China-funded Kaliwa Dam to benefit from Duterte order fast-tracking water projects

The P12.2-billion Kaliwa Dam project to be funded by a loan from China will benefit from President Rodrigo Duterte's recent order speeding up the approval process for priority water projects.

This was confirmed by Presidential Adviser for Flagship Projects Vince Dizon on Thursday, September 3.

"Yes. First of all, there are 12 infrastructure flagship projects related to water, including Kaliwa Dam because Kaliwa Dam is important to the long-term water sustainability of Metro Manila," he said in Filipino during a Malacañang news briefing.

He thanked Duterte for signing Administrative Order No. 32, "expediting the review and approval process of infrastructure flagship projects on water security."

Dated August 26, the order covers the projects listed in the National Economic and Development Authority's February 17 list of flagship projects.

The New Centennial Water Source – Kaliwa Dam Project is item 99.

Among the other water projects in the list are the Wawa Bulk Water Supply Project of the group of tycoon Enrique Razon and Oscar Violago, the Chico River Pump Project, Panay River Basin Integrated Development Project.

What does the Duterte order do?

AO 32 orders heads of agencies to "accelerate the permitting process of all infrastructure flagship projects on water security."

"All agencies shall give priority to complete reviews and approvals of infrastructure flagship projects on water security, strictly within the processing time and deadlines established by law," said AO 32.

Under the order, if the agency fails to act on the permit or license application within the prescribed period or explain why they have not decided on it, even when the contractors have paid all fees, the application shall be "deemed approved."

Malacañang also instructed the Anti-Red Tape Authority to make sure that "local permits and barangay clearances related to infrastructure flagship projects on water security shall be applied, issued, and obtained strictly in accordance with the prescribed processing time" under the amended Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007.

Dizon and the NEDA chief, who is currently Secretary Karl Chua, have been tasked to coordinate with relevant agencies to ensure the speedy approval of permits and licenses.

Why does this matter?

The Kaliwa Dam has been fiercely opposed by progressive groups and indigenous peoples organizations who say the project would cause widespread environmental damage and displacement of communities in Rizal and Quezon provinces.

Despite this, Duterte has thrown his support behind the China-funded project, even saying last year that he would use the presidency's "extraordinary powers" to ensure it pushes through.

The Kaliwa Dam project is among the biggest economic deals scored by the Duterte administration from China.

Some 85% of the total project cost (or P11 billion out of P12.2 billion) will be paid for by a loan from Export-Import Bank of China (China Eximbank). The rest will be shouldered by the Philippine government.

The contract for the engineering, design, and construction went to China-run China Energy Engineering Corporation Limited. The Philippines' Commission on Audit had already flagged the bidding as appearing to be rigged in favor of the China firm.

The commercial contract between the Metropolitan Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System and China Energy Engineering Cooperation was signed during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to the Philippines in 2018.

In the new AO, Malacañang cited the pressing need for new water sources, especially for congested Metro Manila.

Upon completion, the Kaliwa Dam project is estimated to boost the capital region's water requirements by 600 million liters per day. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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