Climate and Environment

Dumagat-Remontados vs Kaliwa Dam end grueling walk to Manila without dialogue with Marcos

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Dumagat-Remontados vs Kaliwa Dam end grueling walk to Manila without dialogue with Marcos
After 9 days of walking from Tanay, Rizal to Manila city, around hundreds of Dumagat-Remontados and their allies were left disappointed after not having a dialogue with country leaders. The group was hoping to have a dialogue with President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. to ask him to put a stop on the construction of the Kaliwa Dam which will destroy their ancestral land.
Philstar.com / EC Toledo IV

MANILA, Philippines — Members of the Dumagat-Remontado indigenous group whose lands and culture will be threatened by the Kaliwa Dam ended their nine-day walk to the nation’s capital on Thursday evening without having the opportunity to discuss with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. their concerns about the P12.2-billion project. 

Indigenous peoples from the provinces of Rizal and Quezon arrived in Manila on Thursday, in hopes of having a dialogue with Marcos to get him to stop the construction of the dam. 

But when marchers reached Mendiola, they were met with police who blocked and prevented them from reaching the gates of Malacañang. They instead ended their 150-kilometer journey, which began in Quezon’s General Nakar town, in Paco Catholic Church. 

“We are sad that we will return to our homes without the good news that our communities expect: that our concerns will be heard,” indigenous peoples’ leader Conchita Calzado told Philstar.com

For nine days, hundreds of Dumagat-Remontados and their supporters traversed towns in Quezon, Laguna and Rizal, and the streets of Metro Manila telling people that the Kaliwa Dam will submerge their ancestral domain, threaten their livelihoods and destroy their cultural heritage. 

Along the way, the marchers encountered individuals telling them they can no longer do anything and those accusing them of being used by interest groups and communist rebels, which they deny. 

“I voluntarily joined this ‘Alay Lakad’ to let the authorities and the public know that residents of Makid-ata have been resisting the dam project since the start,” Silvino Astoveza told Philstar.com.

“I am already old, so why am I still standing against the project? I am doing this for my children, for the next generation,” the 70-year-old Dumagat elder said. 

Earlier in the day, the marchers went to the offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, the proponent of the project. The MWSS on Tuesday awarded a “disturbance fee” of P160 million to a faction of Dumagat-Remontados who gave their consent for the dam project.

SPECIAL REPORT: In the abundance of water

Solution to Manila’s water woes

Kaliwa Dam, which will be funded by a loan from China, was a flagship project of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” program. 

The dam is pushed as a solution to Metro Manila’s water problems by supplying some 600 million liters a day to the capital region’s 14 million people. Metro Manila currently relies on Angat Dam in Bulacan for water supply.

Like other indigenous peoples, the Dumagat-Remontados of Sierra Madre are deeply connected with nature. 

“If we move to the lowlands, it will be hard to call ourselves indigenous peoples because we’ll live a life that we’re not used to. We don’t want that to happen to our children and the next generation,” Calzado said. 

According to groups opposed to Kaliwa Dam, 1,400 Dumagat-Remontado families in Rizal and Quezon will be affected by the project. Government agencies, however, said that only 46 families will be impacted. 

Indigenous peoples’ communities and environment groups also stressed that the Kaliwa Dam will destroy Sierra Madre — the longest mountain range in the country that historically serves as a buffer against storms that hit Luzon. 

Fight continues

The grueling journey to the capital region left them with blisters and aching bodies, and did not end the way they hoped. But the outcome did not crush their will to fight for the preservation of their land and their way of life. 

This, after all, was not the first time that they marched to voice out their opposition to a mega-dam project. In 2009, members of Dumagat-Remontado communities walked to the capital for nine days to protest the Laiban Dam project.

The strong opposition of various sectors prompted the government to shelve the project. The victory, however, was short-lived.

Calzado said they were grateful for the support they received from different sectors, and to the police who escorted them.

“Maybe the next thing we’ll do is to call on the general public who will be affected by the Kaliwa Dam to support us in our fight to stop the project,” she said.

PHOTO ESSAYAgos River: Where life flows for the Dumagat people

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