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The San Roque Dam Fiasco: Blaming The Victims, Almost

October 17, 2009

napocor sn roque montage

The National Power Corporation took the spotlight this past week.

This was during Senate’s fact finding probe into the killer floods that attended that cursed extended visit of typhoon Pepeng, internationally codenamed ‘Parma’.

Not surprisingly, Napocor tried to extricate itself from culpability.

But the fiasco over how dam engineers under the control of the state power firm tarried in releasing excess water from San Roque Dam was apparent except to anyone with somnambulist inclinations.


The Senate hearing quite simply turned into a finger-pointing exercise with PAGASA on the receiving end of NAPOCOR’s accusatory index finger.

NAPOCOR Chief hydrologist Russell Rigor:

We were trying to delay floods so we released water late. There is logic behind this is by holding back water, the dam actually reduces the peak of the flood.

The dams work like an infinity pool. If there is no dam, the water will be a flat curve. ” Een if the dams released early, the effect would have been the same since both upstream and downstream areas were under intense rainfall. The dams could have released earlier with Pepeng only if Pagasa gave an intense rain warning which it did not.

National Power Corporation (Napocor) Spokesperson Dennis Gana:

Napocor did not release earlier because “it did not reach an alarming rate” since the water was still below 285 meters.
This level of water, “doesn’t call for higher water release than usual.
Until the dam could take it, we want to keep the water. water is a resource we should preserve. When we do spilling operations the resource might be gone to waste.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) informed us of the rain, but because typhoon Pepeng was going in and out of the country, also in different directions, we did not release a lot of water early on.


We exhausted all means possible to disseminate warning.

Every time the dam opens any of its gates, sirens go off to alarm residents. Dam speakers blasted pre-recorded messages telling residents to evacuate to a higher place in strategic areas.  Aside from earlier warnings, the sirens give residents an additional 2-3 hours to leave the place before the water from the dams reach the downstream communities.

The advisory was sent through fax and to PDCC. The governor of Pangasinan was also informed. The San Roque Power Corporation was also warned. Municipal leaders and local government.

Pagasa, which is responsible for giving flood forecasts and weather updates, should not blame the absence of Doppler radar for its inability to forecast rainfall when there is already available satellite data via the Internet that, though regional, “contains such timely rain forecasts.”

Thanking its stars, NAPOCOR even appeared to have found allies among the geologists in attendance, and experts interviewed by the in-depth reportorial team of ABS-CBN NewsBreak.

‘“Freak of Nature’ was the tag given to floods authored by Pepeng.

Carlo Arcilla, Director of the University of the Philippines National Institute for Geological Sciences (UP-NIGS):

They are putting wrong things (like the dams) into this phenomenon.
It is true that they (the dams) aggravated the situation by releasing water but, even without dam release, there would still be flooding. If there is a lot of water, it overflows to the plains.

SPILLWAYMAP-sanroque 2

It was a freak of nature.

Foresting will slow down the velocity of the water, but would not prevent or avoid flooding.

Normal rainfall would be 600 mm per month. With that amount of rainfall in just 1 or even 2 days, you would really expect flooding.


The dams could have been more prudently managed. They (dam managers) should have started releasing water earlier.

Still and all, the hearing ended to NAPOR’s top brass conceding the need to revise the protocols for relieving dams like San Roque, Pantanbangan and similar infrastructure plus and the obviously ineffectual  procedures for alerting unsuspecting citizens of oncoming floods and allowing timely evacuations.

Vision clarity is always 20/20 in hindsight, especially if the snapshot is strewn with hundreds of lifeless bodies.

I do pray we will indeed be ready when Pepeng II comes.

Either that or you could hear Napocor apologists saying the flood fatalities committed suicide.

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