By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Youth groups said the damage brought about by Typhoon Pedring could have been lessened if the government has control over the operations of dams.
“State control over the operations of dams, such as the release of water, could have diminished the ravages of typhoon Pedring. Corporations or establishments such as dams which have the capacity to inflict hazards on the people’s welfare should have government intervention regardless of being privately-owned or not,” Mark Louie Aquino of Kabataan Partylist-National Capital Region said.
Six major dams in Luzon namely: Ipo and Angat in Norzagaray, Bulacan, the Bustos in Bustos, Bulacan, the San Roque in Pangasinan, the Binga in Itogon, Benguet, the Magat in Isabela, and the Ambuklao in Benguet released water in anticipation of the typhoon Quiel. This resulted to deep flooding in Nueva Ecija, Bulacan and Pampanga. All large-dams in Luzon are owned by private and foreign companies except for Angat Dam, which will soon be privatized.
Authorities estimate about $137 million damage to crops in Central Luzon due to the flooding. The crops were unfortunately expected to be harvested if not for typhoon Pedring and the dam releases.
In a statement, the group said that in a country frequented by typhoons, the government should have “learned by now the lessons from previous typhoons.”
“A typhoon’s effects are felt on a nationwide scale and must therefore be handled by the national government,” Aquino said.
Mother nature not the culprit
Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said the Philippine government has “conveniently pointed to mother nature as the culprit behind the massive and destructive flooding in Central Luzon.”
“The government has known several years back the possible effects and impact of climate change but it has not taken significant measures to address these,” the group said, citing that government agencies and power corporations’s failure to regulate and manage the major dams in the country as one of the reasons behind the flooding.
In a statement, Kalikasan said private corporations operating the dams decide when to release water. “Even during critical situations where public safety is at stake, the government cannot compel these private corporations, which are primarily concerned with earning profits more than public safety, when to release water from dams.”
Local government officials from Pangasinan and Bulacan have called on the Aquino administration “to review flood-control protocols, blaming outdated rules and inefficient or lack of flooding infrastructures for their provinces’ vulnerability to flooding.” Jessie Robredo, secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government, meanwhile said in a radio interview that the management of dam water levels may be “in need of review,” adding that early release of water may be called for during rainy season.
“PAGASA, the government weather agency, is only tasked to monitor water level of dams in the country. If water reaches the critical level, only then will PAGASA advise the private companies to release water,” the group added.
Lessons from previous typhoons
“This is the detrimental effect of the privatization of dams making it all the more necessary for the state to control it,” Aquino said, “President Benigno Aquino III previously bragged that never will another typhoon that pass the country ravage the nation. He just got himself his own Ondoy.”
In the light of the two typhoons namely Ondoy and Pepeng that hit the country in 2009, and all other typhoons in the past, progressive environmental organizations have called for the decommissioning of dams.
“If private power companies will remain in control over large dams, we should prepare for more destructive floods,” Giovanni Tapang, chair of Advocates of Science and Technology for the People said. He also called for the nationalization of dams in the country.
“The government should take over the function of water management of dams. Large dams should be managed not only to provide electricity but also ensure the safety of the people,” Tapang said. He added that private companies whenever possible will maximize water levels in large dams to generate more electricity because it guarantees more profits at the expense of public safety.
San Roque Dam, for one, has been blamed for the massive flooding in Luzon since the dam began operating in 2003.
Kabataan Partylist-NCR, meanwhile, would be doing relief operations in Bulacan. “While the government is busy pointing fingers and throwing faults at each other, we are welcoming all forms of support and relief goods for Tulong Kabataan,” Aquino said, “Let’s help our fellow Filipinos who are suffering because of a government that chose state neglect over state control.”