The Great Barrier in Peril

Written by Danielle Suguitan
Illustrated by Sophia Dumlao

With high temperatures increasing in duration, the effects of global warming have become more frequent in tropical countries like the Philippines. Here, distinct wet and dry seasons play an integral role in laying the foundations for effective disaster protocols and contingency plans. On that note, it is by means of factors such as geographic location, proximity to water, and notable topographical features that a successful disaster management strategy is made, allowing for an accurate projection of natural calamity impact. 

For every typhoon that travels over Luzon, one land structure remains most prominent: the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. Boasting an area of 16,260 km2 and an elevation of nearly 2,000 meters, this geographical feature can be found along Cagayan to Quezon; serving as a natural barrier against typhoons and tropical storms in the eastern portion of the region. With each typhoon comes rain that fills reservoirs, ensuring a constant stream of water.  

Ironically, despite the heavy amount of rainfall that Luzon experiences each year due to typhoons and isolated thunderstorms, the region still suffers from a water crisis. Water logging, waterbed contamination, and heavy erosion from natural disasters like earthquakes and typhoons are among the reasons why water reservoirs like the Ipo Dam became tainted. With the rising population in the nation’s capital, the demand for water increases. Thus, it is inevitable for water shortages to become more evident. While calls for solutions have not been ignored, there persists a difficulty in finding the best location to build a dam without disrupting natural wildlife and established infrastructure. Lauded by former President Rodrigo Duterte as the “last resort of solving Metro Manila’s dwindling water supply”, one such project that has gained both notoriety and traction is the construction of the Kaliwa, or as they call it “The New Centennial Water Source Kaliwa Dam Project (NCWS-KDP), or simply put the construction of Kaliwa Dam.

The 5-year Construction of Kaliwa Dam was a measure taken by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System Corporate Office to ease the load Angat Dam has in providing for the greater Manila area. Constructed along Quezon Province in the boundary leading to Rizal Province, this reservoir would have a holding capacity of 57 million cubic meters. Backed by the China Energy Engineering Corporation, the loan taken by the Philippines allowed Chinese companies to bid on its construction. Hence, it is by means of constructing a mega-dam that the water crisis in Luzon could be alleviated. However, a problem endures: there are far more drawbacks than actual benefits when considering the completion of this project.

No matter how beneficial the Kaliwa Dam may be, the environmental and political consequences it can cause are far too numerous for it to be received with a clear conscience. Primarily, its construction will destroy 300 hectares of the natural environment that houses 126 species, most of which are critically endangered flora and fauna; one such example is the iconic Philippine Eagle.  In the same manner, since the Philippines is known as the last frontier of biodiversity, there are plenty of laws and regulations that have been passed to ensure the protection of its unique variety of plant and animal life. For this reason, certain certificates and forms are then required to be submitted to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) when developing infrastructures in order to ensure that the proposed project would not induce negative effects on the archipelago’s ecosystems. Nonetheless, in the case of Kaliwa Dam, issues in securing the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) have given rise to a direct violation of the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act that seeks to protect the declared forest reserve and wildlife sanctuary. Should the project push through, a permanent modification of the natural terrain would destabilize slopes along Kaliwa River which may lead to conflicts in irrigation and deterioration of river water quality. Besides this, there is also the glaring issue of the dam being constructed along “two active tectonic plates which have a high potential for seismic activity” with the unpredictable “Big One” having the capacity to destroy the waterbed and the dam’s structural integrity. Considering the fact that this mega-dam is situated atop tectonic plates, earthquakes have the potential to destabilize the reservoir’s foundation which makes it prone to leakages. 

Furthermore, not only will the habitats of native animals be changed, but indigenous communities have also protested against its construction. For many tribes, this project means life or death, seeing as the establishment of the dam will likely displace their groups. In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Fr. Pete Montallana of the Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance Inc. has repeatedly urged government officials to put the lives of the tribes before monetary concerns. Similarly, Ramcy Astoveza, a tribe chieftain and a key commissioner of the National Commission on Indigenous People, had claimed that no efforts were made to secure the informed consent of tribes to the project.

Likewise, many citizens are expected to spend more money on taxes due to this project.  Sonny Africa, the executive director of the Ibon Foundation, stated that “China is not just any lender. It is aggressive in asserting its global agenda even at the expense of human rights, environmental protection, and feeding corruption in debtor governments.” Herewith, since a 10.37 billion peso loan from the said country was taken to fulfill this project, it is to be expected that taxes would increase for compensation. 

