Duterte says Ulysses 'reminder' for urgent climate change action

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 12 2020 04:40 PM

Duterte says Ulysses 'reminder' for urgent climate change action 1
Children are rescued by community rescue volunteers in Barangka, Marikina after Typhoon Ulysses swept thru Luzon on Thursday, November 12, 2020. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday told Southeast Asian leaders that Typhoon Ulysses, which left at least 2 dead and brought heavy flooding across Luzon island trapping people on rooftops, is a "stark reminder" on the need to urgently address climate change. 

Ulysses "left a trail of destruction in infrastructure and property" and "represents a setback for our development agenda," Duterte said in the 37th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit. 

"This calamity is yet another stark reminder of the urgency of collective action to combat the effects of climate change," he told the 10-member bloc via video conference. 

"We must therefore further enhance our cooperation on disaster risk reduction management to reinforce our capacities, both at the national and regional levels," he added. 

The ASEAN "must amplify our voices to demand climate justice from those most responsible for this existential challenge we face today," said Duterte. 

"Developed countries must lead in deep and drastic cuts in carbon emissions. They must act now, or it would be too late," he said. 

"They must also deliver on their commitment to finance and invest in innovative adaptation solutions in the developing world. So we too can have a fair shot at progress and sustainable development." 

If developed countries turn their back on this "moral responsibility," it will be a "great injustice – a double blow to those who bear the brunt of the adverse consequences of their past actions and present inactions," Duterte said in remarks just days after the United States formally withdrew from the Paris climate agreement. 

He said he might "not be around to attend further [ASEAN activities] in this regard for I have to go around and see what I can do for my people." 

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Heavy rains effectively shut down Manila, the sprawling capital of 12 million people, and surrounding areas, turning streets into rivers.

"A lot of places are submerged. Many people are crying for help," said Rouel Santos, 53, a retired disaster officer in Rizal province, next to the capital.

Santos said the flooding caused by Ulysses brought back memories of the devastating Tropical Storm Ondoy that hit in 2009 and claimed hundreds of lives.

An official from the country's Office of Civil Defense said rainfall dumped by Ulysses so far was "near the volume" during Ondoy, warning flooding could worsen as runoff from nearby mountains flowed into already swollen waterways.

The Philippine Red Cross, police, military and other rescuers used boats to reach people stranded in their homes in Marikina City, one of the hardest-hit areas of the capital, where the water in some streets was up to shoulder height.

Residents who were able to escape on foot carried pet dogs, televisions, bicycles and other belongings as they waded through the murky, debris-strewn water. 

At least 2 people died and 4 others were missing in Camarines Norte province, Civil Defense said in its latest update. Eight had been injured.

Requests for help were "pouring in," said Casiano Monilla, Civil Defense deputy administrator for operations.

He said many people had not heeded warnings to evacuate ahead of the typhoon, urging them to do so "while there's still time."

"I didn't expect it to be like this," said Rosalinda Opsima, who fled her home with her husband after the fast-rising water caught them by surprise.

Schools, which have been empty since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March, are being used as emergency shelters along with gymnasiums. Around 180,000 people were in evacuation centers, Civil Defense said. 

The weather service has warned of life-threatening storm surges along parts of the coast, including in Manila, that could inundate low-lying areas.

Flood warnings were issued for a number of towns north of the capital as authorities released water from fast-filling dams. 

The Bicol region, which Ulysses grazed before making landfall, was hit by powerful winds and heavy rains on Wednesday as the eye of the typhoon neared the disaster-prone archipelago. 

Swaths of Bicol remain without power and with only limited or no telecommunication services after Rolly -- the most powerful typhoon so far this year -- toppled power lines, flattened houses and flooded roads.

President Rodrigo Duterte said in a statement the government was "on top of the situation", pledging relief funds, goods and shelter for victims as well as post-disaster counseling. 

The Philippines is hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons every year, which typically wipe out harvests, homes and infrastructure in already impoverished areas.

- with reports from Agence France-Presse