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PAGASA rebuffs NIA on Magat claim

The NIA head was wrong in insisting that PAGASA should be blamed.

Hananeel Bordey

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Not the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) but the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) should be held liable for the devastation caused by the massive flooding in Isabela and Cagayan as a result of water released from Magat Dam.

NIA Administrator Ricardo Visaya was found to have lied when he claimed during a Senate hearing that the agency had to wait for PAGASA for authority to open the gates of the dams before the onslaught of typhoon “Ulysses.”

“We can’t release water without the advice of PAGASA. Actually, in pre-releases, we were given notification by PAGASA that it is on preemptive stage and we needed to open the gates,” he said.

During the Senate plenary debate on the Department of Science and Technology’s (DoST) 2021 budget on Wednesday, PAGASA officials, through budget sponsor Senator Joel Villanueva, debunked the claim of NIA since it is fully in charge of Luzon’s 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,” PAGASA officials relayed to Villanueva.

“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 reservoir,” Villanueva explained.

Based on the account of PAGASA representatives, NIA discharged water from the Magat Dam only once on 9 November but when “Ulysses” struck on 11 November, that was only when all of Magat Dam’s gates were opened.

Water from Magat Dam was suspected to have largely contributed to the unprecedented flooding in Cagayan and Isabela, which are provinces that are not in the direct path of “Ulysses.”

Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Mark Villar co-head of the Build Back Better task force for the typhoon rehabilitation said several factors that led to the flooding will be discussed during the body’s first meeting.

“In Cagayan, it will be the release of water from the dam and deforestation,” Villar said.

“There is ongoing dredging in Cagayan (River) which is needed. We will devise a strategy to determine which critical areas needed to be dredged,” he added.

Villar said the task force will soon discuss the right protocols for the discharge of dam water.

 

PAGASA memo not implemented

It was in 2006, during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when a memorandum was issued for PAGASA to take over the supervision of the dams but it was not carried out so the authority still resided with NIA, PAGASA officials said.

Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri repeated NIA’s claim and further verified if PAG-ASA has nothing to do with the release of water from the dams in which Villanueva answered: “According to PAG-ASA, it’s wrong.”

“The NIA head was wrong in insisting that PAGASA should be blamed,” Zubiri said.

Zubiri then added that NIA is scheduled to face the Senate plenary again before they finish the deliberations of its budget on Friday.

Officials both from NIA and PAGASA are also set to face the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Climate Change to answer the lawmakers’ queries on the massive flooding in Cagayan, Zubiri said.

“The reason why I’m asking the agencies in DoST is that they are now putting the blame on PAGASA,” Zubiri said.

NIA Dam and Reservoir Division Manager Engineer Eduardo Ramos earlier said that NIA will be reviewing the protocols on the release of water from the Magat Dam.

Three senators have already sought an investigation on the massive flooding in Cagayan and other areas in Luzon.

 

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