Freedom of Information invoked on Kaliwa Dam deal

Cecille Suerte Felipe - The Philippine Star
Freedom of Information invoked on Kaliwa  Dam deal

MANILA, Philippines — Several groups are pressing the government to make public the contract it has entered into with China on the Kaliwa Dam project.

Human rights lawyer and opposition senatorial candidate Chel Diokno yesterday said groups opposing the Kaliwa Dam project have sent the government several letters requesting access to official documents related to the project, invoking the Freedom of Information (FOI) law.

Diokno, who serves as lead counsel of the groups, warned that the government faces legal action if it fails to comply.

He said they sent the FOI letters of request to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Diokno said they are specifically asking the two officials to produce the documents: Preferential Buyer’s Credit Loan Agreement on the New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project between the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System and the Export-Import Bank of China, and the Commercial Contract of the New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project between the MWSS and China Energy Engineering Corporation.

Diokno stressed the agreement surrounding the Kaliwa Dam is a matter of public concern, emphasizing that Filipinos have a constitutional right to know the terms of the deal.

“We are also concerned that these contracts may contain onerous provisions that are against the interest of Filipinos,” Diokno added. “We will not know unless the deal is made public and the documents are shown.”

Diokno also reiterated questions regarding the government’s preference for a Chinese partner for the project, given that a proposal made by a Japanese firm has been shown to have more favorable terms.

He explained the access to documents regarding the deal with China should help the public evaluate other proposals.

The FOI letter to Medialdea and Locsin was signed by Apolinar Derilo of Task Force Sierra Madre for Balance Ecology; Fr. Peter Montalliana of the Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance; Conrado Vargas of Prelature of Infanta-Community Organization of the Philippines; Marcelino Tena of Samahan ng mga Katutubong Agta/Dumagat-Remontado na Binabaka at Ipinagtatanggol ang Lupang Ninuno; Bishop Bernardino Cortez of the Prelature of Infanta; Oscar Catilo of the PAMB- Presidential Proclamation 1636 and Sandiwaan Laban sa Kaliwa Dam Coordinating Group, and Demosthenes Raynera of the Tribal Center for Development.

The project

Malacañang is leaving it to Medialdea to respond to the request of Diokno and other critics of the project. “They should formally request for that... I will leave it to the Executive Secretary since the letter is addressed to him. I will not preempt his response,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

The proposal to build the Kaliwa Dam in Infanta, Quezon as another source of water was raised during the previous administrations.

Under the deal, the dam will be funded through official development assistance from China and will be built by China Energy Engineering Corp.

But environment groups and local officials are opposed to the construction of the dam, saying it would cause floods, displace residents and destroy Sierra Madre’s biodiversity.

Panelo earlier said the administration could stop the Kaliwa Dam project if it is fraught with anomalies.

“It will push through until perhaps anomalies are discovered,” he said.

“Of course, the President can stop anything, unless there is a contract already. There might be impairment of obligations in the contract. But it can be (stopped) if there was fraud in entering it,” he added.

Panelo, also presidential chief legal counsel, said the project would be implemented “unless it’s stopped by the President.” He said it would be up to Duterte to decide whether to reevaluate the deal with China.

“We will leave it to his judgment call. But if you ask me personally, if the advantage is so clear, if it is true that the Chinese proposal is onerous, I think we should look into it,” Panelo added.

Panelo said he would ask the National Economic and Development Authority why it preferred the Chinese deal over the proposal by Japanese firm Global Utility Development Corp. The Japanese expressed readiness to build the Kaliwa Dam under a 25-year build-operate-transfer scheme. Its proposal costs about $410 million.

“We are entitled to know,” Diokno said.

“We believe that is a matter of public interest, we should know its terms and conditions so we can also compare with the other proposals, and ensure that damage to the environment is avoided or minimized to the greatest extent, as well as that there are no onerous provisions contained in the agreements,” he said.

Diokno said by operation of law, Medialdea and Locsin have 15 days to comply with the request, otherwise, “we will take the necessary legal action, court action, to compel them to do so.”

Water agency

The Kaliwa Dam project came to light following the water crisis affecting Metro Manila and Rizal that Malacañang had blamed on mismanagement.

President Duterte has threatened to terminate the concession agreements of Manila Water and Maynilad for failure to provide sufficient water supply to millions of Metro Manila residents.

Duterte ordered the top officials of the two concessionaires and water regulators, including the MWSS, to come up with solutions to prevent another water shortage.

The water officials mentioned facilities such as Kaliwa Dam as additional water sources.

Currently, the main source of Metro Manila’s potable water is Angat Dam in Bulacan.

Malacañang is also proposing to consolidate the operations of at least 30 government agencies involved in water-related services all over the country in a bid to prevent the recurrence of a water crisis in the future.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said concerned agencies have agreed to submit to the President a draft executive order strengthening the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) and addressing the fragmentation of the water sector.

“Currently there are 30 or so agencies involved in water resources management. The agencies present at the meeting recognize that this institutional setup is problematic,” he said.

Nograles cited for example four state agencies involved in resource assessment, four involved in policy, seven in water supply, four in sanitation, five in water quality management and six in watershed management.

“There is no single repository of water data and no regularly updated water availability data. This is an untenable situation,” Nograles said.

He revealed that there are already two draft bills endorsed for approval and submission to the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) – bills that would create two separate bodies involving water: one focused on economic and financial regulation; and another responsible for policy formulation and resource regulation.

According to Nograles, the second body will be an independent and quasi-judicial body for water supply and sanitation.

The office will ensure quality performance of water concessionaires and ensure transparency and predictability in economic regulation of water service providers.

The consensus was reached at the high-level inter-agency meeting on water security held at the Department of National Defense (DND) last Wednesday.

The move by NWRB to tap standby deep wells designated for use during natural disasters is among the short-term measures that will be undertaken to address the water supply problems in Metro Manila.

“There are a total of 109 of these wells in NCR (National Capital Region), and the NWRB will work with the MWSS to identify which wells can be tapped, and to ensure that water quality is evaluated and constantly monitored,” Nograles said.

During the meeting, the agencies agreed that the national government should spearhead efforts to optimize water resources that are expected to become more limited with the onset of El Niño, which will lead to below average rainfall this dry season.

Nograles assured the public that the government is in the midst of preparing short- and long-term solutions to address the country’s water needs. There are proposals that will require executive action and the passage of new legislation.

Sen. Bam Aquino had proposed the creation of a Department of Water to avoid a repeat of the water shortage.

Aquino stressed that unless the department is created, thousands of people will again experience a similar problem in the future.

He said the public and private sectors should closely work together to be able to come up with concrete solutions.

“During (last Monday’s Senate) hearing, we heard that the problem was anticipated months ago but nothing was done,” Aquino said.

He explained the recent water shortage underscored the immediate need to create the Department of Water, Irrigation, Sewage and Sanitation Resource Management. – with Christina Mendez, Alexis Romero, Delon Porcalla, Ghio Ong

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