Privilege Speech of Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda On Typhoon Ulysses November 25, 2020

November 25, 2020

Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues in Congress:

I address this august chamber to speak on what I consider as the greatest humanitarian challenge of our lifetime, but one that has not been getting enough needed attention and action from all of us—the climate crisis.

Within the last month and just days apart from each other, three typhoons—Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses—hit provinces in the Luzon and Visayas regions. Based on the latest reports by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), these typhoons alone affected more than 6.7 million Filipinos and damaged over 35 billion pesos worth of our infrastructure and agriculture.

These back-to-back typhoons claimed many lives, submerged houses and communities in floodwater, cut power and communication lines, and destroyed properties and livelihoods.

Dealing with extreme weather events and disasters is not new to us, but what caught residents and officials by surprise was the unexpected level of flooding that Ulysses had caused. According to Mayor Marcelino Teodoro, what they experienced in Marikina was comparable to Ondoy in 2009, but Ulysses submerged more areas in the city that were historically not flooded.

 A return of a 100-year flood to Cagayan Valley was described during the aftermath of Ulysses in the provinces of Cagayan and Isabela. Both already experienced massive flooding in December 2019, but experienced higher water levels this November. That’s two 100-year floods in less than a year.

 The pictures and videos all over the news and social media speak for themselves. People were trapped on the second floor of their houses or on their rooftops, waiting to be rescued… We saw a footbridge in Marikina swept by raging floodwater that eventually crashed into a bridgeway, a photo of a baby in Cagayan placed in a “batya” as her family tried to evacuate.

 What do we make of these alarming and heart-rending images of our fellow Filipinos? As policymakers and district representatives, what is the urgent task at hand?

 Mr. Speaker,

 Aside from the sheer strength and amount of rainfall brought by these typhoons, many consider that the volume of water release by dams and the environmental degradation of Sierra Madre as our natural buffer against tropical cyclones have worsened the level of flooding in the affected areas.

 There are now different resolutions filed on the massive flooding caused by typhoon Ulysses and perhaps the scope of the legislative inquires can be expanded to consider the enforcement of environmental, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and disaster risk reduction and management laws by our government agencies and local government units (LGUs).

 A review of the protocols followed by dam operators is also in order to ensure that measures are adjusted to climate risk scenarios, including pre-emptive safe discharge of water, and linked to effective early warning systems for communities at risk of floods down to the last mile, in order to prevent loss of lives, properties, and livelihoods.

 There is also a need to identify gaps within the systems used by national government agencies and local government units in mainstreaming disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in their development, investment, and land use planning.

 Perhaps stronger policy measures need to be formulated to help avert future loss and damage and ensure sustainable and resilient recovery, in light of the escalating climate-related disaster risks, compounded by factors caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Speaker,

 Our scientists have said that the track of Typhoon Ulysses was almost the same as Ondoy. In terms of rainfall amount, 347 millimeters of Ondoy rains fell within six hours as compared to the 356 millimeters of rains from Ulysses for the whole day on November 12. One-day rain total of Ondoy is 455 millimeters.

 There are also other factors in play that led to Ondoy-level flooding during Ulysses: first, improper land uses, which include construction of settlements and cultivation in flood-prone areas; second, excessive rainfall due to climate change; and third, siltation of waterways due to excessive soil erosion because of illegal logging and deforestation.

 They noted that the flooding in Marikina was due to water from upstream going downstream, clogged waterways, and saturated soil due to rains from previous typhoons that passed.

 They also mentioned that poor or non-implementation of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Law is also a factor. It is a law I principally authored and sponsored in the Senate, which mandates the proper segregation of waste at source and the establishment of materials recovery facility within LGUs.

 In relation to this, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and LGUs must regularly declog canals, roadside ditches, and drains, as well as supplement traditional flood mitigation projects, such as river dredging, dike construction, and tree planting upstream, with natural flood intervention programs, such as river and floodplain restoration.

 LGUs must also have a landscape and ecosystem-based comprehensive development and land use planning informed by geohazard maps and climate and disaster risk assessments.

 The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), through its Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), must therefore ensure that geohazard maps are updated to take into account current and projected climate hazards and are well-understood by LGUs, and provide basis to consider measures based on their assessment of these risks.

 Mr. Speaker,

 While PAGASA provided timely and accurate scientific information about typhoon Ulysses, this did not translate to how people imagined the typhoon would be. Scientific information must be understandable, actionable, and relatable.

