Tuguegarao Mayor sorry for birthday trip amid Typhoon Ulysses threat

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 16) — Tuguegarao City Mayor Jefferson Soriano apologized on Monday for leaving his constituents even after several warnings from weather forecasters that a powerful typhoon will slam central Luzon. At the same time, he defended his decision to travel for his birthday.

He said he traveled to Metro Manila to be with his family for his birthday. After he left, at least 90 percent of Tuguegarao was submerged in floodwaters due to Typhoon Ulysses (international name: Vamco) and the water release from Magat Dam.

"I decided to spend my birthday — I'm really very sorry for that — with my family. This is the second time I visited my family in 8 months. I am really very sorry for that. I underestimated the situation," he told CNN Philippines.

Soriano said he was on top of the situation despite being hundreds of kilometers away from Tuguegarao. He said he ordered local disaster officials via Zoom to preemptively evacuate families in flood-prone areas.

He drew flak after his daughter Bea Soriano-Dee shared a now-deleted post that her father traveled to celebrate with them, with what appears to be Taal Lake in the background of the picture. The mayor earlier said he was able to secure the permission of Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba to travel to Batangas.

Soriano said he left Tuguegarao on November 8 — at a time when no storm signal warning was raised over the city or Cagayan Province. When he finally decided to go home on November 12, several roads were already impassable due to the wrath of Ulysses, further delaying his return to oversee rescue operations. He said the amount of rainfall came as a surprise.

"Tuguegarao was never under any storm signal. The protocol is we should be at our area once a storm will hit our area. We are preparing actually for the flooding, we took our preparations for the flooding, not really the rain because we were never under storm signal," he added.

Soriano has been ordered to explain his absence. He said he will submit his report to Interior Secretary Eduardo Año within the day. Local chief executives may face administrative sanctions before the Office of the Ombudsman if found to be remiss in their duties during calamities.