Kaliwa and Chico will damn us

"This is development aggression at its worst."


Recently, the media has reported about how Chinese loans that will finance the Kaliwa Dam and Chico River Projects are controversial. The focus has been on Chinese involvement, including that of Chinese workers being deployed to build these big projects. But as my colleague Joy Reyes (who just passed the bar exams) and I have written in an article published by Rappler, these projects should not only be seen through the prism of whether the Chinese loans are onerous or not, but more from a perspective of these projects being development aggression at its worst. Indeed, the Kaliwa and Chico river projects are bad from an environmental and social justice point of view, likely resulting in an intensified insurgency in the Sierra Madre and Cordillera. Because of this, they are likely also not to be built and the probability is that future administrations will have to cancel these loans. These in turn will result in defaulting on the loans and in arbitration proceedings that have been designed to favor China.

As Reyes and I wrote, both the Kaliwa and Chico contracts are onerous and detrimental to the national interest. We agree with Associate Jusice Antonio Carpio’s critique of the loan agreements, among others warning regarding the possibility of default which in turn will compromise our patrimonial assets. We took note that should disputes as to management, payment, and subsequent issues arise in Chico River and the Kaliwa Dam, Beijing and Hong Kong will have the jurisdiction over the same respectively, and their arbitration rules will be followed, provisions which have garnered backlash from many Filipinos because of the belief that such provisions essentially mean that the Philippines is waiving its sovereign immunity.

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

The Dumagat, the indigenous people who live in the areas that will largely be affected by the construction of the Kaliwa 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 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.

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 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 opposition from the Kalinga and other Cordillera peoples and at a cost of many lives, including the hero Macling Dulag.

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, as I said at the beginning of this column, development aggression at its worst. They are bad for nature and for our people, and will result in social conflict. They will damn our environment and peoples.

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.

Facebook Page: Professor Tony La Viña Twitter: tonylavs

Topics: Tony La Viña , Kaliwa Dam , Chico River Projects , Chinese loans
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