 This is why PAGASA must determine areas for improvement in terms of the capability and agility of its systems for climate observation and projection, weather forecasting, and real-time climate information dissemination to dam operators, national government agencies, LGUs, academe, and research institutions; as well as for translating scientific climate information into more relatable messages of potential impacts for more effective risk communication down to the last mile.

 Mr. Speaker,

 We already have several landmark laws on the environment, climate change, and disaster risk reduction, many of which have been regarded as model legislation in other countries. But despite this, we continue to be among the top countries that are most affected by climate change and disasters, year after year.

 What’s also disconcerting is that a recent study by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative found that Filipinos exhibit a low level of awareness about climate change—with sixty percent of the survey respondents saying that they have low or very low knowledge about climate change, and only 12% who felt “extremely well-informed” and the rest “somewhat informed.”

 Mr. Speaker,

 The survey exposed that majority of our population still don’t fully understand what climate change is. They may be aware of climate impacts, such as typhoons, floods, landslides, and droughts, but how they are induced and aggravated by climate change is perhaps lost on them.

 And what about sea level rise, rising temperatures, and other slow onset events which we expect would entail significantly more loss and damage?

 Adequate knowledge about the climate crisis is crucial because it could mean life or death for the people we serve and love. It informs our decisions, so we may better prepare and take action in addressing the threats and challenges that this crisis brings and will likely bring in the future.

 Mr. Speaker,

 I called for the developed countries to do more in arresting this climate crisis. I also believe that they should already be significantly and rapidly reducing their carbon emissions in the atmosphere to limit global warming and climate change.

 I also voice out the need to accelerate and scale up their support for developing countries like ours in the areas of finance, green technology, and capacity development in order for us to build resilience against these typhoons and other climate impacts.

 These are major considerations that we have been fighting for in the name of climate justice in the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

 But I also believe that it would be a disservice to our fellow Filipinos if we just wait for international assistance.

 Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues:

 Despite our country’s limited resources, we can continue exhibiting climate leadership and action by building on what we have achieved so far.

 In 2012, we passed the People’s Survival Fund Act as an amendatory law to the Climate Change Act, in order to provide funding grants for local adaptation projects that would increase the resilience of our communities and ecosystems to climate change. 

 Thus far, the PSF Board has approved six adaptation projects from six municipalities amounting to P330 million pesos. But I hope that many of my colleagues here in Congress would encourage more of their local officials to access the PSF, with the help of their local academic institutions and civil society organizations.

 We have also ramped up our efforts to access international sources of climate finance, such as from the Green Climate Fund, which is the world’s largest climate finance mechanism dedicated to serve developing countries.

 In 2019, the Philippines’ very first country proposal on the establishment of multi-hazard impact-based forecasting and early warning system was approved by the Board with a grant of 10 million US dollars. During the recently concluded GCF Board Meeting held this November, the Philippines also became a participating country in Climate Investor One, with a 100 million US dollars capital in support of the development, construction, and commissioning of renewable energy projects in 18 countries.

 I also welcome the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas issuance of the “Sustainable Finance Framework,” which we hope could catalyze green and resilient growth for our country.

 The framework seeks to safeguard the financial system from the evolving material hazards of physical climate risk and transition risk, including stranded assets. This gives banks the impetus to start pricing not only climate and transition risk, but also to value climate-resilience and low-carbon opportunities.

 The plans under the Sustainable Finance Framework will be an important catalyst for investors who know the necessity of adhering to environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards. These should bring confidence to the private sector to raise the level of their engagement and investment in climate projects, as well as value climate resilience and low-carbon opportunities.

 To make adaptation work for us requires efforts from both the public and private sector to bring about the needed investments and development to enable genuine resilience to our communities.

 Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues:

 As we hold this session, perhaps many of our fellow Filipinos would still be seeking shelter and relief in evacuation centers. Will they be able to go back to their lives as the floods subside?

 We have described Filipinos as resilient or tenacious in the face of these many disasters that come our way, as if resilience is purely based on spirit and determination. As if wading through neck-deep floodwater, waiting for hours on top of your house for rescue, or just generally enduring one typhoon after another, is resilience in itself.

 We tend to forget that resilience is all about empowering our people not merely with inspiration but with the right tools. To support them with the means to be able to decide and take action, for them not to be defenseless.

As leaders of our nation, we are accountable to the people we serve. Especially in this era of climate crisis, made more challenging by COVID-19, more lives are at stake. Our decisions and actions will have an impact on our communities and our nation.

 Let us strive to build a truly resilient recovery for the Philippines.