Words by Aron Jan Mitchell Sierva
On October 28, Sectors and Peoples Totally Opposed to Kaliwa Dam (STOP Kaliwa Dam) reported that a leader of the indigenous people Dumagat Remontado was not invited in a meeting regarding the Kaliwa Dam’s Memorandum Of Agreement (MOA).
The meeting was to be done with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), and was reported to have been organized despite lacking free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC), which would allow IPs such as the Dumagat Remontado to voice their insights on decisions that would affect their communities.
“Ang negosasyon ay nagaganap habang patuloy ang kakulangan ng tugon sa mga anomalya sa free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) process na minadali ng MWSS,” STOP Kaliwa Dam wrote in a Facebook post.
This was the latest development in an already lengthy battle between the indigenous community and the powers that be over ancestral lands and environmental welfare.
A part of the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program, the Kaliwa Dam project is a new water source to be constructed within the provinces of Rizal and Quezon, facilitated by the MWSS.
In a loan agreement signed by then MWSS Administrator Reynaldo Velasco last November 20, 2018, the Export-Import Bank of China (EXIMBANK) agreed to lend about ₱10.4 billion to the Philippine government in order to finance the construction of the said dam.
The deal was sealed despite major protests by environmental advocates, activists, and the natives of Sierra Madre. The project is being primarily condemned by the Dumagats, an indigenous tribe that has claims to the area in which the dam is to be constructed.
“We have a right to our ancestral domains. But instead of protecting our rights, the president and the government are the first to violate them,” Henry Borreo, one of the leaders of a Dumagat organization Pigtaanan ni Dumaget Remontado di General Nakar Quezon, said in a 2019 interview with Rappler.
In addition to the project’s environmental risks, the Kaliwa Dam construction also violates the supposed sacredness of the Sierra Madre, as expressed by the Dumagats.
The indigenous tribe believes that “Makidyapat”, their supreme creator, granted the natural resources equally to all people. They stressed that land must be held sacred and must not be used for economic means.
“They are not only taking our lands, they are also taking our lives,” said by the spokesperson of AGTA, a Dumagat organization.
Decades of opposition
Ideas for the project can be traced back to 1979, during the presidency of the late Ferdinand Marcos. Formerly called the Laiban Dam, its proposed structure was bigger in size compared to the current administration’s plan for the Kaliwa Dam project.
The Dumagats have been fighting for their ancestral rights since then. Their persistence to assert their claims had halted the construction of the Laiban Dam during Marcos’s office.
Among those who fought valiantly for the indigenous tribe was Nicanor delos Santos. He became a spokesperson for the Kaisahan ng mga Katutubo sa Sierra Madre (KKSM), and served as the secretary general of Makabayang Samahan ng mga Dumagat (MASKADA).
He was never deterred by the long hikes across the mountains and the frequent crossing of rivers before reaching the farthest community of Santa InesIndigenous Peoples’ Heroes and Martyrs in Asia
by Jacqueline K. Cariño and Luchie Maranan
“[delos Santos] never showed any weakening of his will to fight,” recounted Kakay Tolentino, a Dumagat activist.
She added that delos Santos continued to organize the community despite militarization threats.
He was described in the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact’s work titled “Indigenous Peoples’ Heroes and Martyrs in Asia” as a “quiet man” who listens to his elders.
“As [the authors] went about [their] work, Ka Kano [delos Santos’ nickname] would blossom and grow into a skilled organizer, who was effective in conscientization and mobilization of his fellow indigenous peoples within the seven barangays. He was never deterred by the long hikes across the mountains and the frequent crossing of rivers before reaching the farthest community of Santa Ines,” the work described delos Santos.
On December 8, 2001, delos Santos was gunned down by a government soldier. At the time he was killed, he was merely buying food for his tribe as preparation for a Human Rights Day protest.
A report by Karapatan Southern Tagalog (ST) confirmed that the murder of delos Santos was done by military elements of “Operation Panther,” under the leadership of Maj. Lauriano Tolentino.
The Dumagats honor de los Santos as a martyr, who wholeheartedly served and died for his fellow indigenous people.
In 2007, talks about the Laiban Dam resurfaced. Detailed researches were conducted concerning the dam’s proposed structural design. The administration of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo secured Chinese funding for the project, but it was shelved once more following corruption allegations.
