Fight for water (1)
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - March 5, 2019 - 12:00am

The fight for water will take on epic proportions within the decade, if the government is not able to arrive soon at a national water security policy that will answer the water needs of a growing nation for drinking, sanitation, agriculture, and industry.

The crisis is already knocking on our doors with Maynilad and Manila Water, the two concessionaires of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) for water supply and sewerage services for 15 million residents of Metro Manila, at their wits’ end to try to find new sources of water.

Warning rebuffed

Manila Water, in particular, had already issued a warning before the fourth quarter of 2018 that it may not be able to supply the water needs of the metro’s east zone starting in 2021, if it is not able to secure new sources of water.

The MWSS concessionaire had been batting for approval to start construction of a P13.5-billion integrated water supply facility in Pakil, Laguna using water from the eastern side of Laguna Bay.

Manila Water Co. Inc., an Ayala-led company, is understandably concerned, even if days after issuing the warning, MWSS rebuffed the concessionaire’s warning with an annoucement that there will be enough water for another five years, well beyond the term of the current president.

Water security roadmap

Further statements by the MWSS bared a water security roadmap that would provide for the needs of its communities. Aside from the planting of trees and in watershed areas, the metro’s water authority also undertook rehabilitation and protection of six critical watersheds that supply water to Angat.

More importantly, it said, medium-term water sources like Laguna Lake, Sumag River, Kaliwa Dam, Wawa River-New Montalban Dam, and Tayabasan River had been identified. On the long-term supply sources, the Kanan Dam and Agos Dam were named.

The MWSS’s water security roadmap includes what it terms as the ABC projects, starting with the Angat-Ipo-Norzagaray optimization (to harness untapped and water wastage for Metro Manila), the Bayabas Dam project (for Bulacan), and the multipurpose impounding dam in Candaba (for Pampanga).

MWSS is, likewise, banking on a loan agreement signed late last year between the Philippines and China to finance the construction of the Kaliwa Dam, backed by statements from Malacanang that it would expedite the project that was awarded to China Energy through a long-term official development assistance loan.

50-year old dam project

However, we know only too well the story behind the proposed development of Kaliwa Dam as a source of water, not only for Metro Manila, but even the provinces of Pampanga and Bulacan that are experiencing high population growth and industrialization.

It has been half a century ago when the construction of a dam inside the declared Kaliwa Watershed Forest Reserve was covered by a presidential proclamation. It was the height of the Maoist-led student activism, and the protest movement had successfully stopped the planned construction of the proposed dam.

Ironically, it seems that the dam project will proceed now, with Mao’s China forking one of its biggest “aids” to the country. The pledged P10 billion in ODA for the design construction of the Kaliwa Dam, now dubbed as the New Centennial Water Source Project (NCWSP), last November between the Chinese and Philippine governments is being rushed by the Duterte administration, which will provide a counterpart funding of P2.2 billion.

The dam will be 60 meters high, and is seen to affect about 300 hectares of forestlands, including the domicile of two indigenous tribes, the Dumagats and Remontados who roam and live freely off the Sierra Madre mountains.

Furthermore, protest groups say that the site of the proposed dam lies in an area that sits on two active tectonic plates, the Philippine Fault Zone and the Valley Fault System.

More importantly, the cause-oriented groups have raised the threat of the project on the ecosystem of the Sierra Madre, while at the same time trespassing on the ancestral lands of the tribal groups and subsequently destroying their culture.

March of progress

Five decades has significantly weakened the protests, and what seemed to be a long arduous journey before to the forest hinterlands of the Sierra Madre is no longer the case. Even the tribesmen carry mobile phones, or take public rides because these have become more accessible with new roads.

Currently, an access road from a sitio in Infanta to a sitio in General Nakar, both in Quezon, is being constructed. However, civic groups say the  project is not covered by a Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) by the Dumagats and Remontados and is in violation of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA).

However, the encroachment of civilization in areas once difficult to reach, plus the fact that the current government enjoys immense support with its Build Build Build projects, has made the Kaliwa Dam project more doable — and even acceptable.

As they say, the march of progress is something that is difficult to stem. And for Filipinos in Metro Manila, as well as in the rapidly urbanizing provinces around it, the New Centennial Dam project will be an important new source of water to augment supplies from Angat.

Sadly, the voice of the threatened Dumagats and Remontados are being drowned by a louder voice: that of tens of millions of Filipinos whose concerns are efficient roads and transportation facilities, reliable electricity, amply water supply, and overall, better lives.

This time, we must not lose sight of the fact that our less privileged brothers who have made the mountains their homes for centuries must not be left behind. They too need to share in the country’s growth.

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