Most damning of all is the lack of transparency between project handlers and the general public. The lack of information disclosed by the government regarding the nine loan investments taken to fund this project with China has been alarming for Ibon Representative Rosario Bello Guzman. Because this project counts as public infrastructure, it is within our right as citizens to be made aware of the monetary conditions set for its construction. In addition, the World Bank noted that this loan would only discourage consumers and investors in the long run since interest rates are expected to rise by 2%. Progress, at the cost of destruction, should not have been allowed; yet the dam continues to be seen as the only solution to Luzon’s water crisis.

In consideration of these points, there are many factors that point to the unethical nature of this project. For one, foreign investors like China encroaching and allowing the construction of projects funded by them is a slippery slope that could infringe upon the rights of the Philippines as a sovereign country. With a measly 25.29 billion pesos of our annual budget going into environmental efforts, as per the DENR, it is no surprise to see the lack of effort on the government’s part to consider the consequences of such a project. Not only that, the dam would have to be maintained and treated consistently which already builds unto the immoderately expensive cost of the project. Lastly, what should alarm Filipinos is just how easy it had been to bypass many hurdles like acquiring an ECC and the blatant disregard for the NIPAS law. Thus, allowing a project that was funded by another country to proceed, especially with the lack of proper certification and permission from the government, would only serve as the first of many to come in the future.

Rather than pushing through with a mega-dam that takes away agricultural lands, historical landmarks, and forcefully displaces indigenous groups, there are far more options to be considered. For instance, instead of creating a new mega-dam, the rehabilitation of similar dams such as the Angat Dam and Wawa Dam, and the restoration of watersheds may significantly increase the amount of water at Luzon’s disposal. Moreover, efforts to improve existing water systems to prevent water loss and maximize water recycling could help with the water crisis. Existing organizations like the “Stop Kaliwa Dam” collective have remained steadfast in their efforts to oppose its construction. Now that climate change has become an even larger issue than it had been before, there is no better time than the present to act. By allowing Kaliwa Dam to be constructed, it would serve as an admission of surrender—that shoddy projects like this can pass in the Philippines. The dam is expected to be built by June 2022 and is expected to be finished by August 2026. This should be our wake-up call. Will we allow the Philippines to be stripped of its status as the world’s last frontier?

For more information on the Kaliwa Dam Project, feel free to visit the following websites: https://stopkaliwadam.carrd.co/ and https://protectourlands.carrd.co/

References

Department of Environment and Natural Resources. 2021 Sep 15. DENR PROPOSES P25.29-B BUDGET FOR “GREEN GROWTH RECOVERY” IN 2022. [accessed 2022 Oct 27]. https://www.denr.gov.ph/index.php/news-events/press-releases/3232-denr-proposes-p25-29-b-budget-for-green-growth-recovery-in-2022

Enano J. 2019 Mar 26. Kaliwa Dam deal “suspiciously disadvantageous” to PH. Philippine Daily Inquirer. [accessed 2022 Oct 27]. Kaliwa Dam deal “suspiciously disadvantageous” to PH.

Haribon Foundation. 2019 Jun 25. Stop Kaliwa Dam. The Haribon Foundation. [accessed 2022 Oct 27]. https://haribon.org.ph/stop-kaliwa-dam/

Ibon Foundation. 2019 March 16. Govt should be transparent, release 9 signed foreign loan agreements — IBON. Ibon. [accessed 2022 Nov 3]. https://www.ibon.org/govt-should-be-transparent-release-9-signed-foreign-loan-agreements-ibon/

Mallari D. 2018 Nov 8. Stop P19-B Kaliwa Dam, groups urge Duterte. Philippine Daily Inquirer. [accessed 2022 Oct 27]. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1051600/stop-p19-b-kaliwa-dam-groups-urge-duterte.

Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewage System. 2019 Jul. New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project: Environmental Impact Statement. [accessed 2022 Oct 27]. https://emb.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Kaliwa-Dam_EIS.pdf.

Santos E. 2022 Feb 18. Kaliwa Dam construction eyed to start in June. CNN Philippines. [accessed 2022 Oct 27]. https://www.cnnphilippines.com/news/2022/2/18/kaliwa-dam-project-construction.html.

World Bank. 2012. Metro Manila Water Security Study. Australia: CTI Engineering International Co., Ltd. [accessed 2022 Oct 27]. https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/966091468107676247/pdf/863820WP0P1251540Box385165B00PUBLIC0.pdf.

WWF Philippines. 2020 Nov. Water Shortages After Recent Storms Proof of the Importance of 

Forest Conservation. WWF Philippines. [accessed 2022 Oct 27]. https://wwf.org.ph/resource-center/story-archives-2020/proof-of-importance-of-forest-conservation/.

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