Domoguen: The Cordillera as natural flood detention area in Northern Luzon

Mountain Light

TENS of thousands fleeing their homes and people dying in Metro Manila and nearby areas during monsoon seasons can make any Filipino watching and reading the news these days despair.

Last week, the reports flashed monsoon floods affecting more than one million people.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said there were 1,420,802 residents or 342,669 families affected from 954 barangays in the Ilocos Region, Central Luzon, Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Calabarzon, and Metro Manila.

About 135,059 residents were displaced with 38,606 residents still in evacuation centers while 96,453 residents sought shelter with relatives. A total of 647 homes were damaged – 248 were completely destroyed and 399 partially destroyed.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and local government units (LGUs) distributed about P35 million worth of aid to affected residents in the 5 regions.

Closer to home, my friend in Dagupan City complained the entire city has been flooded knee deep for a week, twice already this month.

I saw from Bong Cayabyab’s photos on Facebook, the images of people, trikes, and vehicles in Dagupan City reeling from the impact of flooding caused by the continued monsoon rains this month.

As a precautionary measure, the big dams in Northern Luzon open their spill gates during the occurrence of continued rains.

Normally, people think that this can worsen the flooding in the lowlands. Instead, the dams seem to have prevented the occurrence of worst flooding downstream.

During the monsoon rains last week, the big dams have opened their water spill gates amid incessant rains over parts of the country.

Nine major dams being monitored by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) - Ipo, Magat, Binga, and Ambuklao Dams - have been releasing excess water as early as Friday (August 17, 2018) only, a week after the continues downpour of rain in the area.

The dams have served as detention areas of the monsoon flash floods that were cascading mightily from the mountains during the strong rain occurrences.

Pagasa reported that in Benguet’s Ambuklao and Binga Dams, eight spill gates, four each, was opened last Saturday evening.

Excess water from both dams flows downstream to the San Roque Dam in Pangasinan. There is no immediate threat to the communities downstream because San Roque Dam's water level is still far from its spilling level, according to PAGASA hydrologist Richard Orendain.

The Philippines, among the world’s most disaster-prone countries, experiences about 20 cyclones a year that form over the Pacific Ocean. These cyclones bring on continues downpour and battering of wind and rains over an extended period of time, throughout the wet season from June-November. In recent years, destructive typhoons occurred in December.

In September 2009, Ketsana delivered more than a month’s worth of rainfall on Metro Manila in a day. It affected more than 4.9 million, killed at least 462 people and caused 11 billion pesos ($206 million) of damage to infrastructure, according to government data.

In pursuit of Autonomy for the Cordillera, the Regional Development Council (RDC)-CAR has declared the Cordillera as watershed cradle of Northern Luzon.

The declaration, with reference to our topic, makes a lot of sense. Before the monsoon downpour flow into our rivers and dams, they are first detained in the watersheds. Without the watersheds, our rivers and dams would readily overflow with flashfloods of rainwater and silt from the mountains. It does not take a scientist to explain the consequences of such occurrences to downstream communities, farms, infrastructures, human lives, and human limbs.

Without the watersheds, our irrigation and power dams, invested with billions in government money will not live long.

Without the watersheds and the dams, our people in the lowlands will suffer each rainy season which is getting worse each year. Government funds will be wasted on rehabilitation and aid, year in and year out. We will remain to be poor as authorities will close schools, and livelihood and businesses are also affected during every flood occurrence.

Meanwhile, maintaining, preserving, and protecting the Cordillera’s watersheds as a national resource for flashflood detention, irrigation, and potable water source and for power generation are becoming costly by the hour. In fact, we are losing them to our eternal discredit as a nation.

The Cordillera has a great role to play in nation building. But unlike the lowland plains, development in this mountainous region in Northern Luzon cannot be done following through the same standards and form of governance done in the lowlands.

It takes funds and the right governance structure to make people and local resources fit and work for the success of national development goals in-situ.


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