"The government will never obtain that free, prior and informed consent."
As I have written in this column before, I believe that the Kaliwa River Dam should not be built. Like the Chico River irrigation project, this is development aggression at its worst. I said these projects are bad for nature and for our people and will result in social conflict. They will damn our environment and peoples. They are also economically disadvantageous as Chinese-funded projects.
In that column last May, I wrote how the Dumagat, the indigenous people who live in the area, will largely be affected by the construction of the Kaliwa Dam. I pointed out how 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. This has caused 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, which will straddle the Rizal and Quezon province. This will have an enormous impact on the Sierra Madre—not just home to a wide array of indigenous groups, but also of rich biodiversity. Even the already critically endangered Philippine Eagle in the area might be facing extinction because of the alterations in the landscape that creating a dam would entail.
In sum, the Kaliwa Dam project is controversial, not just because of the exorbitant amount needed for its construction, but also because of its negative environmental and socio-cultural consequences.
Unfortunately and inexplicably, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has issued an Environmental Compliance Certificate that will allow for the construction and operation of the dam.
As my colleague Joy Reyes and I wrote in another article, the issuance of the Kaliwa Dam ECC is a travesty; it is illegal and immoral. The DENR should revoke the ECC.
The ECC, which was issued in haste and did not comprehensively answer the most important procedural and substantial concerns on the FPIC process and the environmental effects, should not have been granted at all.
Joy and I pointed out what the Supreme Court has provided as guidance to the government on how environmental impact assessment (EIA) is to be conducted. In Boracay Foundation, Inc. vs. The Province of Aklan, decided in 2012, the Supreme Court clarified the basic ECC requirements and laid the responsibility of implementing the EIA process on the DENR which must strictly comply with its procedureas.
Quoting the Local Government Code, the Court said that there should have been prior consultations before the project’s implementation. It also said that the conduct of a public hearing is mandatory and should be done early on so that concerns of stakeholders are taken into consideration in the EIA study. This lack of prior public consultation is not corrected by subsequent resolutions and endorsements by the LGU.
Sadly, the DENR completely disregarded these requirements in issuing the ECC for the Kaliwa Dam.
Among others, the ECC was issued without the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) of indigenous peoples as required by law. FPIC can only be certified after the conduct of two community assemblies and a consensus-building period where the indigenous peoples affected can have the ability, employing their own traditional consensus-building processes, to “further understand and discern the merits/advantages and demerits/disadvantages of the proposal in order to intelligently arrive at a consensus.”
Joy and I pointed out how during consultations with the indigenous communities, concerns have been raised regarding the lack of such compliance with the law in many of the areas which will be affected by the construction of the dam. It is thus interesting to note that the MWSS issued an affidavit of no complaint, which is required for the grant of the ECC, when there were in fact many complaints lodged against the project.
The government will never obtain that FPIC. The construction of the dam and its subsequent operation will require the relocation of the indigenous communities whose livelihoods will be affected. Many of the indigenous peoples are farmers and serve as guides for hikers who climb the surrounding Sierra Madre mountains. Resettling them will result to a loss of their livelihoods and their separation from their sacred sites and burial grounds.
In addition to the lack of FPIC, the Kaliwa River Dam will cause serious damage to the environment which is a “protected” area according to the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Law. Submerging a huge portion of the Kaliwa watershed is not acceptable as the consequences of that are unimaginable.
What makes the issuance of the ECC even more unacceptable is that the EIA process, if properly done, would have shown that there are other alternatives that can address the Manila water crisis. These other options are not as destructive to the environment, such as the proposal by a Japanese firm to construct a weir, which is a 7-meter high wall as compared to China’s 60-meter high dam, for a much lower cost.
The Kaliwa Dam violates the Filipino people’s right to a sound environment and disregards the rights of affected indigenous peoples and local communities. The DENR clearly abdicated its duty under the law when it issued the ECC. Revocation is the only option.
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