In 2009, the San Miguel Corporation (SMC), recently linked to land-grabbing cases in Bulacan and Quezon, submitted an unsolicited proposal to build the dam. The MWSS was criticized for not publicizing the biddings, and as a result of the protests, SMC refused to sign the contract.
Then in 2018, despite the people’s continuous campaigns against the dam construction, the Duterte administration advanced the deal with Chinese investors.
Several organizations expressed their support for the Dumagats in opposing the construction of the Kaliwa Dam. These include scientific and environmental groups such as the Haribon Foundation, Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM), Samahan ng mga Konsyumer para sa Ikauunlad ng Bayan (SUKI), among many others.
These groups asserted in an October 6 Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights (TFIP) Facebook live that the natives, poor, and marginalized sectors must be prioritized in the allocation of water resources. They condemn the government’s act of displacing and harassing the indigenous people of the Sierra Madre.
Religious institutions, such as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), also expressed their opposition towards the dam construction.
“The Church is not against development as long as it does not sacrifice the ‘common good’ in the name of progress. The ongoing Kaliwa Dam project of the government, in the guise of providing water to Metro Manila, is to our mind against inclusive development,” Davao Bishop Romulo Valles said in a statement for the Manila Standard.
Regardless, the government asserted that building the dam would be beneficial to all people living within and around the area.
Massive mistakes and grave consequences
An article by MWSS stated that the Kaliwa Dam seeks to meet the increasing water demand of the residents. It is set to provide 2400 million liters of water per day (MLD). This aims to answer the serious water shortage in Metro Manila, which takes its supply from the Angat and Ipo Dams. Both water sources were reported to have falling water levels in the past years.
However, the government overlooks the detrimental consequences of the dam construction on the environment itself, among several negative effects on other societal aspects. Constructing the Kaliwa Dam can lead to deforestation, biodiversity loss, loss of food source, decreased rainfall, flooding, and landslide, according to AGHAM.
A report by Manila Bulletin showed that building the Kaliwa Dam would submerge about 12,000 hectares of the forest ecosystems in Sierra Madre, with 172 plant species, 17 of which are facing endangerment or extinction.
“The dam would destroy the home of the endangered North Philippine eagle, brown deer, and other Philippine species of wildlife,” Charissa Luci-Atienza and Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat wrote in their article.
In addition, Haribon Foundation calculated that the Kaliwa Dam project could destroy the habitat of at least three critically-endangered species, 31 endangered species, and 240 vulnerable species.
Animals that would be endangered include the Philippine brown deer, Northern Rufous Hornbill, Northern Philippine Hawk-eagle, and the famed, critically-endangered Philippine Eagle, among other wildlife species endemic to the area.
As a matter of fact, the Kaliwa Watershed, the location in which the dam is to be constructed, was declared as a forest reserve on June 22,1968. This was established to protect the forest from human exploitation. This specific proclamation would be violated once the Kaliwa Dam is constructed.
Lia Alonzo, coordinator of the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) Research and Advocacy, added that the structural integrity of the Kaliwa Watershed must be put into consideration.
Upon analysis of the feasibility study of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) regarding the dam construction, Alonzo cited the need to construct another large dam, in order to guarantee the longevity of the Kaliwa Dam.
In doing so, along with building the tunnels that would transport collected water in the dams, the ground surrounding the watershed would eventually fill the water basin in a process called sedimentation.
Therefore, after damaging the Sierra Madre ecosystem due to their construction, the Kaliwa Dam and its supporting structures would actually become useless over time.
In actuality, most scientists and environmentalists conclude that there is no need for the dam construction, based on their respective researches and related studies.
According to Asst. Prof. Reginald Vallejos of SUKI, there are sufficient freshwater resources in the Philippines to provide clean and accessible water for all people.
Water sources such as the Sumag and Tayabasan River, Wawa Dam, Laguna Lake and Cardona Wastewater Treatment Plants (WTP), and deep wells can supply enough provision, according to Angelo Joshua Luciano of AGHAM.
“Ang Pilipinas ay isang archipelagic na bansa, so marami tayong marine waters,” Luciano noted, citing the needlessness to construct another water source in the country.
