[OPINION] The illegal and immoral Kaliwa Dam ECC


Just a few months after the Philippine government entered into a contract with China for the construction of the P18.7-billion controversial Kaliwa Dam, touted as the solution to the Metro Manila water shortage, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – through the Environmental Management Bureau – released an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) amid concerns from stakeholders, especially the indigenous peoples living in the affected communities, environmentalists, and advocates.

The ECC, which will allow for the construction and operation of the dam that will straddle the Rizal and Quezon provinces, was issued to the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and contains conditions which the latter should comply with strictly, under the scrutiny of the EMB.

Although DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu has said that his department will ensure that the MWSS will not waver in its compliance with the conditions, opponents of the dam construction have raised various concerns. These include the conditions imposed in the ECC, the ability and genuineness of the MWSS' intent to adhere to such conditions. We share those concerns.

It's worth noting that the ECC is issued by the DENR once it finds that the proposed project satisfies the requirements of the Environment Impact Statement (EIS) System under PD 1586 and the Implementing Rules and Regulations. This is why we stand with the oppositors of the project and critique the issuance of the ECC. 

Basic ECC requirements

In Boracay Foundation Inc vs The Province of Aklan (G.R. No. 196870, June 26, 2012), the Supreme Court had the opportunity to clarify basic ECC requirements. It laid the responsibility of implementing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process on the DENR, which must strictly comply with its procedures.

The Court said that the EIA report was important, as its goal is to be able to at least predict the impact that the construction of new buildings on the reclaimed land would have on the environment. It also said that a local government unit (LGU) has the duty to ensure the quality of the environment, and cannot claim exemption from the coverage of PD 1586.

Quoting the Local Government Code, the Court said that there should have been prior consultations before the project’s implementation. Invoking Lina Jr vs Paño (G.R. No. 129093, August 30, 2001), the Court further clarified that the projects and programs that will need such consultations are those that (1) may cause pollution, (2) may bring about climatic change, (3) may cause the depletion of non-renewable sources, (4) may result in the loss of crop land, range-land, or forest cover, (5) may eradicate certain animal or plant species from the face of the planet, and (6) other projects or programs that may call for the eviction of a particular group of people residing in the locality where these will be implemented.

Lastly, it said that the conduct of a public hearing is mandatory unless otherwise determined by the Environmental Management Bureau, and should be done early on so that concerns of stakeholders are taken into consideration in the EIA study. This lack of prior public consultation is not corrected by subsequent resolutions and endorsements by the LGU.

The DENR completely disregarded these requirements in issuing the ECC for the Kaliwa Dam.

Lack of consultations and consent

First, the DENR did not show full compliance with the consultation process with the local communities which will be affected by the Kaliwa Dam project. This insufficiency in the acquisition of the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) as required by the NCIP AO No. 03, Series of 2012, means that the ECC should not have been issued in the first place.

For instance, the aforementioned AO requires the conduct of two community assemblies and a consensus-building period where the IPs can have the ability – employing their own traditional consensus-building processes – to “further understand and discern the merits/advantages and demerits/disadvantages of the proposal in order to intelligently arrive at a consensus.”

During consultations with the indigenous communities, concerns have been raised regarding the lack of such compliance with the law in many of the areas that will be affected by the construction of the dam. It is thus interesting to note that the MWSS issued an affidavit of no complaint, which is required for the grant of the ECC, when there were, in fact, many complaints lodged against the project.

Biodiversity issues disregarded

The project will considerably damage the environment. As the area where the dam will be constructed is a “protected” area, according to the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Law, creating the dam by submerging a huge portion of the Kaliwa watershed will severely and negatively affect the ecosystem.

The only condition in the ECC relating to biodiversity in the project site has proven to be insufficient. It says:

“8. Conduct and submit actual inventory and assessment of threatened species that may be affected during clearing operations including maps showing the project location relative to the protected area boundaries and management zones, location of observed threatened species; land cover map indicating the various habitat types and location of management zones relative to the area for vegetation prior to the conduct of the Detailed Engineering Design (DED).”

This condition is not enough. Inventory and assessment are inadequate, considering the richness of the biodiversity in the area. Due to the Kaliwa Dam project, much of the ecosystem will potentially end up being endangered.

The communities are similarly placed in a precarious position. The construction of the dam and its subsequent operation will require the relocation of the indigenous communities whose livelihoods will be affected. Many of the indigenous peoples are farmers and serve as guides for hikers who want to climb the surrounding Sierra Madre mountains. Resettling them will result in a loss of their livelihoods and their separation from their sacred sites and burial grounds.

Alternatives to Kaliwa Dam

Lastly, there are many other alternatives that have been proposed to solve the Manila water crisis that are not as destructive to the environment. This includes the proposal by a Japanese firm to construct a weir, which is a 7-meter-high wall as compared to China’s 60-meter-high dam, for a much lower cost. However, in March 2019 when it was first proposed, the government chose instead to push through with the Chinese-funded Kaliwa Dam.

In sum, the conditions imposed in the ECC are insufficient at best, and dangerous at worst. The environmental management measures theoretically sound useful, but they fail to provide solutions to the many questions that surround the project.

The Kaliwa Dam project is controversial not just because of the exorbitant amount needed for its construction, but also because of its negative environmental and socio-cultural consequences. The ECC, which was issued in haste and did not comprehensively answer the most important procedural and substantial concerns on the FPIC process and the environmental effects, should therefore not have been granted at all.

Clearly, the Kaliwa Dam ECC is illegal and immoral. It violates the Filipino people’s right to a sound environment and disregards the rights of affected indigenous peoples and local communities. The DENR clearly abdicated its duty under the law when it issued the ECC. It must revoke it. – Rappler.com