Roque denies information gap in Cagayan floods, but vows to 'do better' in disaster response

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Residents of Iraga in Solana, Cagayan take refuge on their roof to survive the flood

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 16) — Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque denied accusations of a massive communication gap that left local officials and Cagayan residents unprepared for the massive floods that submerged the province after typhoon Ulysses hit other parts of Luzon.

"Maninindigan po ako, walang information gap [I will take a firm stance here to say there was no information gap]," Roque said in a Monday briefing after he was asked to explain why Cagayan residents were caught in shock by the typhoon, which did not directly hit the province.

Roque vehemently refuted the claim of Vice President Leni Robredo that the absence of ABS-CBN's regional unit – which was forced to close following Congress' denial of a new franchise – left some residents in the dark. Roque said his team has been holding public briefings to update Filipinos about the national situation amid recent calamities.

Most media outlets discovered developments in Cagayan on Friday, when terrified residents were already pleading to be rescued as they were stuck on their rooftops after floodwater quickly rose.

Typhoon Ulysses, known internationally as Vamco, has killed 67 people and affected over 2 million people, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. It also left ₱2.14 billion in agricultural damage and ruined about ₱482.85 million worth of infrastructure.

Of the deaths, 22 were from Cagayan Valley.

Roque insisted that climate change, a global phenomenon already known for years, was to blame for the damaging storms that struck the country in recent weeks.

"Kahit gaano kagaling ang DENR, kahit gaano kagaling ang NDRRMC, habang hindi natin nasusolusyunan itong climate change ay baka mabura pa ang ating teritoryo," he said, adding that a worldwide effort is needed to reduce carbon emissions.

[Translation: Even if DENR and NDRRMC perform well, we could still end up losing our land mass if we don't find a solution to climate change]

He said government "really prepared" for the incident in Cagayan but was caught off guard with the water level, which local authorities blamed on the volume of water reased from Magat Dam. Roque even accused that mainstream media did not report the advisory of the regional National Irrigation Administration about opening the floodgates, but backtracked to say he wasn't pinning the blame on journalists.

"We will strive to do better pero sa tingin ko po, walang pagkukulang [but in my view, we didn't commit any lapses]," Roque insisted.

House probe sought

The House of Representatives will be conducting a probe into the circumstances that led to the severe flooding in Cagayan and Isabela in the aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, together with Majority Leader Martin Romualdez and Minority Leader Joseph Stephen Paduano, filed House Resolution 1348 to order the chamber to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation to find out what went wrong in disaster preparation and response.

At the center of the probe is the National Irrigation Administration for making the call to open the spillway gates of Magat Dam, which reportedly caused the "rapid" and "unprecedented" floods across towns.

'Build Back Better' task force

Meanwhile, Roque defended President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to create yet another task force to address disaster response, even if there's an existing NDRRMC manning disaster monitoring and relief efforts.

The "Build Back Better" Task Force – the same tagline used by the Aquino administration to rehabilitate Samar and Leyte in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda – will be led by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea. Roque said it is expected to address current issues on coordination and possibly oversee dam water releases to prevent a repeat of dangerous floods.

"Ang sinasabi lang ni Presidente, maski walang pagpupulong ng council, puwede nang magdesisyon ang Executive Secretary lalung-lalo na if it means saving lives," Roque added, noting that it will also be Medialdea's task to ensure that funds are available for immediate aid.

[Translation: What the President wants is even if the council does not meet, the Executive Secretary can make his own decision, especially in saving lives.]