[OPINION] Part 2 | Road to damnation through Chinese-funded dams




Beyond the provisions of the loan agreements and contentions on patrimonial property lie the reality on the ground, and the problems that creating dams might create.

While the Kaliwa Dam, with its expected completion by 2023, will be an alternative water source for the residents of Metro Manila and neighboring provinces, it still faces a lot of opposition from different groups, particularly the indigenous communities, that have been adamant about not having the dam built ever since it was first proposed during the Marcos era.

Even politicians have started to question the propriety of such a move, with Vice President Robredo questioning the need for asking loans, especially from China.

The Dumagat, the indigenous people who live in the areas that will largely be affected by the construction of the dam, claim that the $12-billion project will displace them and leave them homeless. Moreover, a part of the area where the Kaliwa Dam will be erected is considered sacred land and is a burial ground for the departed Dumagat, which has given reason for the Dumagat to double efforts in ensuring that the construction does not take place. Even church leaders, particularly those from the Catholic Church, are staunch advocates of the movement against the construction of the Kaliwa Dam.

Environmentalists have also expressed their opposition to the building of the dam, as the Sierra Madre is not just home to a wide array of indigenous groups, but also of rich biodiversity. Even the already critically endangered Philippine Eagle might be facing extinction because of the alterations in the landscape that creating a dam would entail.

Others have claimed that a new dam would simply be a useless extravagance, as Angat Dam, which is the main reservoir for Metro Manila, actually has enough water to last through the dry summer months. They say that to create a dam largely funded by a loan from the Chinese, is nothing but a flexing of China’s muscles, and an exhibit of how easily a foreign country such as China can make large and all-encompassing political decisions in the Philippines.

Right now, the Kaliwa Dam still lacks the environmental compliance certificate which is necessary for the construction to take place. With the backlash this project is facing, it might be a while before actual construction occurs, if it even does. In the meantime, the months continue to progress and the fear of delay in payment may actually turn into fruition.

The Chinese as creditor

Another concern that is increasingly being put into the forefront of the issue is the propriety of having China as a creditor. On the first level, it appears as though the Kaliwa Dam is not the only possible water source for Metro Manila, as many other dams that are less destructive may be built, which can provide the same amount of water to the surrounding areas.

On the second level, both Europe and Japan have offered to lend the Philippines the money needed for the construction of the dam, and have actually offered less onerous alternatives through their repayment schemes, which were not considered by the government. Interestingly, Japan even came up with a cheaper substitute, which will come at practically no cost to the government with none of the environmental hazards the Kaliwa Dam can potentially cause. It proposed the creation of a weir, which is significantly cheaper and won’t have to displace the indigenous peoples living in the area. The government has since rejected this idea.

On a third and final level, considering issues today regarding the West Philippine Sea and China’s blatant disregard for the arbitral award by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and China’s track record when it comes to building infrastructure in different countries which have proved to be harmful for those who live in the surrounding areas, it would appear that China is looking out for its self-interest far more than its borrowers’. If that happens, then the repayment of the loan, which could potentially amount to more than P24 billion, will probably be the least of our worries.

While it is a mark of good governance to always be ready in case difficult times arise, it is also extremely important to exercise prudence in governing, taking into consideration always the various stakeholders and the impact of each decision made.

A cheap, alternative water source, then, may probably be exactly what the Filipino people need, considering climate change and the hotter summers, the longer El Niños. However, the Philippine government also owes to its people the duty to find not just an alternative that is cheap, but one that is also environmentally-friendly, ecologically sound, and sustainable in the long run.

Repeating the fight over Chico River

The arguments against the Kaliwa Dam equally apply to the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project (CRPIP) currently being built in Kalinga. Preparatory work has already begun which is illegal given that the project has not yet obtained an environmental compliance certificate as required by law, as well as the free and prior informed consent of the indigenous peoples that will be affected. The latter is a requirement of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act and an international norm established by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

According to the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA): “The CRPIP is an outright violation of our right to Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), right to our ancestral lands including the Chico River, and right to self determination. The project falls within the ancestral domain of the indigenous peoples in Kalinga but no FPIC from the communities was secured for the project before the loan agreement was signed on April 10, 2018. The indigenous communities affected by the project and the local government units (LGUs) in Kalinga have not been consulted and were totally unaware of the project until after the loan agreement. LGUs were not provided with any documents pertaining to the project.”

The CPA also points out that the CRPIP will fail because it did not take into account the overall “development plan” in the Chico River and the province of Kalinga, such as the building of many hydropower, geothermal and mining projects.

There are even claims that the irrigation project is a grand deception and is intended to reintroduce the infamous Chico river dam project that the Marcos government wanted to build in the 1970s and '80s, a plan that did not materialize because of oppositon from the Kalinga and other Cordillera peoples and at a cost of many lives, including the hero Macling Dulag.

Columnist Tonyo Cruz quotes the the CPA as putting President Duterte on notice that he is an enemy of the Kaigorotan if he insists on the project: “The history of the Kaigorotan is marked by strong resistance to colonization and vehement opposition to destructive projects that encroach on and privatize ancestral lands and deny us our rights to our very own resources. Our forefathers fought fearlessly against similar attempts in the past during the Marcos dictatorship, when the people of Kalinga and Mountain Province successfully opposed the US$50-million World Bank-funded Chico River Irrigation Project, also known as the Chico Dams Project, from 1976-1985.”

Bad for environment, people, and economy

We repeat what we said in the first part of this article. The Kaliwa and Chico river projects should be reviewed not only because its loan conditionalities are unfair and onerous for the Philippines. They must also be evaluated from an environmental perspective as well as its impact on people, especially the communities directly affected by the dams. Once this is done, it is obvious that these projects are development aggression at its worst. They are bad for nature and for our people, and will result in social conflict and fuel an already intensifying insurgency in both the Sierra Madre and the Cordillera.

Both the Kaliwa and Chico projects are also bad for the economy. Because they are controversial, they are likely not to be built. We predict that future administrations will have to cancel these projects and default on the Chinese loans, which will result in the Philippines being sued by China in arbitration proceedings that have been designed to favor the creditor.

Let us not be foolish. Just cut our losses now and do right with nature, our people, and the Philippine economy. – Rappler.com