Are Chinese erecting perilous dam without Quezon folks’ consent?

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - July 24, 2020 - 12:00am

Are Chinese building a potentially disastrous dam without consent of Quezon folk? Leaders of Infanta town want to know, but reportedly are being barred by police from inspecting the site.

Citizens complained that strangers were toppling trees and bulldozing through mountain barangay Magsaysay. On June 6 officials drove up to investigate. There was a COVID-19 lockdown; no outsiders were supposed to enter town. But councilors led by Mannie America were stopped at a police roadblock at the barrio junction. Supposedly gun-firing exercises were ongoing in the vicinity, so declared off limits. The group alighted to interview nearby residents. “Then pickups full of Chinese-looking men arrived, identified themselves to the police, and were let through,” they reported to Vice Mayor Lord Arnel Ruanto.

Wary that the earthworks are the start of dam construction, they condemned the denial of entry. Under the Local Government Code no state project may commence without public consultations and local council approval. A June 22 resolution was unanimous: VM Ruanto, and Councilors America, Cherry Macasaet, Joseller Portales, Lourna Daniela Manalo, Maxiel Rodrigo Mortiz Jr., Kirk Gurango, Marlon Potes, Sherwin Avellano, Mario Louie Cuento, and Erica Andrea Cañon. The highways department and other agencies were sent copies.

The national government plans a “Kaliwa Dam” to augment Metro Manila’s water supply. But people of Infanta and adjoining Real and General Nakar oppose it. Livelihoods and nature are at stake. Lives and homes would be imperiled. Mountain tribesmen also are to be uprooted. Their ‘free, prior informed consent” must first be secured, under the Indigenous People’s Rights Act and the United Nations Declaration on which it was patterned.

Still an environment compliance certificate was issued last year. It came despite Commission on Audit findings of rigged bidding. Two China state firms had colluded for the P12.2 billion. A 72-meter-high sluice, as tall as a 24-story building, was to create a gigantic lake on the mountaintop.

VM Ruanto, all the councilors and Infanta Mayor Filipina Grace America detailed their objections on Nov. 25, 2019. Infanta lies on a major fault; the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology forecasts a repeat anytime of the Magnitude 7.6 earthquake of July 18, 1880. Denuding the forest would flood up Infanta delta below during the rains. Choking the Agos River would deprive the town of potable and irrigation water, as the Japan International Cooperation Agency studied. Sedimentation and seawater attrition would destroy the coasts. Thousands of hectares of rice farms that yield P180 million a year for tillers would be wiped out. In the mountains the sacred burial grounds and ancestral domain of thousands of Dumagat Remontado families would go underwater.

Former justice Antonio Carpio and congressman Neri Colmenares have denounced the $244-million China loan. China purportedly can take Filipino patrimonial assets in default. Kaliwa has been likened to the volcano-side Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric dam that China built in Ecuador in 2016. The project flopped as more than 7,000 cracks were detected. The President fled on investigators’ discovery of bribes in the project. Ecuador continues to repay China for it with 80 percent of its crude oil output (see Gotcha, 27 March 2019: https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/03/27/1904824/philippines-must-learn-chinas-debt-entrapment-ecuador).

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Remember Busan Universal Rail Inc.’s MRT-3 deal? For P3.8 billion in 2016-2019 it was expected to overhaul and maintain the trains, tracks, and signaling. Yet, as exposed in Gotcha, hardly any was fixed. Billing monthly for purported A-1 parts, BURI installed fakes from fly-by-night shacks. Mere vulcanizers were hired to true the steel wheels, and car washers to hose the electricals and electronics. Work was so shoddy that trains kept stalling or derailing. Doors opened, brakes locked between stations; roofs leaked from rain and air-cons conked out. Rides were horrific than the Korean thriller “Train to Busan.”

In Oct. 2017 new Transport Usec. Cesar Chavez got so fed up and rescinded BURI’s contract. By then DOTr bosses in the previous and present admins had paid out over a billion pesos. BURI sued for arbitration but the court refused for lack of jurisdiction. BURI ran to the Supreme Court, which affirmed last week the lower court. The law bars trial judges from hindering government projects, Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting reiterated.

The contract finally ended, what next? Will DOTr strive to recover the wasted money and punish the culprits?

Bared here were anomalies from the start, when BURI bagged the juicy deal without public bidding in Oct 2015. In haste behind closed doors the technical and financial terms were revised to suit the Korean principal and Filipino dummies: a plumber, an agricultural supplier, a general merchandiser, and a house constructor.

Simultaneously unraveled then were the first deliveries of 48 trains from China – all faulty and delayed. To this day 45 remain inoperable. DOTr bought them in 2013 from Dalian Corp., also for P3.8 billion, with alleged five-percent (P190-million) kickback. That scam too awaits prosecuting. The MRT-3 maintenance broker supposedly is the same in the train purchase.

Uncovered here too was yet another P3.8-billion racket, for vehicle registration platemaking. DOTr’s 2013 suppliers were an undercapitalized Dutch and a Filipino blacklisted from government contracting for forgery. Only a few thousand plates were produced – substandard and delayed – another case begging for indictment. The DOTr approvers of all three P3.8-billion scams were the same.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

My book “Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government” is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Expos%C3%A9s-Investigative-Reporting-Clean-Government-ebook/dp/B00EPX01BG

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Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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