My memories of the most impactful storm I have lived through are about as clear as they could be for a nine-year old at that time. In 2009, I saw Typhoon Ondoy catch the country by surprise and open the eyes of Filipinos to the importance of disaster risk reduction and management. Although my family was spared by the effects of the typhoon, it still hit close to home as the floods that Ondoy triggered submerged my grandmother’s home. As a young girl, the concept was inconceivable and surreal. I could not grasp how it was possible that the house I visited weekly could be buried under nearly ten feet of water. To this day, the events of Ondoy remain a core memory for me—despite having been minimally affected by it. Thus, I could only imagine how thousands of other Filipinos felt after the disastrous events last November.
November 2020 has been anything but kind toward the country. A handful of storms consecutively ravaged our nation, leaving many homeless, hungry, and helpless—all while still in the midst of a global pandemic.
Just recently, hundreds of Filipino families from the Cagayan Valley once again fled to evacuation centers as villages were flooded due the overflowing Cagayan River. This happened merely a few weeks after the province was devastated by the greatest flooding it has experienced in the past forty years.
Last November 12, Typhoon Ulysses submerged Tuguegarao City. Houses were literally underwater, people were screaming for rescue from their rooftops, and in lieu of cars, rubber rescue boats roamed the streets. Media footage from the province depicted scenes that seemed surreal — as if they were taken straight out of a sci-fi or apocalyptic film.
Footage of helicopter dropping relief goods in Cagayan (Video courtesy of Philippine Air Force)
The catastrophe resulted in 29 lives lost from flooding and landslides in Cagayan Valley. Damage brought by Typhoon Ulysses was compounded when the seven spillway gates of Magat Dam in Ramon were opened. This was due to the dam reaching its capacity limit, causing water to overflow into the towns, resulting to the wreckage that Cagayanos are still trying to recover from weeks after. Until now, people are asking: Who should be held liable for the drowning of Cagayan?
The Men behind the Curtain: Magat Dam Operators and Engineers
The volume of approximately 106 Olympic-sized swimming pools was the amount of water released when Magat Dam opened its seven spillway gates. The NIA-Magat River Integrated Irrigation System (Mariis) said this was a necessary decision to prevent the breaking of the dam—which would have resulted to an even greater disaster.
According to Mark Timbal, spokesperson of the Office of Civil Defense, the dam reaching its full capacity was due to the overflowing of the Cagayan River — caused by the multiple, consecutive monsoons and storms that hit the country. However, fingers were being pointed toward the dam operators because of the lack of proper notice to Cagayan Valley citizens before the dam release. Furthermore, Magat Dam’s operators were under fire for only opening the gates at the height of Typhoon Ulysses’s impact and not earlier—given that the swelling of Cagayan River was already occurring before the typhoon had made landfall.
NIA-Mariis claimed that advisories regarding the dam’s activity were duly made, utilizing various channels in doing so. Advisories about the opening of two of the dam’s gates were released as early as November 9—a week before Typhoon Ulysses struck. Nonetheless, Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba acknowledged that the announcement came on short notice.
The Men behind the Country: President Duterte and His Administration
In the midst of Typhoon Ulysses’s terror, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque pleaded netizens to stop fueling the trending hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo. This hashtag first gained popularity in early November when Filipinos were wondering why the president was not visible while the nation braced for Typhoon Rolly, which had already been identified as the world’s strongest storm this year. The hashtag once again resurfaced when the President was nowhere to be found at the peak of the typhoon’s devastation.
Last November 26, 2020, the Senate approved the national budget for 2021, in which 21 billion pesos will be allotted for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (NDRRM) fund, while 15 billion pesos will be designated for the rehabilitation spending of Local Government Units (LGUs). The allocation seemed hardly enough to attend to the needs of severely stricken areas such as Cagayan, Isabela, Bicol, and Catanduanes — all affected by the four typhoons this November. The total amount of damage pegged for Typhoon Rolly amounted to Php 11 billion, while Typhoon Ulysses was estimated to have cost the country a total loss of nearly Php 13 billion.
The Men Behind the Climate Emergency: Capitalists and Corporations
The swelling of the Cagayan River was caused by the staggering amount of rainfall brought by the consecutive typhoons that affected the country prior to Ulysses. It is worth noting, however, that existing environmental damage worsened the effects of the opening of the spillways and the flooding. Due to the deforestation in the mountains of Cagayan Valley, yellow corn farming practices, and the use of toxic herbicide, natural resources meant to cushion the impacts of disasters were non-existent.
