The Kaliwa Dam solution
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines came up with a rather strong statement clamoring to stop the Kaliwa Dam project. And certainly for some good reasons, like it did some thirty two years ago when it issued a landmark statement titled “What is happening to our beautiful land”.
The shortage of water in Metro Manila, which is supposedly the reason why construct the Kaliwa Dam, has been around for several decades now. Before water distribution was privatized in 1997, only about 70% of Metro Manila had the luxury of water supply which in many areas was intermittent—not to mention heavy wastage of water due to busted pipes, illegal connections and widespread unlawful use of fire hydrants. Mismanagement of the government’s Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), not the scarcity of water sources, was one of the bigger reasons why water distribution was privatized. The Philippines being archipelagic is blessed with ecologically sustainable alternative water sources.
Of late, President Rodrigo Duterte has been mulling a takeover of Metro Manila’s two water private concessionaires. “I am taking stock of my options…Expropriation or outright police power. You just go to court and file a case if you want. I will start to find a way to connect the water to the people,” or so said the President, obviously oblivious about the roots of the water crisis when water distribution was then in the hands of the government.
The Kaliwa Dam project is the looming and seemingly the only solution of the Duterte administration to the water crisis. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III described the project as the “absolute” answer to the water woes of Metro Manila. But is it?
Here are some qualifications. First, this project is reportedly a P18.7 billion loan from Chinese investors with a sovereign guarantee and the country’s territory and properties as collateral. That being the case, this mammoth loan will be paid by all Filipinos, not only by those living in Metro Manila. There is a provision in the contract that should any disagreement happen between the Chinese investors and the Philippine government, the case shall be settled in Chinese courts, applying Chinese laws. By the looks of it, the Kaliwa Dam loan agreement, unduly favors Chinese interests over that of the Philippines. Article 7 of the loan agreement funnels the country into China’s infamous debt trap, because it makes it easy for China to declare the loan in default that will subsequently make “all the principal of and accrued interest…immediately due and payable.”
Second, about 300 hectares of forest eco-systems in the Sierra Madre will be submerged in water, compromising the rich biodiversity of the mountain range and adversely affecting thousands of people downstream, including the indigenous Dumagat-Remontados and the towns of Real, Infanta, General Nakar and Tanay. This will have social and economic impact on the immediate localities and consequently on the whole country, thereby making this project not in the way of inclusive development.
With the financial and procedural flaws of the Kaliwa Dam project, which according to the Commission on Audit (Cf. COA audit observation memorandum dated June 10, 2019) is riddled with irregularities, this venture may end up triggering more and bigger problems to the country than one water crisis in Metro Manila.