The big sacrifice
Largely unheard in the heated debates over the merits of building the New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project is the singular voice of the Dumagat Agta people. Perhaps among all stakeholders in the project, their concerns represent the most urgent and existential, as they stand to lose their homes, livelihood and ancestral domain to an P18.7-billion structure that, meanwhile, will provide additional water to a parched Metro Manila.
“Binabraso nila kami (They are twisting our arm),” lamented Marcelino Tena, president of the Samahan ng mga Katutubong Agta/Dumagat. The government had basically run roughshod over them, he said, identifying the project site and building an access road without regard for the sentiments of the estimated 10,000 members of the Dumagat tribe who may be displaced by the project.
The Dumagat leader said in a TV interview that the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) had failed to secure the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the affected tribal members. Such express consent is required under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in recognition of the prior rights of indigenous peoples over the land that is not just a piece of property to them, but inextricably tied to their culture and identity.
Tena said the government had assured them it would first knock on the door before entering their homes. Instead, they are being forced to give their blessing to a project whose true extent they remain in the dark about, as the design is still being finalized.
MWSS administrator Reynaldo Velasco has a different version of the story. The project will just affect “about 46 families,” he said, and a series of meetings with the Dumagat people had been conducted. He even went to Infanta, Quezon, “two times” to discuss concerns, he added, and left residents the assurance that the MWSS would not cut corners and would follow proper procedures.
He talked to the Dumagat people “two times”? Over a project of such consequence as to mean the very loss of the culture, identity and way of life of these indigenous Filipinos? What kind of agreement or consensus was reached during the talks? Who participated in them, and where is the documentation recording all that had been discussed and possibly agreed on? And, ultimately, how did the people’s sentiments factor into the final form of the contract that was signed between the Philippines and China?
The Kaliwa Dam Project is essentially a done deal, President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping having inked the agreement under which China would shoulder around 64 percent or P12.2 billion of the P18.7-billion project.
The need to provide Metro Manila an additional water source is, of course, acute. The Kaliwa project is designed to provide the metro with another 600 million liters of water per day from a 60-meter dam in General Nakar and Infanta in Quezon.
But just as exhaustive discussions have focused on the viability as well as the possibly onerous nature of the Chinese loan that will be used to bankroll the massive project, not enough talk has centered on its possible social and environmental impact.
The Kaliwa project will be put up in the Kaliwa Watershed Forest Reserve within the Sierra Madre, the largest remaining rainforest in the country and home to various threatened wildlife such as the Philippine Warty Pig, the Northern Rufous Hornbill and the Northern Philippine Hawk-eagle, all of which are found nowhere else on the planet.
Similar concerns have been raised against the China-funded P3.6-billion Chico River Pump Irrigation Project in Kalinga. According to the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA), no FPIC from the indigenous communities was secured.
There was no consultation, and the people and the local government units were “totally unaware” of the project before the loan agreement was signed last year. “Their welfare was totally ignored,” according to CPA.
Infrastructure projects are inevitable as the Philippines pursues its growth agenda, but it would do well for policymakers, experts and citizens alike to devote as much time, energy and thought to scrutinizing not just whether the loans behind these massive projects will ultimately be beneficial—or detrimental, as the case may be — to the country.
More importantly, from the perspective of the environment and the indigenous Filipinos living in affected areas, there is that fundamental question: Who will have to make the biggest sacrifice in the name of progress?
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