Construction of Kaliwa Dam to start 2022, says new MWSS chief

Published October 10, 2021, 7:00 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

Actual construction of the P12-billion Kaliwa Dam, pegged by the Duterte administration as its top solution to Metro Manila’s water woes, may have to wait until next year because of delays in meeting some conditions, including consent from the affected indigenous peoples, according to the new Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) chief.

“Maybe it will happen early next year, but we have a promise that we will not start the project as long as the conditions are not met,” MWSS Administrator Leonor Cleofas told Business Bulletin in a phone interview. Unlike her predecessors, Cleofas does not see the construction of the Kaliwa Dam project happening within the year.

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But Cleofas, who has just replaced retired Deputy Director General Reynaldo Velasco as MWSS Administrator two weeks ago, said pursuing Kaliwa Dam will be one of her priorities as she takes over the top post of the agency.

However, she admitted that the project – to be constructed by China Energy Engineering Corporation (CEEC) based on an Official Development Assistance (ODA) deal between China and the Philippines – still needs to settle a few issues, especially with the indigenous peoples (IPs) that will be affected by the project.

“As the new MWSS administrator, I will continue [the implementation of] our water security legacy plan,” Cleofas told Business Bulletin. “As for the Kaliwa Dam project, we are making sure that we comply with the requirements of the IPs.”

Business Bulletin learned in July that the project still lacks Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), which will come from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), and Special Use Agreement in Protected Areas (SAPA), which will come from the regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

This is despite earlier government pronouncement that the project is finally poised to start within this year after years of delay, with tunnel excavation activities within the Sierra Madre even formally planned to happen within December.

As of now, she said, MWSS is still in discussion with IP communities and local government units (LGUs), adding that the Board of the agency already recently agreed with the new proposed compensation package for IPs whose ancestral land will be affected by the project.

As part of the package, each IP community of Rizal and Quezon will receive an annual payment of P1 million during the operation of Kaliwa Dam project. MWSS will also allocate a fund of P80 million each for Rizal and Quezon during the construction of the project.

The new MWSS chief is hopeful that with the new compensation deal and with the intervention of the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA), MWSS could finally secure the FPIC that the project needs from the NCIP.

As for the SAPA, she is also positive that this will be secured by November. “We are coordinating with the DENR,” she said.

Because of these delays, Cleofas is more realistic and unlike her predecessors, Velasco and Emmanuel Salamat (who served as MWSS chief from August 2019 to March 2020), she does not see the construction of the Kaliwa Dam project happening within the year.

“Maybe it will happen early next year, but we have a promise that we will not start the project as long as the conditions are not met,” Cleofas said.

In a separate interview, Father Pete Montallana of Save Sierra Madre Network told Business Bulletin that with the amount of opposition against the project coming from the IP communities to be affected by it, it is no longer possible for the government to pursue it in a “legal” way.

“With this corrupt government, they will surely start the project without addressing the concerns of the people. They don’t follow the law. Anything can be possible with them,” Montallana said.

To be specific, he said that because of the project’s massive environmental and social impact, which includes deforestation and relocation of IP families, a lot of people from General Nakar and Infanta have remained against the project.

As for Cleofas, she said that as long as there is opposition, MWSS will continue to “talk to the people and prioritize their concerns”.

She also said that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is helping MWSS address concerns about flooding that the project will cause in many areas. Earlier, Velasco admitted that he has concerns about the required infrastructure needed to construct Kaliwa Dam.

“When I consider the magnitude of the required infrastructure, and knowing that to operate a TBM [tunnel boring machine], 200 to 500 meters below the Sierra Madre mountains, crossing population centers in Rizal, technical hazards are likely to be present,” Velasco said.

However, he said that he takes “comfort in the fact that the MWSS’ project team are experienced in complex tunneling and underground projects and that China, is one of the reliable global suppliers of the TBM.”

Metro Manila is still largely dependent on the 54-year old Angat Dam, getting 90 percent of its water needs from it.

Kaliwa Dam, on the other hand, will have the capacity to treat as much as 600 million liters of water per day (mld), and is the government’s only long-term solution to Metro Manila’s water woes. The project traverses the provinces of Rizal and Quezon.

 
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