By Robert B. Roque, Jr.
Typhoon “Ulysses” was a scourge that kept me awake all night. It’s not that often for Metro Manila to absorb an overnight battering of Signal No. 3. Even with my eyes and windows closed, the howling winds tormented my useless journey to sleep.
Two nights later, long after the eye of the storm had passed, still, I was in a state of “unasleep”. This time, my eyes were closed and the night air calm. But the images of men, women, old folk, and children drenched in their clothes and waiting for rescue on top of roofs amid a waterworld of flood were killing me.
That night, amid the hardships of rescuing them, a military official described Cagayan Valley as “the Pacific Ocean”.
Interviewed last Saturday by SuperRadyo DZ Dobol B, Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba said his constituents want to sue Magat Dam administrators not just for the floods brought upon them by Ulysses but also for previous typhoons that wrought damage and loss of lives.
Infrawatch PH convenor Terry Ridon said dams like Magat “rushed to open gates only at the height of Ulysses” while administrators knew that their protocol was to gradually release water as early as two to three days before landfall.
Prominent geologist Mahar Lagmay agrees that since PAG-ASA had already issued its forecast on Ulysses days ahead, dam administrators had the option to release water in advance so that “the rivers will be able to handle it better”.
Ridon claimed it was in the sudden opening of seven gates to discharge 6,244 cubic meters per second (cms) of water from Magat Dam that rivers swelled, inundating populated areas of the region.
Does this amount to criminal incompetence? Ridon can sit on this corner to definitely say so.
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Way back in September 2017, Ms. Gina Lopez tweeted a photo of an aerial survey of Pasig River for her TV program, “G Diaries”. Noticeably, it pictured the denuded uplands on either side of the riverway snaking through the Marikina-Rizal area.
In her tweet, she said: “It is important that we rehabilitate this watershed (Marikina) because it is the first line of defense of Marikina, Quezon City, Antipolo, Pasig, Cainta, San Mateo, etc., against rainwater surging from the uplands of Luzon.”
She continued: “THAT QUARRYING IS ILLEGAL BECAUSE IT IS IN A WATERSHED!!! IT SHOULD NOT BE THERE BECAUSE IT WILL CAUSE FLOODING IN METRO MANILA!!!”
That was not a crone’s folkloric prophecy, but a learned assessment from a former DENR Secretary – arguably, the most faithful to the environment amongst all who came before or after her.
She was right, then. And she was painfully right when Ulysses barreled across Luzon last week, leaving the devastation from floods in the same areas she tweeted over three years ago.
Fearfully, if no action is taken to rehabilitate the Marikina Watershed and protect it from quarrying, she’d still be right three years or three decades from now and we’d all wake up to the nightmare of avoidable floods.
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