Dumagat leaders opposed to Kaliwa Dam ask Duterte to treat them as humans

MANILA, Philippines – The Agta-Dumagat-Remontado tribe leaders in Quezon and Rizal, the project sites for the Kaliwa Dam, asked President Rodrigo Duterte to treat them as humans.

This is in response to the statement made by Duterte on Monday, October 29, that he would use all the powers of the presidency to see the Kaliwa Dam project through and bring an end to water shortages in Metro Manila. 

According to Duterte, he will use the "extraordinary powers" of the presidency, citing "outright police power" to ensure the project's implementation.  

"We are humans. We belong to the same race. So we ask him as a human being to not use force against us for they will harm women, elders, and children," Madelyn, a Dumagat youth leader, said.

Henry Borreo of the indigenous peoples organization Pigtaanan ni Dumaget Remontado di General Nakar Quezon also stressed their right to their ancestral land.

"We have a right to our ancestral domains. But instead of protecting our rights, the President and the government are the first to violate them," he said.

AGTA, a Dumagat organization based in General Nakar in Quezon province, said the project would destroy their lives.

"Our land is where we get our food. It is our livelihood. They are not only taking our lands, they are also taking our lives," the group's spokesperson said.

The Dumagat and Remontado also fear that the Kaliwa Dam will worsen climate crisis in the Philippines.

"We can already feel the effects of climate change. Seasons have been interchanging. If they construct the dam, they will kill thousands of trees in Sierra Madre, and this will affect not only us Dumagat and Remontado but millions and millions of Filipinos," said Meleng Rutuqeio, kaksaan or captain of AGTA.

The Sierra Madre mountain range, which runs from Cagayan in the north to Quezon province south of Metro Manila, has withstood the fiercest typhoons in the Philippines. It serves as protection against storm surge, too.

On Monday, Duterte stated that environmental violations were not enough reason to delay the project. He stressed that his primary concern was the welfare of the people affected by water shortage in the National Capital Region.

The Dumagat and Remontado, however, expressed their doubts that the construction of the Kaliwa Dam would benefit ordinary Filipinos.

"There are many alternatives that can alleviate water shortage in Metro Manila. Instead of loaning billions from China, why don't the government turn their attention to existing dams, like the Wawa Dam and Umiray Dam?" Borreo asked.

It only proves that "the Kaliwa Dam is not for the poor like us. Its purpose is to fatten the pockets of businessmen," said Rutuqeio.

On October 11, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued an environment compliance certificate or ECC to the Kaliwa Dam project.

This is despite the protests of indigenous peoples in Quezon and Rizal who will be uprooted from their ancestral lands, and the alleged violations of the Environmental Management Bureau and the project proponent Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System in the procedural requirements for the project's ECC application.

Among them is the "technically deficient and inconclusive" Environmental Impact Statement report, and thus "cannot be used as a basis to issue a compliant ECC for the project," according to retired United States scientist Ruben Guieb. – Rappler.com