Last November 27, Quezon’s Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) passed a resolution authorizing Governor Danilo Suarez to take the necessary steps in stopping the construction of Kaliwa Dam.
Initially moved by board member Jerry Talaga, the resolution was unanimously approved by 11 of the 13 SP members led by Vice Governor Sam Nantes.
This is reportedly the first time that the executive and legislative branches of the provincial government of Quezon utilized their shared power to oppose a national government project, despite recent issues of political schism among SP members.
Suarez himself spoke on the project critically on occasion. Earlier, last November 17, while conducting relief operations in the Real, Infanta, and General Nakar towns (REINA) area after the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses, Suarez engaged in a meeting with organizations opposing the construction.
Therein, he promised to stand with the groups’ objection against the dam construction. He also pointed out the national government’s needlessness to deal a loan with foreign companies.
“Why are we going to borrow money and let the government ultimately pay the lender, when there are private sectors who can do the job without harming the [environment]?” Suarez said.
In an opinion article for the Manila Standard, the Quezon governor proposed the augmentation of the waters of Kanan River with those of Sumag and Umiray Rivers in the north, which can yield 600 million more liters of water per day (MLD) than what Kaliwa Dam can provide.
“While we can’t see and predict the end of this crisis yet, we need to make sound choices on where and how money is spent when it is limited. If we can only get the wheels turning for the Kanan Dam project under the PPP program, it will significantly help address water shortage and remain a viable solution for a relatively longer period,” Suarez wrote.
While serving as Minority Floor Leader, Suarez also proposed the utilization of renewable energy sources such as wind and hydropower for water collection and distribution, which must then be entrusted to local companies instead of foreign ones.
“The social corporate responsibility of local private firms enables them to consider and understand environmental issues better than foreign entities. With this, while we utilize and develop natural resources to increase our water supply, we are assured of its protection and conservation,” he wrote further.
A restored hope
Business Mirror news correspondent John Bello explained that residents of the REINA were traumatized by a typhoon that took place 16 years ago, saying that thousands were killed following the calamity.
In late 2004, during the onslaught of Typhoon Winnie in Quezon, most residents braved through the storm inside their own homes–clearly not knowing the tragedy that awaits them in what they believed were their safe abodes.
As Winnie stormed on the evening of November 29, a forester based in Real, Quezon named Florida Morada noticed that the rising floodwaters immediately turned to thick mud, chasing the ground below Sierra Madre. While her family was quick to escape, not many people were as fortunate as them.
The landslide left over a thousand people dead, and over a thousand more injured. Environmental destruction brought about by illegal logging was immediately identified as the major cause of the disaster.
However, fourteen years after the cataclysmic event, the Philippine government pushed for an environmentally-detrimental infrastructure project in exactly the same area, infamously called the Kaliwa Dam. Despite being widely-opposed, the national government secured a ₱10.4 billion deal with the Export-Import Bank of China (EXIMBANK) to finance the construction of the said dam in Sierra Madre.
The project’s environmental threats, reminiscent of the tragic causes of the 2004 landslide that severely affected REINA towns, are the reasons why Suarez committed to opposing, as long as he is the chief executive of the province.
“I’m with you: I don’t like Kaliwa Dam, either,” Suarez assured the members of Save Sierra Madre network, a group based in Infanta that strongly opposes the dam construction.
According to Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM), the construction of Kaliwa Dam can lead to deforestation, biodiversity loss, flooding, and landslide.
Residents of REINA were among those who strongly asserted their opposition against the dam construction. This objection can be traced back to their memories of the landslide brought by Typhoon Winnie, which was blamed on environmentally-destructive activities.
However, despite being widely-opposed, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) continues to defend Kaliwa Dam.
“Sa aming pananaw, ito ay dumadaan sa masusing pagre-review. Sa mga dapat nila i-comply, hangga’t maari, wala po talagang masisirang mga puno at dapat maigi ang konsultasyon na ginagawa,” DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones said in the “Laging Handa” public briefing.
His statement contradicts researches and analyses of various scientific and environmental groups such as AGHAM and Haribon Foundation, which said that the dam construction would submerge about 12,000 hectares of forest ecosystems in the Sierra Madre, endangering 240 vulnerable species (some of which are already critically-endangered).
One who is much aware of these ecological threats is Governor Suarez. Championing for the cause of his people and the environment, he hinted to sue in court if the construction continues amidst vocal opposition from those who would be severely affected.
“If you would continue Kaliwa Dam, I’d see you in court,” he dared. [P]
Photo from DPWH Regional Office No. IV-A / Facebook