Sierra Madre tribe asks Congress to stop Laiban dam
LUCENA CITY, Quezon—A tribe leader in northern Quezon is asking Congress to investigate the resurrection of the controversial Laiban Dam project in the Sierra Madre mountain range.
“We call on members of Congress and the Senate to help us to stop construction of the monster dams. The planned dam projects inside our ancestral domain is like a Damocles sword hanging over our head,” Ramcy Astoveza, Agta tribal chieftain in Sierra Madre, said in a telephone interview Friday.
He said he would call the tribal council to a meeting to discuss how to prevent the renewed threat after learning of the collection of “advance tariffs” from water consumers in Metro Manila purportedly to finance construction of the controversial dam.
Astoveza said the tribal council was aware of the government’s plan to resurrect the dam project and had been monitoring developments with help from non-governmental organizations but they were surprised to learn of the collections in advance.
“But still we were shaken with the report of advance collection. It means that the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) would ram the project through us,” Astoveza said.
On March 17, 2011, the MWSS board, in Resolution No. 2011-024, ordered its regulatory office to issue to its two water concessionaires — Manila Water Company Inc. and the Maynilad Water Services Inc. — cease and desist orders, directing them to stop collecting advance tariffs for Laiban Dam and 15 other irrigation projects.
It also ordered the concessionaires to put in escrow the amount already collected.
But barely a month later, on April 13, the same board approved Resolution No. 2011-024A deferring the implementation of the March 17 resolution.
Astoveza said the whole tribe had vowed before their former tribal chieftain Nap Buendicho, who died last February that they would continue to oppose Laiban and other dam projects.
In 2009, Buendicho led a historic 148-kilometer protest march from General Nakar, Quezon, to Manila by indigenous tribesmen, farmers, religious and environmentalist groups to dramatize their opposition to the dam project.
Astoveza recalled that sometime in February after Buendicho’s death, MWSS representatives conducted a series of meetings with local government officials of General Nakar town purportedly to feel the pulse of the people on the dam project.
“We immediately declared our renewed opposition to the project through the media. But it seems, the MWSS have learned their lessons. They are now working behind our back,” the Agta governor said.
He also questioned the sincerity of the government’s claim that reviving the Laiban Dam project would be for the benefit of the people.
“It is hard to believe that with the advance collection from the unsuspecting water consumers. It seems that just like any government venture, it is money or return of profit above anything else,” he said.
The P48-billion Laiban Dam project was a joint-venture project of the San Miguel Corp. and the MWSS. It was designed to divert water from two river systems in the Sierra Madre—Kaliwa and Kanan—to supply potable water to Metro Manila. It was shelved in 2010 amid strong opposition from indigenous Sierra Madre communities.
Astoveza said that aside from the stalled Laiban project, the MWSS also plans to build two more dams on Sierra Madre rivers.
Studies by the Prelature of Infanta and environmental groups said the proposed Laiban Dam would displace at least 4,000 families from seven mountain villages.
The opposition groups also cited the risk posed by the project as its proposed site lies between the Marikina and Real-Infanta fault lines.
If the dam breaks because of earthquakes, a repeat of the destructive floods of 2004 could result in unimaginable catastrophe, according to dam critics.
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