Cagayan priest to sue Magat Dam operator over floods

Raymon Dullana
Cagayan priest to sue Magat Dam operator over floods
(UPDATED) The priest says that when SN Aboitiz Power Group released water from Magat Dam at the height of Typhoon Nona (Melor), it caused head-high floods and damaged crops

CAGAYAN, Philippines (UPDATED) – A priest based in this province is studying the possibility of suing the owner and operator of Magat Dam for releasing water at the height of Typhoon Nona (Melor), causing floods in Cagayan, Isabela, and neighboring provinces.

Father Ranhilio Aquino, dean of San Beda College’s Graduate School of Law, said he and his colleagues have “empirical evidence” that SN Aboitiz Power Group is responsible for “thoughtlessness” at the height of the typhoon, causing floods and destroying crops.

The heavy rains brought by Typhoon Nona breached the spilling level of Magat Dam, forcing the operator to release water and maintain the dam’s normal capacity.

The release of water caused an increase in the water level in Cagayan River and its tributaries, causing deep floods in low-lying areas.

“The rains were strong, but definitely not strong enough to cause flooding. Clearly, Magat Dam is to blame,” Aquino said in a Facebook post.

But SN Aboitiz Power-Magat Incorporated (SNAP Magat) only owns and operates the 360-megawatt (MW) Magat Hydroelectric Power Plant located at the border of Ramon, Isabela, and Alfonso Lista, Ifugao, the company replied to Rappler on Wednesday, December 23.

“SNAP Magat only bought the hydroelectric power plant component which is the 360 MW hydro plant from government. It is not involved in dam operations, spilling, and flood control,” SNAP Magat spokesperson Mike Hosillos said in an email.

He added the Magat Dam is owned and operated by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).

“Though used for power generation and flood control, the dam’s primary purpose is to irrigate around 85,000 hectares of agricultural lands in Cagayan Valley, mostly in Isabela Province,” the company website said.

“It is primarily for irrigation, and power generation is limited to what NIA uses for irrigation. During typhoons and other events, Magat Dam is also being used by government for flood control,” Hosillos added.

NIA, as owner and operator of the Magat Dam, follows a protocol on dam operations and releases whenever needed, he also said. “They also follow the advisory of PAGASA on weather forecasts and related events.”

Aquino said lawyer Antonio La Viña, part of the Philippines’ negotiating panel at the climate conference in Paris, will help them study the case.

La Viña confirmed to Rappler he had agreed to help Aquino’s group study the case and identify specific respondents. “We will work with Father Aquino and other petitioners on this.”

Aquino said those who are supportive of the plan will convene at the Archbishop’s Residence at the Tuguegarao Cathedral on December 30.

“May I therefore call on all lawyers who believe in this cause and other community leaders to a meeting at the Archbishop’s Residence on December 30, Wednesday, at 9:30 in the morning, so that together we may prepare the complaint against Magat Dam,” he announced.

“Once more, farmers lose what they have just planted. Yet again, Tuguegaraoenos from the riverside, from Linao and other parts of the city must scamper to safety, in panic, as they vainly try to save their belongings,” he added.

Rappler tried to reach Magat Dam officials for comment, but no one was answering their office phone after several attempts. 

Hosillos said SNAP Magat is open to dialogue with concerned parties on its perceived role in Magat. “We can, however, only provide information that relates to our only operation of the Magat hydroelectric power plant and not on the Magat Dam operations which is the responsibility of NIA.”

‘Test case’

Cagayan 3rd District Representative Randolph Ting said he wouldn’t oppose Aquino’s move. He said it will be the “test case” to spark discussion on who should be blamed for floods, and how to mitigate them.

Ting also said it is the “primary” duty of the executive department, including the local government units (LGUs) to create flood control schemes since they have calamity funds.

The city of Tuguegarao released in October a P36-million calamity fund after Typhoon Lando (internation name: Koppu) submerged houses and destroyed rice and corn crops.

Ting said the fund “may” be enough to create projects to mitigate floods.

Damage, casualties

In Cagayan Valley, 6 people were reported dead, all in Nueva Vizcaya province, due to Typhoon Nona. They included children, aged 4 and 8, whose houses were buried by landslide.

One person from Nueva Vizcaya is still missing after he was carried away by strong current when he tried to cross a swollen river.

In a report, Office of Civil Defense-Cagayan Valley chief Norma Talosig said floods in the region have displaced almost 200,000 residents from the provinces of Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, and Quirino.

The partial damage in agriculture and fisheries was pegged at P579 million, putting into waste almost 25% of the standing crop.

The region is home of the country’s corn capital, Ilagan City. – 

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