No to hasty river dredging (1)
With increasing frequency, I’ve been hearing of proposals to dredge our rivers at no cost to the government, courtesy of foreign contractors who will export the dredged materials by way of compensation for their efforts. Instead of giving me feelings of good cheer, it’s causing alarm bells to ring. The first time I heard of such proposal was a few years back when I learned that someone was trying to convince the Zambales provincial government to allow the dredging of a major river at no cost to the government. When I asked what the proponent would get in return, I was informed that there was a ready buyer in Hong Kong of all the dredged materials.
I heard another project proposal later again from several other people who were prospecting for rivers to dredge in any part of Luzon. The uniform proposal was to dredge the rivers at no cost to the government, to be undertaken by foreign contractors, with the dredged materials sold to buyers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore.
Following the destructive floods that our country experienced very recently, Sen. Manny Pacquiao has called for the massive dredging of all rivers in flood-prone areas. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has also announced that it has allowed the dredging of our country’s longest river, the Cagayan river in Northern Luzon, “at no cost on the part of the government.”
On the surface, the dredging of rivers for free looks like an incredibly advantageous deal for our country. But is it really? Such an arrangement is based on the assumption that the dredged sand, gravel, and silt are waste matters that the contractor will be free to sell as its means of compensation.
But why are so many foreign contractors willing to spend hundreds of millions, if not billions, of pesos, to dredge our rivers and to transport the waste matters to destinations abroad? Why are foreign buyers eager to buy our river “waste materials”? Could it be that, from the point of view of foreign contractors, a project to dredge our rivers is a bonanza to amass valuable river materials for loose change?
At the time I first heard of proposals to dredge our rivers for free courtesy of foreign contractors, China was building islands in the disputed reefs and shoals in the West Philippine Sea. What are the chances that dredged materials from our rivers would be used in these Chinese artificial islands for expansion and fortification, or even in building new islands? We are the nearest source of land reclamation materials for these artificial islands.
Instead of lulling us into thankfulness, any proposal to dredge our rivers for free must be examined meticulously by provincial governors, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, and the DENR. If the dredged materials are going to be exported, its country of destination as merely written on paper must not be taken at face value. The Department of Foreign Affairs must proactively verify the legitimacy of the foreign project where the dredged materials are supposed to be used. Congress and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan must flex their oversight functions to ensure that local governments and the DENR are not wittingly or unwittingly taken for a ride, to the disastrous detriment of our national interest.
There is truly an urgent necessity to declog certain segments of our rivers as part of the basket of solutions to address perennial flooding. However, there must be a way to ensure that the dredged materials do not end up being used by China in building and fortifying fake islands within our exclusive economic zone. Otherwise, we will end up as the laughingstock of the world.
Apart from not enabling China to build islands from which its military can bully our fishermen and emasculate our sovereignty, there are additional issues that are equally vital. There’s the need for thorough studies on each river’s ecosystem and geological features, the propriety of river channel widening instead of dredging, and the presence of precious metals more valuable than gold in our rivers. (To be continued)
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