MANILA: Philippine authorities on Monday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to place Luzon island under a state of calamity after three typhoons caused widespread devastation in the area.
About 110 people were killed after Typhoons Molave, Goni and Vamco cut through Manila, Bicol, the Cagayan Valley and other parts of Luzon in recent weeks.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said it had convened an emergency meeting on Monday to address the impacts of the three typhoons, which caused billions of pesos in damage.
“It was agreed during the meeting to convene a technical working group of the joint prevention, mitigation and preparedness clusters of the NDRRMC,” the council said in a statement.
NDRRMC Chairman and Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who chaired the meeting, instructed the state weather bureau to revisit its historical data to “strengthen typhoon warnings beforehand.”
On Sunday, Duterte ordered Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to examine illegal mining and logging activities in the Cagayan Valley in northern Luzon, following intense flooding in the Isabela and Cagayan provinces.
Days of heavy rain brought by Typhoon Vamco and the monsoon-inundated Cagayan Valley in the northern Philippines turned parts of the region into an “ocean.”
There was a pause in rescue efforts for flood victims on Monday after the floodwaters subsided, but relief operations continued.
The president emphasized the need to control illegal mining activities as it “causes holes that loosen the soil,” placing residents in the area at risk.
“It props up every now and then. I will direct Cimatu to look into the illegal mining, especially where people are building their shelters downwards,” Duterte said during a briefing on the impact of Vamco on Cagayan.
“If it’s not possible for them to stop, at least Cimatu should devise a way where they can place their houses above rolling stones, if they come,” he added.
Cimatu, in response, said authorities had already issued a cease-and-desist order against illegal small-scale mining operations following the intense flooding in Cagayan. He added that the 10 people killed by landslides in the region were in illegal mining sites.
“There’s no mining area given permit. These areas where people died are used for illegal mining. So we have filed cases already and a cease-and-desist order,” said Cimatu.
In the same briefing, Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba expressed hope that the government would lead greening schemes in Sierra Madre and Cordillera to help conserve the mountains and reduce the effects of devastating typhoons.
Earlier, Duterte had assured the public that the government was “doing its best to prevent a repeat of the disaster.”
Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano told the president that he and Cimatu already had plans for a tree-planting initiative to provide a long-term approach to minimize severe flooding in the country.
“So we are 110 million Filipinos. If we can plant 100 million per every six months, that’s 200 million a year. So we are planning and can start in January,” said Ano.
Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade also recommended continuing and improving reforestation programs in the country, along with conducting dredging activities in the Cagayan River.
The Cagayan province has been the worst-hit region in the country.
“If you come to Cagayan now, it’s like an ocean — you won’t see the river,” Gov. Mamba said on Saturday.
“This is the first time for so many years that we have experienced this kind of flooding,” he said, adding that floodwater “would normally reach up to 11 meters” in the province, but this time “it went as high as 13.1 meters.”
Cagayan is one of five provinces that constitute the region. While not directly hit by Vamco, the Cagayan Valley accounted for 20, or more than half of the deaths following the typhoon.
Mamba cited multiple factors for the flooding in the province, including the “denudation of forests due to illegal logging, saturation of soil caused by recent storms and the release of water from the Magat Dam.”
Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) reported that a total of 265,339 people were rescued through operations in provinces affected by Typhoon Vamco.
“Government forces saved 1,078 lives from dangerous flooding in northern Luzon, including the Cagayan province, while 263,444 individuals were rescued in southern Luzon following the wrath of Typhoon Ulysses,” said Navy Capt. Jonathan Zata, AFP public affairs office chief.