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Kaliwa Dam, a debt trap?

/ 05:18 AM November 15, 2018

A news report several days go said the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) has allayed fears on the construction of the P12.1-billion New Centennial Water Source (NCWS)-Kaliwa Dam Project, which is opposed by vocal sectors. Why the “fears”?

The Kaliwa Dam to be built in Quezon province has been in the pipeline for three decades. Expected to be operational by 2023 if begun soon, it is supposed to complement the Angat Dam, which supplies 96 percent of the water needs of Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal and Cavite.

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According to MWSS Administrator Reynaldo Velasco, Kaliwa Dam will add 34 million liters daily to the mentioned areas. It is supposed to address the possible water shortage that Metro Manila and surrounding areas might experience in the coming years. And it is “a done deal,” Velasco added, meaning that President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be signing the contract on Nov. 21.

Who are saying no to the construction of Kaliwa Dam?

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In July, 51 Catholic bishops and four priests expressed support for a pastoral letter issued and signed by Bishop Prelate of Infanta Bernardino C. Cortez titled “No to Kaliwa Dam, Yes to Alternative Sources of Water.”

While the dam could mean more water for Metro Manilans, the letter enumerated the reasons why the dam is a cause for concern for the inhabitants of the area where the dam will be built, short of saying it could be a disaster waiting to happen.

“It will inundate the ancestral domain of the Dumagat-Remontados, uprooting them from the Sierra Madre where their ancestors lived for centuries enjoying a symbiotic relationship with the earth like the children to their mother. Undeniably, until now the indigenous people have not given a Free, Prior and Informed Consent to the Kaliwa Dam project as required by Republic Act No. 8371.” Or have they, have they?

This is not a romanticizing of “the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlocks” of poetry. There is more to the plaint of the people of Sierra Madre than meets the eye.

The dam will be constructed over the Infanta Fault and will endanger some 100,000 people who live downstream of the Kaliwa River, the letter said. In 2004, a flash flood in the area left 1,000 people dead and millions worth of properties destroyed. Velasco was reported as saying that the dam could withstand an 8-magnitude earthquake.

With climate change and erratic weather that have brought even high-tech and well-prepared countries to their knees, and with unpredictable rainfall that comes in unprecedented torrents hereabouts, how much can this dam hold? Can it withstand a “Yolanda”-type supertyphoon?

The bishop’s letter offers alternatives for thirsty 30 million Metro Manilans, among them, water management to reduce water consumption and waste, rainwater harvesting, rehabilitation of the Pasig-Laguna River Basin, adoption of the Singapore New Water technology (treatment of wastewater), and most important, expansion of the dwindling forests that serve as watersheds that could refill the underground aquifers.

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The bishop’s pastoral letter is echoed in a letter sent recently to President Duterte by groups such as Alyansa Laban sa Kaliwa Dam, Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance, Purisima, Task Force Sierra Madre, Tribal Center for Development, Green Convergence and Alyansa Tigil Mina, to name some.

The proposed NCWS-Kaliwa Dam Project “will inundate 291 hectares of forest from the total 9,800 hectares in Infanta-Kaliwa Watershed, including the sacred site of Dumagat-Remontado in the areas of Tinipak in Barangay Daraitan in Tanay, Rizal,” they said.

The environmental groups allege that President Duterte is “being manipulated by his advisers to sign the contract…with Chinese President Xi Jinping.”

“It is a debt trap,” the groups warn. President Duterte’s advisers “are simply duplicating Sri Lanka’s Hambantota airport and seaport experience,” with said Chinese-funded projects having turned into liabilities.

Remember, “Come hither, hither, said the spider to the fly”? Or the old saying, beware of Greeks bearing gifts? Learn from Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who canceled projects with China to avoid being trapped. While in Singapore these past days for the Asean Summit, President Duterte, with his foul mouth in check, should have made time for a tête-à-tête with Mahathir.

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TAGS: Human Face, Kaliwa Dam, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, MWSS, Reynaldo Velasco
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