Duterte administration

Who’s accountable for typhoon impact? Malacañang blames climate change

Pia Ranada
Who’s accountable for typhoon impact? Malacañang blames climate change

WASHED OUT. An aerial photo shows the aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses along Cagayan Valley.

Malacañang photo

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque eventually admits 'lapses' of DENR and PNP led to the proliferation of illegal mining that contributed to deadly flooding and landslides

When Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque was repeatedly asked who should be held accountable for the series of deadly mishaps during the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses, he resorted to blaming the global phenomenon of climate change.

This, despite the number of incidents during the natural calamity that could be traced directly to government failures – the proliferation of illegal mining in Cagayan Valley, hazard maps that weren’t followed, lack of coordination on the release of water from Magat Dam, among others.

Alam mo talaga, ang problema ay itong climate change,” said Roque when asked by CNN Philippines reporter Triciah Terada about whether lapses of government agencies merit a review of their performance.

Kahit gaano kagaling ang DENR, kahit gaano kagaling ang NDRRMC, habang hindi natin nasosolusyunan itong climate change, eh baka mabura pa ang ating teritoryo,” he continued.

(No matter how good the DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] and NDRRMC are, if we don’t find a solution to climate change, our land will be wiped out.)

When Miguel Aguana of GMA News Desk raised criticism from civil society groups that the absence of coordination in the release of water from Magat Dam is “criminal incompetence,” Roque said the same thing.

“I will repeat – our problem is climate change. If at all, the opening of dams was contributory, but what can we do if we can’t discharge water? The dams will explode,” said the Duterte spokesman.

He then called on Filipinos to “join hands” to fight for “climate change justice.”

Roque was likely referring to climate justice, a term that refers to the campaign of primarily developing, climate-vulnerable nations to hold richer nations to account for fueling global warming over the past century. (READ: Duterte demands climate justice from developed countries in ASEAN Summit)

Admits law enforcers’ lapses

When asked by Rappler why Duterte was not taking government officials to task for illegal small-scale mining in Cagayan that contributed to landslides and flashfloods there, Roque admitted it was the fault of law enforcers.

“The PNP will have to more or less come up with an explanation on why there was unauthorized mining activities in the area, ‘no, because that’s that matter also of enforcement. So in that sense, there may have been lapses because illegal mining activities were ongoing which should have been stopped,” said Roque.

But the DENR, led by Duterte’s “alter ego” Secretary Roy Cimatu, is also responsible for stopping and preventing illegal mining.

Roque, asked about DENR’s lapses, said the department has “limited enforcement,” especially in “very remote” areas like the Sierra Madre mountain range.

“I would accept that we need to better enforce and implement the laws banning illegal mining even in secluded areas, remote and secluded areas such as the Sierra Madre range,” said the Duterte spokesman.

Yet the President himself, in 3 situation briefings on typhoons Rolly and Ulysses, did not scour any government official or agency for the proliferation of illegal quarrying, mining, and logging that directly contributed to the recent deadly floods and landslides.

In fact, he more often praised government officials for a job “well done.”

Blames supposed lack of news coverage

In the same press conference, Roque attributed the devastating toll of the Cagayan Valley landslide to lack of publicity of a supposed National Irrigation Administration November 9 notice that water from the Magat Dam would be released.

“The problem was, no one except PNA (Philippine News Agency) carried the news. No one in mainstream media carried it. It was just a notice but it was not given utmost publicity,” said Roque.

But later on, the spokesman admitted the NIA notice was given to the Cagayan provincial government.

Roque also stressed that he was not “criticizing the media,” but pointing out that if the NIA notice was given to the NDRRMC, more media outlets could have carried the report since more reporters covered NDRRMC.

However, multiple private news agencies released reports about weather bureau PAGASA’s warnings of landslides and flooding in Cagayan Valley, specifically in areas near slopes of the Sierra Madre mountains. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.