As early as 2018, there have already been reports regarding the illegal logging at Sierra Madre as investigated by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). For the past ten years, this prohibited trade has persisted. As the longest mountain range in the country, Sierra Madre is the country’s largest natural barrier against the approximately 20 tropical cyclones that enter the Philippines yearly.
Individuals may play a role in mitigating these environmental attacks and lessening the damage to the environment, but it would be unfair to pressure the masses for change when corporations are more capable of bringing widespread effects — if they change their environmentally exploitative practices. For years, I beat myself up — not to mention those around me — for using wasteful, plastic straws. It took me a while to realize that in spite of my individual efforts in being environmentally friendly, my endeavors are merely trivial. The phenomenon of eco-fascism continues to burden the working class with responsibility while leaving those in power unchecked. It leaves the masses with the burden to purchase more costly ecological products and the pressure to switch to a more “sustainable” lifestyle, while billionaires and corporations continue their consumerist practices that deplete and degrade natural resources—and still end up profiting from these.
With all this being said— what now? There’s a saying that says it is not a sin to be unaware; but it’s a sin you choose to look away despite having your eyes opened. The work, therefore, does not stop at finding accountability.
Continue to donate and help Cagayan.
In light of the recent disasters, we have seen Filipinos step up when the government failed to do so. Although this should not equate to absolving those in power of responsibility, there are ongoing donation drives in support of relief operations for Cagayan that are accepting cash and in-kind donations.
It is vital to keep ourselves updated and informed about the policies and environmental decisions which impact all of us. Case in point: Sierra Madre continues to be in danger due to the construction of the Kaliwa Dam — said to be the solution to Metro Manila’s water issues. The construction of the dam will not only bring ecological destruction but also displace local communities located near the mountain range. As stakeholders, it is our responsibility to make our voices heard regarding decisions on matters like these — and it is through staying informed that we create more informed stances.
Engage others in conversation.
Ultimately, I wrote this article, hoping to broaden our perspective on the depth of these issues. In line with staying informed, engaging others in discourse about these topics generates a constant conversation that helps issues like this remain in the public sphere.
Finally, for the answer to the question: whodunnit? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Corcione, A. (2020, April 30). What to Know About Eco-Fascism – and How to Fight It.
Retrieved from https://www.teenvogue.com/story/what-is-ecofascism-explainer.
Deiparine, C. (2020, November 5). Total cost of damage from ‘Rolly’ now at P11 billion — NDRRMC. Retrieved from https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/11/05/2054788/total-cost-damage-rolly-now-p11-billion-ndrrmc.
Deiparine, C. (2020, November 22). ‘Ulysses’ cost of damage now at P12.9 billion. Retrived from https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2020/11/22/2058624/ulysses-cost-damage-now-p129-billion.
Gotinga, J. (2020, November 26). Senate passes P4.5-trillion 2021 budget bill on final reading.
House to seek ₱5-B increase in calamity funds under 2021 budget. (2020, November 22).
Miraflor, M. B. (2020, November 17). Kaliwa Dam feared to worsen flooding in Metro Manila.
Philippine Daily Inquirer. (2018, July 12). Logging continues in Sierra Madre – DENR. Retrieved
Ropero, G. (2020, November 15). Cagayan, Isabela residents warned of Magat Dam water
release: NIA. Retrieved from https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/11/15/20/cagayan-isabela-residents-warned-of-magat-dam-water-release-nia#:~:text=%22It%20is%20necessary%20to%20release,Valley)%2C%22%20it%20said.
Salaverria, L. (2020, November 14). Roque plea to netizens: Stop asking ‘Nasaan ang
Pangulo?’. Retrieved from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1360495/roque-plea-to-netizens-stop-asking-nasaan-ang-pangulo.
Typhoon Donation Drives. (2020, November 23). Retrieved from https://theguidon.com/1112/main/2020/11/donation-drive-crowdsourcing/ .
Visaya, V. Jr. (2020, November 17). Deaths from ‘Ulysses’ floods in Cagayan Valley reach 29.
Retrieved from https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1122127#:~:text=Thirteen died in Cagayan province,from floods after the typhoon.
Visaya, V. Jr. (2020, November 18). Severe flooding shows Cagayan Valley environmental risks.