POSTSCRIPT / October 15, 2009 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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It’s a tough job, but MVP team can do it

MANAGER NEEDED: Since we started saying in this space that what this country needs in this time of despair and devastation is a Good Manager, we have been waiting for this somebody to appear in our midst and start the arduous task of reconstruction.

Then businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan was mentioned by President Gloria Arroyo the other day in Dagupan City when she met the Cabinet literally surrounded by a sea of destruction wrought by typhoons and floods.

She said she had picked Pangilinan, 63, to co-chair a Special National Public-Private Reconstruction Commission that she created last Monday to raise funds from international donors and undertake a massive and long-term rebuilding program.

We assume that Pangilinan, chief of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. and other firms, has accepted the tough assignment.

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JOB DESCRIPTION: As the text and details of her executive order have not been published, one question in the mind of usiseros is: What exactly was MVP asked to do and what working conditions, if any, had he set?

How much leeway will MVP and his co-chair from the Church (Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Vidal) and the Cabinet (Finance Secretary Margarito Teves) have in planning, organizing, leading and controlling in the course of their work?

Malacanang said the commission will study the causes, costs and actions to be taken in the wake of storm “Ondoy” and typhoon “Pepeng,” as well as typhoon “Frank” that hit the country in 2008.

With the National Economic and Development Authority and the Office of Civil Defense as secretariat, it will set priorities for program implementation and serve as a clearing house for international assistance.

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DEODORANT?: The minimal explanation of the commission’s functions indicates, however, that MVP et al. will not actually supervise the national reconstruction but will just lay down an overall plan for the administration to carry out.

That may be the reason why the question persists if MVP and Cardinal Vidal, who are not clothed with omnibus powers, are not being used merely as deodorant.

It appears also that the plan they will lay down centers on the rehabilitation of the land and physical structures and will not go into social transformation, although the involvement of Cardinal Vidal hints that it might delve into that also.

The series of unprecedented calamities hitting the country has been taken by some as a divine reminder that the nation has strayed from the straight and narrow.

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DAM FIASCO: Some managers of dams in Luzon may have thought that impounded water should be released only when it is about to reach a critical level, or that point when it will overflow by itself or might damage the dam if the pressure is not relieved soon enough.

Some experts think, however, that it is better to release gradually small volumes of water BEFORE the spilling point is reached instead of letting loose all the excess water in one deluge when the dam is full.

A post-mortem of water-release data indicates that the fast and massive flooding that hit communities downstream could have resulted from misconceptions of some dam managers.

It has been days that energy technologist Marcial Ocampo, former executive director of the PCIERD-DOST, called our attention to this, but we ignored his thesis because it was loaded with formulas and equations that we laymen cannot follow.

A rereading of his paper, in the aftermath of the massive flooding, has raised points that can help in drawing up rehabilitative and preventive programs.

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TIMING CRUCIAL: Recalling that five major dams released water at the onset of storm Ondoy and, after a lull, did some pre-emptive release again in anticipation of typhoon Pepeng, only to be overwhelmed again with the return of Ondoy, Ocampo said:

“Unless the dam itself is in danger of collapsing under the weight of its stored water, one should not release water at the height of a storm as this will either aggravate existing flooding or initiate widespread inundation. The rampaging waters will cause landslides and destroy earthen dikes, bridges, roads, dwellings and agricultural lands.

“The value of the damage and loss of lives cannot justify the storage of water for future use during summer for irrigation and power generation. This necessitates a closer review of the operating ‘rule curve’ of the dam being followed by dam operators.”

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INFO LACK: The flooding was worsened, he said, by the ill-timed release of the water of San Roque dam in Pangasinan, Pantabangan dam in Nueva Ecija, Magat dam in Cagayan, the Ambuklao and Binga tandem dams in Benguet, and Angat dam in Bulacan.

He said: “The dam operators had to release water at the volumetric rate equal to the rainfall as if there were no dam at all since the water levels have almost reached their maximum safe height and have to open their spillways to discharge unwanted water.”

Lacking information from the weather bureau on the amount of rainfall expected, Ocampo said, dam operators were unable to do pre-emptive discharge in advance of the approaching storms to improve their storage capacity.

He said that “somebody forgot their mathematics and differential calculus” in computing the volume, flow rate, the reservoir’s capacity, safe volume, rate of release and other elements needed to predict and manage the water in the dams.

He gave some formulas for computing those things, but since the average reader will not understand them we will just send them by email to those who are interested.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 15, 2009)

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