Kaliwa Dam non-compliant | Investigator’s opinion
From the start, the construction of the Kaliwa Dam along the Kaliwa River in Infanta, Quezon, was challenged by various sectors due to concerns about its impact on surrounding communities. Still, the Duterte administration has given the green light to build the multi-billion Chinese-backed project.
Now, new questions have emerged about the apparent shortcuts in the implementation of the project. In its 2020 report, the Audit Commission pointed out – for the third time – the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), the government agency in charge of the Kaliwa dam project of 12.2 billion pesos, for having continued the project even if it had not submitted the necessary authorizations and proof of compliance with environmental conditions.
The detailed engineering and design phase of the controversial project, for example, which is part of the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program, was already 92.67% complete by the end of last year. , but when the COA requested proof that the prerequisites set by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources were met, the MWSS simply provided a “checklist” and a photocopy of a monitoring report from conformity. MWSS President Reynaldo Velasco said construction was outside of the ancestral domain designated in the area and was unrelated to the controversial project, but admitted that they had yet to secure some of the permits. needed for the Kaliwa dam.
The project, which is supposed to stabilize the water supply to Metro Manila and neighboring provinces, obtained a “conditional” Certificate of Environmental Compliance (ECC) in October 2019, allowing MWSS to begin operations. But construction should not have started until after authorizations and mandated government requirements had been obtained – including the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of affected Indigenous Peoples (IPs), a comprehensive information campaign on the project, a memorandum signed by agreement with the local government units on social development interventions, an intellectual property development plan, the construction of a buffer zone and the establishment of reforestation and wells programs. carbon.
The process for issuing the ECC was itself flawed, according to anthropologist Nestor Castro, who the government asked in 2018 to conduct a social impact assessment of the project. For example, securing FPIC was a post-ECC condition when, by law, the government can only initiate infrastructure projects on ancestral lands after obtaining the consent of title holders. Castro, despite having been tasked with evaluating the project, was warned of the presence of Communist rebels, was not allowed to visit the site and was subjected to “intense pressure” to conclude his work.
In June 2019, or a few months before the publication of the ECC, the nature conservation group Haribon Foundation called on President Duterte to stop the project because it “violates legal processes and would displace thousands of indigenous peoples.” The site of the project, he underlined, is part of an ancestral domain which shelters at least 5,000 Dumagat-Remontados.
About 300 of the Dumagats would be directly affected once construction began, while the rest would be forced to evacuate. In addition, around 100,000 individuals, as well as sacred sites and hunting grounds for indigenous peoples, were threatened by the increased risk of heavy flooding in downstream areas. Haribon warned that the “project will cause irreversible long-term environmental damage to the Sierra Madre and its biodiversity” as it lies in the Kaliwa watershed, a declared forest reserve and a national park and wildlife sanctuary, and will therefore violate the National Integrated Protected Zone System Act.
The Duterte administration secured funding for the project by securing a 12.2 billion pesos loan from China in 2019 as part of the official development assistance program, despite the loan from China carrying a rate of 2% interest on a Japanese public-private partnership proposal at just 1.25 percent. The agreement, protested the research group IBON Foundation, risked compromising the patrimonial assets and the property of the country in the event of default of payment, because under the agreement, the country “waives all immunity for reasons of sovereignty or otherwise for himself or his property in connection with any arbitration proceeding.
Yet widespread opposition from environmentalists and PAs, as well as church groups and legal experts, fell on deaf ears, as the government stepped forward and demanded the entrepreneur, China Energy Engineering Corp. Ltd., to proceed.
The COA warned that failure to meet the requirements by the MWSS could result in the cancellation of the ECC. But given the strong support for the project – Mr Duterte once said he would use “extraordinary powers” to implement the project – it is likely that violations of the law in this case will be worthless, and the China-backed dam will continue to increase.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to access The Philippine Daily Inquirer and over 70 titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download from 4 a.m. and share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.