Expert wants San Roque dam operators, gov’t held accountable for Northern Luzon disaster
by Viva Regala-Alonzo.
Manila, Philippines- University of the Philippines (UP)-based expert and scientist Dr. Giovanni Tapang said the Philippine government, including private groups and operators of San Roque Dam in Pangasinan province should be held accountable for the massive flooding in the province and other parts of Northern Luzon.
Tapang and scores of scientists, environmentalists and social activists presented a study on the structural and managerial flaws of San Roque dam, that caused the severe flooding in several areas in Northern Luzon.
They also accounted for the country’s continuing disasters and the Arroyo government’s failure to provide a comprehensive, effective and adequate disaster response and prevention plan.
“The dams, particularly San Roque Dam, are supposedly designed and used to control floods. However, the floodings these infrastructures have brought us prove that they were not really designed for that function. These dams just brought profits for its proponents and more harm than benefit to the people,” said Tapang.
According to Dr. Tapang, the most devastated provinces of typhoon Pepeng are Pangasinan and Benguet provinces, as these are the areas where the large dams, that worsened the flooding, are situated. “Pangasinan is the catch basin of water coming from the series of large dams in the Agno River.
“Massive flooding in Pangasinan is caused and aggravated by the release of voluminous water from these dams,” explained Dr. Tapang.
Tapang asserted the three dams located along the Agno River are the Ambuklao Dam, Binga Dam and San Roque Dam. Based on National Power Corporation report a total maximum 6,000 cubic meters per second were being released by three dams as October 9 and is still continuing to release water today.
“The operators and owner of the dams should be held accountable. They have allowed the water to reach dangerously high levels and not acted on it sooner. Instead of releasing the waters earlier, gradually and in lesser volumes, they did it suddenly without adequate warning to the communities,” said Dr. Tapang.
Tapang theorized that the operators are probably thinking more of generating power and profits, they most likely have kept the water level as high as possible and have have not placed primary importance to their duty to give attention to the safety of the nearby communities.
San Roque Dam is the biggest of the three dams and designed as to produce energy, supply water and control flood. It is supposed to have a flood maximum design of 13,000 cubic centimetre or equivalent to floods occurring every 10,000 years. Despite protest in local and international level, San Roque Multi-Purpose Dam was approved in 1998. The dam construction was completed in March 2003 and became operational in May.
“If the dams were designed for flood control, then there should have been an alarm system in place or a protocol to warn the agencies and communities of impending disaster. However, the testimonies of the victims and the calamity that has occurred prove that the system was ineffective, if there was any,” he added.
“Communities and areas near large dam usually experience increase in frequency and more damages from flooding than other areas which are far from dams. After San Roque Dam operated in May 2003, 90% of Pangasinan were submerged in water in September 2004 and after that local communities frequently experienced flooding whenever there is a typhoon,” expressed Tapang.
“The extent of devastation that was caused by the presence of the dams and the deliberate disregard of the operators and owners to the communities in the area calls should lead to the decommisioning of the dams. Because as long as the dams remain, it is likely that the similar tragedies will occur in the future as it has done so in the past,” called Dr. Tapang.
For his part, Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) said the proponents of the dam itself, headed by the government should also answer to the millions of victims that were affected by the floods.
“The hundreds of lives lost, millions of families affected and billions of pesos worth of damages show the absence of planning and infrastructure of the government to address disasters. President Arroyo and the National Disaster Coordinating Council have blamed mother nature and climate change, the unprecedented rainfall, squatters, garbage and lack of budget but will not admit its fault and ineptness in handling and preventing the disasters,” claimed Bautista.
“In addition, to lack of disaster preparedness, the Arroyo government still pursues policies and destructive projects such as large-scale mining and large dams that destroy our environment and make communities more vulnerable and at higher risk to floods, landslides and other disasters,” cited Bautista.
“Again, we appeal to our countrymen and the international community to extend the bayanihan spirit that we exhibited in the face of disasters, in addition to joining relief operations, we should link arms to demand and push for a government that will perform its mandate to truly serve, protect and answer to the needs of the people and denounce the current one who only aggravates the suffering of our people, “ ended Bautista.