Damn the dams: Indigenous peoples say no to destructive energy projects

Indigenous peoples warn of dire effects on their dwindling population as they call for a stop to a least six mega dam and mini-hydro power projects being undertaken by the Aquino government.

Building of dams, to indigenous peoples, has meant “erosion of culture and ethnocide, although these “may be able to produce electricity or provide irrigation services and flood control,” said Jill Cariño, Executive Director and Convenor of the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights (TFIP).

TFIP, a network of 12 NGOs, along with the Katribu Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu) trooped to the House of Representatives in Quezon City to submit a petition calling for a stop to mega dam projects. Copies of the petition were submitted to district representatives in the affected areas, and to the House committee on environment and natural resources.

The petition want to stop the six dam projects in: the Kaliwa River or Laiban Dam in Rizal and Quezon, the Jalaur dam in Panay island, the Balog-balog Dam in Tarlac province, the Pulangi Mega Dam V in North Cotabato and Bukidnon, and the Tinoc Minihydro power plant and Alimit Hydropower Complex in Ifugao.

The petition also called for an investigation by the Houses of Congress on the impact of dam projects, and for “a stop to privatization and monopolization of rivers and water resources.”

“Indigenous peoples have always been sacrificed for the so-called development of the majority,” said Cariño. “Damming of rivers, changing their use or diverting their flow also means desecrating their ancestral lands and the loss of indigenous knowledge and culture,” she said.

“Let our rivers flow,” said signs held by the group, as they “drowned” President Aquino’s image in a symbolic protest.

Jalaur river

In his two consecutive state of the nation addresses (SONA), in 2014 and this year, Aquino had mentioned mega dam projects such as the ones in Jalaur River in Iloilo, and Balog Balog in Tarlac.
Laiban.

“He (Aquino) is reportedly angry because the project has not proceeded,” said Mary Grace Lobaton, spokesperson of the Jalaur River for the People Network, which had called for a stop to the Jalaur River Multipurpose Project phase 2 (JRMP 2).

Lobaton said the dam construction has been stalled awaiting the release of funds from the Korean Export-Import Bank, which is funding the P11.2 billion project. The Korean bank, which is funded by the South Korean government, is reportedly concerned about opposition to the project, she said.

“We are trying very hard to stop the mega dam because of its impact on life, livelihood and properties of the indigenous peoples, and the people living downstream who will all suffer from the devastation,” Lobaton said, at a press conference by TFIP in Quezon City on Aug. 11.

The Court of Appeals had junked the appeal for a temporary restraining order on the mega dam project this year. The petition was filed by former Iloilo Rep. Augusto Syjuco Jr. and Lobaton’s group. However, the writ of Kalikasan issued by the Supreme Court in 2013, has not been withdrawn.

Environmentally critical project

Lobaton said the project encroaches on the ancestral lands of 17,000 indigenous Tumandoks, and will also affect the 1.2 million population who live in 18 towns along the Jalaur river basin. At least 78 species of flora and fauna living in the area will also be submerged in the dam. She said the planned relocation for the affected communities “is on top of a hill, with no access road and livelihood.”

“The 123-kilometer Jalaur river is a considered as sacred ground by Tumandoks because all water is sourced from the river,” she said. Jalaur is also included in the 20 most important rivers in the Philippines, she said.

The 6.6-megawatt dam, which will rise 106 meters high, or 40 stories, is being forced, in spite of hazards, said Lobaton.

She said the dam base will be built on sedimentary soil, which is prone to landslide, as shown in an environmental investigation mission by the Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (Agham). The site is also located 11 kilometers from the West Panay fault line, which the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) recently warned can move anytime.

“The megadam project is an environmentally critical project, which requires an engineering seismic rate assessment report (Esrar) and an engineering geological and geohazard assessment report (Egar). Have they done this?” Lobaton said she doubts if government had done such reports.

“And they have the gall to say that they built a ‘fail-safe dam,’” she said. “We are not that stupid to believe that there is such a thing as a ‘fail-safe’ structure in the world,” said Lobaton, who had cited in earlier statements the case of the “unsinkable Titanic” to rebuff government claims on the JRMP.

Lobaton added that the electricity generated by various power plants sufficiently supplies the needs of Panay island, and the JRMP would only be excessive. “Nag-uumapaw na, para saan pa?” (There’s already an oversupply, what is it for?) she said.

“The mega dam project is a danger to our lives, livehood and environment, Lobaton said. “Damn the dam.”

Kaliwa river

“If Aquino is serious about pushing through with the dam project, we Dumagats and Remontados are also serious about resisting the Laiban dam,” said Arnel delos Santos, secretary general of the Bigkis at Lakas ng Katutubo sa Timog Katagalugan (Balatik).

The Laiban dam is part of the National Centennial Water Source project, which the Aquino administration had revived, after almost four decades since it was started. The project will submerge up to eight villages, covering 28,000 hectares in the Sierra Madre mountain range, including the ancestral domains of the Dumagats in Rizal and Quezon provinces. Critics said the government is stirring fears of shortage of water supply to push Laiban and similar projects.

“That is where we were born, and that is where we will stay,” Delos Santos said. He also decried the presence of military detachments in preparation for the project construction in the villages of Sta. Ines, Sto.Niño, and Tinucan.

Aside from Laiban dam, Delos Santos said the construction of a mini-hydro project is on the way in Puray village, Rodriguez bordering Antipolo town. He said the National Commission on the Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) had began a feeding program among the indigenous communities to “soften the ground” and convince them to agree to the program.

Delos Santos said his family is yet to get justice for his father Nicanor, who was killed by suspected soldiers in 2001 for opposing the Laiban project.

“But the threat of the dam is still there, and so we must continue his fight,” he said. “We know that our fight is for not just ourselves, but for the coming generation.”

‘Rivers are ancestral territories too’

“Rivers form part of the territories of many indigenous peoples and serve as good sources of food and water for household and agricultural uses. Rivers also play a major role in the spirituality and belief systems of many indigenous groups,” said the TFIP position paper submitted to congress.

Government and dam project proponents make sweet promises of jobs, power and livelihood, but the reality is “bitter” for the indigenous peoples. Instead, there is displacement because of absence of relocation plan, destruction of environment, and loss of biodiversity, she said.

“There is loss of basis for identify, culture, and even life. Because of the loss of culture, it’s ethnocide,” she said.

But even as indigenous communities refuse to give consent, the mega structures are forced upon them, through bribery and harassment, which violate the process for free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

“Government agencies which protect the rights of indigenous peoples should follow their mandate, and not be tools to violate the IP rights,” Cariño said. “Respect the customary processes of IPs and recognize their refusal to dams,” she said.

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