Stop the megadams in Sierra Madre

This article is available in PilipinoBisayaHiligaynon

Calls to save Sierra Madre resounded a day after supertyphoon Karding rampaged across the provinces of Cagayan, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog on September 25. The day (September 26) coincided with the Save Sierra Madre Day which was first declared in 2012. The Sierra Madre mountain range plays a crucial role in protecting the people and plains of Luzon against strong storms and the disastrous floods, heavy winds and rains that come with it.

The Sierra Madre, the Philippines’ the longest mountain range (680 kilometers), is called Luzon’s backbone. It crosses 10 provinces in three regions. It is rich in forest resources. It is home to 808 animal species, half of which are endemic and many near extinct. The largest remaining old forest is said to be found here. It is considered one of the most biodiverse places in the country.

Despite nearly 10 years of marking Save Siera Madre Day, destructive activities continue in these mountains. Despite its undisputed importance, the reactionary state continues to allow destructive infrastructures in its parts. This includes the construction of dams that face fierce opposition from those residing in these mountains.

Four dams

In the past few decades, attempts have been made to build various megadams in Sierra Madre. These are the Laiban, Kaliwa-Kanan and Ahunan dams. The largest, the Laiban Dam, was supposed to be built on the Kaliwa River in Barangay Laiban, Tanay, Rizal. It would have dislocated 11,000 families covering 28,000 hectares of watershed area and 2,239 hectares as reservoir area. The Laiban plan was replaced by the Kaliwa Dam that is set to be built on the Kaliwa River in Barangay Pagangangahan, General Nakar, Quezon. It will submerge 9,700 hectares of protected forests and ancestral land and will dislocate 1,465 families of the indigenous Dumagat-Remontado people. It is part of the grand design of nine dams in different parts of the adjoining rivers Kaliwa, Kanan and Agos. In total, the whole project is estimated to affect 11 barangays and 39 indigenous communities. According to indigenous groups, the government prioritized the construction of the Kaliwa Dam as it had the “weakest resistance” in 2015.

The latest project is the Ahunan hydropower dam being built by Prime Metro Power Holdings Corp. owned by bourgeois- capitalist Enrique Razon. It was first announced in September 2021 and construction has started in August. This dam will clear 300 hectares of forests in Pakil, Laguna and siphon water from Laguna de Bay. It will obliterate small rivers, streams and waterfalls, from where 20,000 residents around the area get their water. The dam will eject 12,000 residents from their lands.

Strong objections

The indigenous Dumagat-Remontado and environmental groups defeated the construction of the Laiban Dam in 2009. However, in 2019, the then Duterte regime treacherously replaced it with the Kaliwan dam project and awarded the contract to Chinese companies in exchange for millions of dollars of loans from China.

The project fell under the New Centennial Water Source, said to be built to supply water to Metro Manila. In early 2022, the regime tried to manipulate the Dumagat-Remontado communities in a fake consultation.

An assessment report from the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System in 2019 proved that construction of the Kaliwa dam will cause major damage to the Sierra Madre mountains. It will destroy the ancestral lands of the Dumagat-Remontados, of which 12 areas are considered sacred. The project will affect the drinking water and irrigation in Infanta, which is reliant on the Agos River. During storms, water released from the dam will submerge villages and communities at the foot of the mountains.

Resistance to Ahunan dam is also widespread. Environmental groups deem its construction dangerous as it lies in three fault lines. The company has started drilling despite not having secured a permit. As with the struggle against the Kaliwa dam, the state responded to opposition with harassment and intimidation of residents.

Stop the megadams in Sierra Madre