A debt-death sentence for future generations?

05:02 AM July 12, 2017

The proposed Kaliwa Dam Project is simply the Laiban Dam Project “repackaged” due to strong opposition. The Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) intends to first build Kaliwa Dam and later Laiban Dam to deliver 2,400 MLD (megaliters per day) of water at the cost of P66 billion.

The World Bank, the world’s largest financier of dams, made an appraisal of the Kaliwa River Basin in 1979. The diversion tunnel was completed in 1984 but after the toppling of the Marcos dictatorship, the Laiban Dam Project was deferred in 1989, only to be picked up in 1998 by President Joseph Estrada. It was shelved again by President Gloria Arroyo in 2009 because of the protest march of the Dumagat, which drew the support of environmentalists and the Church.


The MWSS’ justification for these dams is an impending water crisis. But civil society organizations (CSOs) led by the Freedom from Debt Coalition argue: “Metro Manila’s ‘water crisis’ has nothing to do with a deficit in water supply, and everything to do with wasteful water management practices.”

If a person needs 50 liters of water a day according to the World Health Organization, then the 13 million people in Metro Manila would need 650 MLD. But even if one doubles that supply, 1,300 MLD is even less than a third of the 4,000 MLD that the MWSS supplies to its concessioners.


The problem is with the 2,000 MLD of nonrevenue water or unpaid water lost in leaks and other causes. CSOs insist on the recovery of nonrevenue water.

For 30 years the MWSS has been proposing the damming of Kaliwa River, which is within the National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuary (Presidential Proclamation No. 1636). But until now, it has no environmental compliance certificate, as required by Presidential Decree No. 1151, PD 1586 and Sec. 12 of Republic Act No. 7586 (Nipas Act). Nor does it have the free prior and informed consent of the Dumagat as required by RA 8371 (Ipra Law).

The project also violates the right to a balanced and healthy ecology (Sec. 16 of the 1987 Constitution and Sec. 14 of the Nipas Act, requiring a law for any exploitation of energy resources in protected areas).

In fact, the MWSS has yet to pay the Dumagat their environmental fee of P20 million for the Umiray-Angat-Transbasin Project, which was due them 20 years ago.

According to environmental scientist Steve Godilano, the MWSS did not consider the wealth valuation (economic benefits received now): For the Upper Marikina River Basin, it is P18 billion per year, and for the Agos River Watershed, P55 billion per year.

The MWSS denies the danger of an earthquake for the project, yet its plan admits the need for a higher factor of safety. What will happen when the Big One hits Manila? The 1880 intensity X earthquake in Manila destroyed churches both in Manila and in Infanta, Quezon.

The World Commission on Dams formed by the World Bank in 1997 has concluded that large dams show a “marked tendency” toward cost overruns; that environmental impacts “led to irreversible loss of species and ecosystems;” and that dam constructions “led to the impoverishment and suffering of millions.” The same study debunked the belief that dams provide “clean” energy because these emit greenhouse gases.


Climate change is now upon us and a month’s rain can now fall in a few hours. The flash flood in 2004 has traumatized the residents of Real, Infanta and General Nakar in Quezon.

Instead of big dams, alternatives are now being considered worldwide. Godilano pushes for 1) the rehabilitation of the Pasig-Laguna River Basin, which would cost only P13 billion, and strongly suggests 2) the Singapore New Water which treats wastewater to become potable. CSOs have been proposing 3) the recovery of nonrevenue water amounting to 2,000 MLD, 4) building reservoirs to collect rainwater, 5) conducting a massive campaign to promote the habit of water conservation, and 6) protecting and expanding our dwindling forests as an urgent priority.

Pope Francis has warned: “Caring for the ecosystems demands farsightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation.” (Laudato Si #36)

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Fr. Pete Montallana is chair of the Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance Inc. and coordinator of the Indigenous Peoples’ Apostolate of the Diocese of Infanta.

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TAGS: Inquirer Commentary, Inquirer Opinion, Kaliwa Dam Project, Laiban Dam project, MWSS, Pete Montallana, world bank
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