NIA accountable for irresponsible Magat Dam release that caused massive flooding across Cagayan

Heads must roll

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said the National Irrigation Authority-Magat River Integrated Irrigation System (NIA-Mariis), the government regulator of the Magat Dam’s operations, spilling, and flood control, is highly accountable for the abrupt and irresponsible opening of Magat Dam spillway gates last November 13 that resulted in the inundation of Cagayan and Isabela towns, described as the worst flooding in the region in the past 40 years.

“The NIA-Mariis warned residents along the banks of the Magat River to move to higher places only when the dam was releasing water at full-scale,” says Danilo Ramos, chairperson of KMP. In the afternoon of November 13, Magat Dam’s water level breached the normal level and rose to 192.65 meters or barely .35 meters close to its spilling level of 193 meters. All of Magat Dam’s seven spillway gates were opened at 18 meters with an inflow of 6,044 cubic meters per second (cms) and outflow at 3,692 cms from the reservoir.

Open spillway gates of Magat Dam

“The NIA-Mariis could have warned the residents early on. Likewise, respective government offices like the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) and local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Offices should have coordinated and come up with concrete plans on how to prevent flooding. They knew that accumulated rainfall from successive typhoons will overflow dams, rivers, and tributaries. A more proactive and preemptive evacuation of residents could have prevented the situation of residents being trapped on their roofs.”

Several Luzon dams also opened their spillway gates at the same time when typhoon Ulysses was pounding most of Luzon.

“NIA administrator Ricardo Visaya must be accountable. We hold NDRRMC chairman Delfin Lorenzana equally responsible too. These favored Generals are bungling on their jobs. Now, nobody wants to take the blame for the flooding. All offices are saying that they have done enough preparations and are even blaming residents for refusing to evacuate. That’s too lousy for an excuse.”  

Magat River is only one of the 18 river tributaries of the entire Cagayan River basin. Magat Dam is a catch basin of 4,143 square kilometers of the watershed and eight upstream rivers namely Alimit, Lamut, Ibulao in Ifugao Province and Abian, Matuno, Sta. Cruz, Marang, Sta. Fe River in Nueva Vizcaya. Both LGUs and thousands of residents were caught off-guard with the swift rise of floodwater in the aftermath of typhoon Ulysses. SN Aboitiz Power-Magat Incorporated or SNAP Magat operates the power generation component of the Magat Hydroelectric Power Plant. In 2015, SN Magat and NIA were also blamed for releasing dam water at the height of Typhoon Nona, resulting to head-high flood and damaged crops.  

Demand for relief and accountability

According to Isabelo Adviento of DANGGAYAN-KMP, areas in need of urgent help include 25 municipalities and Tugegarao City in Cagayan with 43, 838 families, or 174,970 individuals. In Isabela, 18 municipalities and 3 cities with 90, 000 families or 450,000 individuals are affected. They need ready-to-eat food, relief packs, drinking water, hygiene kits, sleeping mats, medicines and clothing.  

KMP also chided Cagayan governor Manuel Mamba for saying that Cagayanos are practically used to calamities such as flooding. “Governor Mamba is over abusing the resiliency card when in fact, the typhoon-stricken population was practically left on their own by the local and national governments,” added Ramos as he also noted Tuguegarao City Mayor Jefferson Soriano’s absence while flood water was inundating the city, forcing residents of Barangay Linao East to seek help for rescue through social media.

“Aside from immediate relief and long-term rehabilitation, farmers also demand accountability on the flooding. Government policies that allowed the degradation of the environment resulted in the catastrophe,” Ramos concluded. ###

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