In a signed statement, a copy of which was sent to the Philippine Daily Inquirer Sunday, Bishop Rolando Tria-Tirona, head of the prelature based in Infanta, Quezon, his predecessor Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen, and 28 priests, expressed serious concern over the government’s adamant position to proceed with the project despite strong opposition by the people, especially the tribal communities who would be displaced by the project.
“We’re also wondering about the government’s timing—when the 2010 election is just around the corner—to grant the project to investors,” the Church leaders said.
They also questioned claims by the government that the Laiban dam project would benefit the people.
“They always say that the project is for development. But for whom?” the bishops and priests asked.
Fr. Pete Montallana, Task Force Sierra Madre (TFSM) chairman and one of the signatories to the statement, cited reports by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism which says that the government has been trying to seal the contract to build the P52-billion dam with the food beverage giant San Miguel Corp. controlled by businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., a key political ally of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Since 2007, the TFSM has been conducting signature campaigns among the residents of Real, Infanta, and General Nakar towns in northern Quezon to stop the government plan to resurrect the Laiban dam project.
The priests said building the dam on the proposed site—between the Marikina and Real-Infanta fault lines—would be risky.
They warned of a catastrophe if the dam would break during an earthquake.
The Church leaders also argued that the proponents of the dam project had yet to consult with mountain villages and local governments.
The Infanta clergy added that the proposed dam inside the mountain watershed would displace about 3,500 families living in seven villages in Tanay and one village in General Nakar, mostly indigenous people.
“The project does not recognize the law on ancestral domain and the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act,” they claimed.
The dam project was supposedly part of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s plan to build an industrial complex in northeastern Luzon, but was shelved due to strong opposition by indigenous peoples.
Only two diversion tunnels are left, serving as reminders of the aborted project.
The project, a looming joint venture between San Miguel Corp. and the Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System, is designed to divert water from the Kaliwa and Kanan rivers in the Sierra Madre to augment the water supply in Metro Manila.
The two mountain rivers are major tributaries of the Agos River that runs along General Nakar and Infanta towns.
The bishops and priests said the resulting diminished water flow in the Agos River could affect navigation, irrigation, and fishery in the river and its estuaries.
The target site for the dam project has also been declared a hot spot for conservation by the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Priorities.
2 bishops, 28 priests vs Quezon dam project
By Delfin Mallari Jr.
Inquirer Southern Luzon
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