He added that the government can utilize desalination plants and rain harvesting technology. Utilizing and improving these projects can supply an amount of water equal to 4164 MLD, which is more than what the Kaliwa Dam is set to provide.
In addition to the project’s potential environmental hazards, lawyers also gave emphasis on the unconstitutionality of the China loan agreement.
By giving priority to major Chinese investors, the loan violates the Filipino First Policy, comprehensively stated in Article XII, Section 10 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.
Atty. Maria Cristina Yambot of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) added that other parts of the Constitution were violated, such as withholding the foreign loan agreement from public information.
“Stop Kaliwa Dam, Save our Future!”
At present, access roads toward the dam’s proposed location are already being constructed as part of the project, much to the disappointment of the indigenous people, more especially since the dam construction has been prioritized by the government despite the current pandemic.
The groups continued in TFIP’s Facebook livestream that Chinese workers were already surveying and examining the area in order to prepare for the drilling process.
“Ang inaasahan ko [dahil sa lockdown] ay walang magaganap na construction sa dam, access road, o anupamang pagpapasok ng mga Chinese. Pero nito pong bandang huli, [nabalitaan] ko po sa aking mga lider na patuloy na nagco-construction ang DPWH, at ang mga Chinese mismo ay [naroon]. ‘Yan po ang nakakabagabag sa akin,” said one Dumagat representative in a pre-recorded message during the livestream.
The Dumagats were also fearful of the heavy military presence deployed in the area. They expressed that these intimidate and confuse the community.
Special Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) troops hired by the Chinese construction company were also stationed in the area, claiming that the military presence is a security measure against possible activities by the New People’s Army (NPA).
Many Dumagats fear for their livelihood once they are forced out of their own homes. In an article by The Guidon, they wrote that the dam construction would lead to the flooding of upstream residences, whereas the lowlands would lack adequate irrigation, making them unsuitable for farming.
Joan Jaime, research and documentation officer of the Katribu Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu), claimed that the indigenous community relies heavily on the Sierra Madre for their survival. They are protecting the mountain range in order to preserve it for future generations.
By being majorly exposed to the natural mountainous landscape, Jaime claimed that it would be unimaginable for the indigenous people to live in relocation sites.
Jaime was also disappointed by the government’s prioritizing of monetary interests over the IPs rights.
“Lahat na [lamang] nilagyan ng monetary value at lahat na [lamang] pinagkakitaan. Contrary ‘yan doon sa pangangailangan ng mga mamamayan, pangangailangan ng mga katutubo, at ‘yung tingin nilang [kumon na paggamit] sa lupa,” Jaime said in an interview with The Guidon.
To the Dumagats, the idea of progress is different from what the government is pushing for.
“Hindi kami against sa kaunlaran, pero dapat ang gagawing pagbabago ay ‘di rin makakaapekto sa karamihan,” added Dumagat teacher Lodema Doroteo in TFIP’s Facebook livestream.
Another native asserted that they will choose to protect the environment, regardless of whatever conditions offered by the government.
“The land is threatened: the land that Makidyapat created,” says a translated Dumagat song called “On Potok”.
As stewards, the indigenous people find it their duty to protect the resources granted to them by the supreme creator. The Sierra Madre is not to be exploited by any means.
Despite the onset of the Kaliwa Dam project, indigenous tribes and various organizations continue to voice their protests against the infrastructure program.
When asked why they continue to fight despite the lengthiness of the issue, Doroteo narrated what was told to them by the Dumagat elders.
“Kung hindi kami ang nagpa-umpisa sa pagtutol na ito, baka kayo ngayon [ay] walang inaani … baka kayo ngayon [ay] walang iniisda sa ilog na maihahanda para sa inyong pamilya. Baka kayo ngayon ay hindi na nakatira sa napakayamang kalikasan na nagbibigay sa atin ng mapagtatamnan ng mga prutas [at] mga palay. Kung hindi dahil sa aming pagtutol, ngayo’y wala na tayo rito,” she recalled.
Organization and tribe leaders who stand against the Kaliwa Dam project believe that strong public opposition would be critical in terminating the construction.
“Sa tingin namin, ang decisive talaga diyan [ay] ang mga tao,” Jaime concluded.
The Dumagats, activists, and environmental advocates are united by a single plea: “Stop Kaliwa Dam! Save our Future!” [P]
Photo by Cyril Chan