LUCENA CITY, Philippines — The environmental group Task Force Sierra Madre (TFSM) aims to gather 80,000 signatures from people in the towns of Real, Infanta and General Nakar (RIN) in northern Quezon in its latest campaign strategy against government plans to resurrect the controversial Laiban Dam project.
“Within the next two months, a massive signature campaign will be launched in [the] RIN area to demonstrate a united opposition to the project. The campaign will cut across all population sectors including primary schools children and college students,” Pol Derillo, board chairman of the Metro Infanta Foundation (MIF), said in his recent report posted in the group’s website.
Noting that the government timetable is to start work on the project next year, Derillo said TFSM is bracing up for what could turn out to be the uphill job of convincing Malacañang and Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) not to build the dam on a mountain river in General Nakar.
The Laiban , then known as the Kaliwa-Kanan (Left-Right), refers to the river that traverses the slopes of the Sierra Madre and drains into the Pacific Ocean shoreline on the side of Quezon province.
The dam was supposed to have been part of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ plan of building an industrial complex in northeastern Luzon.
But due to the strong opposition to the project from indigenous peoples, the project was shelved, leaving only two diversion tunnels as reminders of the aborted project.
The government plans to harness water from the mountain river to generate electricity as well as supplement the drinking water supply of Metro Manila.
But Derillo, quoting portions of an open letter to President Macapagal-Arroyo from by 14 religious superiors in the Philippines, said: “Water may not be viewed as another commodity. On the contrary, access to its supply may not be controlled by the few who has the means to destroy or exhaust it during the present and future generations. Its use should be for the benefit of the human community and for the integrity of the whole creation.”
Catholic priest Fr. Pete Montallana, TFSM chair, said the proposed dam would displace approximately 3,500 families living in seven villages in Tanay and another village in General Nakar.
The resulting diminished water flow in the Agos River could affect navigation, irrigation, fisheries in the river and its estuaries, the priest said.
Montallana also noted that the Kanan River is within the Sierra Madre, an area declared a hotspot for conservation by the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Priorities.
“Our trip to this area last June revealed a scenic natural and productive valley, a breathtaking grandeur to appreciate. It breaks one’s heart to imagine it will submerge to provide a super tank that will quench the thirst and greed of its catering developers,” Derillo said.
Derillo said the new municipal councils of the three towns have been urged to take active roles in managing the campaign as well as adopting resolutions opposing the construction.
One of the main arguments against the project, according to Derillo, is that it lies between the Marikina and Real-Infanta fault lines.
“Using available maps and scaling the site to the fault lines shows that it is within [a] 50-kilometer radius [of the faults]. An earthquake intensity of 7.00 scale is imagined to be a breaking point for the dam structure. Such [a] disaster will surpass the loss of lives and destruction of properties suffered in November, 2004,” when a typhoon triggered landslides and flashfloods that left hundreds of people dead and many still missing, Derillo said.
He noted that MWSS has refuted the proximity to the fault lines but has nevertheless been advised by the Investment Coordination Committee (ICC) to undertake further seismic analysis, supposedly to update their detailed engineering designs.
According to Derillo, the last known historic data for the project was gathered during the 1980s. This data is considered obsolete in the context of the geological events in the area.
To consolidate its ranks, the TFSM, which has been incorporated and registered on July 20, 2007 with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a non-profit entity, has also organized local chapters in the three towns.