The proposed Kaliwa Dam in Quezon and Rizal provinces has become the center of controversy in the wake of reports of an impending serious water shortage in Metro Manila unless new sources of water supply are developed.
Metro Manila gets its water from the Angat and Ipo Dams. This last summer, the Metro Manila Water District and private concessionaire Manila Water had to ration the limited water supply for households in Eastern Metro Manila. The rainy season last June ended the rationing but a few days ago, rationing was again announced in view of the falling water level at Angat Dam.
This brought the Kaliwa Dam – a proposed project that dates back to the Marcos years – into the limelight. It was opposed by indigenous people of the Remontado and Dumagat tribes, whose lands and communities would go under water if the dam should be built, and they have now raised their voices anew against its construction.
President Duterte warned that he was ready to use his “extraordinary powers” to build the dam which China has already agreed to fund with an P18.7-billion loan. He said his concern is for the “greatest good for the greatest number.”
The Kaliwa Dam was first poposed by the national government under President Marcos in the 1970s as part of an integrated system that included another dam upstream, the Laiban Dam. It was decided to carry out the project in stages and only a smaller lower Kaliwa Dam was approved during the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III with Japanese financing. But the Aquino administration ended without the project getting started. When President Duterte won in 2016, he decided to seek Chinese loan aid for a full-sized Kaliwa Dam.
This is the big Kaliwa Dam that is at the center of today’s controversy. The opposition of the indigenous tribes is only one of the issues. There is also an environmental issue – the dam would affect some 12,000 hectares of forest with 172 recorded plant species. The site is part of the Kaliwa Watershed Forest Reserve protected as a wildlife sanctuary by Proclamation 573 in 1968. The dam would destroy the home of the endangered North Philippine eagle, brown deer, and other Philippine species of wildlife.
In the effort to provide sufficient water for Metro Manila, several other sources are now being developed, including wells, Laguna de Bay, the old Wawa dam, and private developers now required to save rain water. The time may soon come when we will start desalinizing sea water, which is now being done by Israel.
But today, it is the Kaliwa Dam controversy that we need to resolve. When President Duterte said he is determined to use his extraordinary powers to see that Kaliwa Dam is built, he should also see how these powers of the presidency can also be used to meet the concerns of the indigenous people in Rizal and Quezon who stand to lose their homes and their lands with nowhere to go, without help from the government.