (before the storm arrives under the current protocol),” he said, citing the same 2006 memorandum mentioned by the PAGASA.
PAGASA officials told senators that they issued the flood warning to NIA last November 8. The Magat Dam started releasing water in November 9, two days ahead of the landfall of Typhoon Ulysses last November 11.
Zubiri said NIA officials would be asked to explain on Friday about their water discharges in the Magat Dam.
A separate investigation will also be conducted by the Senate committee on environment next week. Senators have called for a legislative inquiry on what they called a “man-made” disaster due to the releases from dam reservoirs.
Visaya said they are now reviewing their protocols on water discharges in coordination with concerned agencies.
He also welcomed investigations on his alleged neglect of duty on the water discharge operations of Magat Dam. He said the NIA is also open to transfer the authority of releasing water from dam reservoirs to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council during typhoons.