HomeEquality & JusticePhilippine bishops call for stop to controversial dam project

Philippine bishops call for stop to controversial dam project

Philippine Catholic bishops have called on the government to stop the construction of a dam project that threatens vast areas of tribal lands and rural communities outside the capital Manila.

In a statement released on Feb. 26, the Catholic bishops’ conference urged the government to review the planned Kaliwa Dam project and “correct its flawed procedures.”

The church leaders also called on state agencies to explore ecologically sustainable alternatives in meeting the water needs of residents in the capital “without destroying the precious culture and sustainable future” of tribal people.

The Kaliwa Dam project, proposed by the government in 2012, is one of several bulk water supply projects on the upper portion of the Kaliwa River watershed.

The project had originally been proposed as a bigger, integrated system that included a plan for a second dam, named Laiban, further upstream. 

The administration of former president Benigno Aquino, however, decided on a proposal that would have built the system in stages. Only the first stage, involving Kaliwa Dam and the water supply tunnel, was approved.

When the project did not move by the time the Aquino administration ended, the succeeding administration of President Rodrigo Duterte decided not to follow up with the Japanese-proposed Kaliwa Dam, and instead pursued a bigger, China-funded dam project.

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A $235.9 million loan from China will underwrite the project.

Duterte has said the proposed dam, which is part of his “New Centennial Water Source” program, is needed to ease persistent water shortage woes for Metro Manila’s nearly 13 million residents. 

Critics of the dam project forecast the displacement of 11,000 families living across the 28,000 hectares of land, not including those living in more established towns.

In its statement, the Catholic bishops said the project would submerge almost 300 hectares of forest eco-systems, threatening 126 endemic and endangered species of plants and wildlife.

The bishops also criticized the contract for an alleged “lack of transparency” and for burdening citizens with a sovereign guarantee that offers the country’s territory and properties as collateral.

“There is even a provision that should any disagreement happen between the Chinese investors and the Philippine government, the case shall be settled in Chinese courts applying Chinese laws,” read the bishops’ statement.

The church leaders said tribal people should be respected as “guardians of these mountains” who have a right to the forest “as it is their ancestral domain.”

“They should not be sacrificed on the altar of development aggression, which would just benefit big businesses and Chinese investors,” said the bishops.

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