Dam Nation: A Bloody History of Struggle Against Dams

The construction of dams has always been opposed because of their destructive effects on whole communities. Several anti-dam leaders have been killed as a result. The recent devastation by the dams of Luzon proved that they were right all along.


MANILA — Macli-ing Dulag is a prominent name in the history of environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights struggles in the Philippines. He is widely remembered by environmental and indigenous activists for his leadership in the anti-Chico Dam campaign of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The Chico Dam “would have inundated vast tracts of land in the provinces of Kalinga and Apayao,” wrote Miriam Azurin in an article for Ibon Features in 2002.

A leader of the Kalinga tribe of the Cordilleras, Dulag figured prominently in the anti-Chico Dam campaign, forging bodongs (peace pacts) between warring tribes in order to unify them against the World Bank-funded “development” project. Several times, the Marcos government tried to bribe him in exchange for giving up the struggle.

Dulag would lose his life for this. On April 24, 1980, Army soldiers opened fire on his hut; he died on the spot from 10 bullet wounds in the chest and pelvis. In killing him the military hoped to silence opposition to the Chico Dam project.

But Dulag’s death only served to “ignite a prairie fire.” The news of his murder increased projection of the issue, thereby broadening opposition to the Chico Dam which even reached international levels. The wide opposition to the project forced the Marcos government to abandon it.

Unlike Dulag, Nicanor “Ka Kano” delos Santos – a leader of the Dumagats in Tanay, Rizal – did not lose his life in the thick of an anti-dam struggle. His first foray into activism, however, was as one of the protesters against the Kaliwa-Kanan Dam (or Laiban Dam) project in 1983. The dam’s area covers seven villages in Tanay that are home to the Remontado and Dumagat tribes.

At the height of the campaign against the Kaliwa-Kanan Dam project, Delos Santos was elected as secretary-general of the Makabayang Samahan ng Katutubong Dumagat (Maskada) and vice-president of the Bigkis at lakas ng mga Katutubo sa Timog Katagalugan (Balatik). He would be instrumental in the founding of the Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Kamp).

He was shot dead in December 2001 by Army soldiers while bringing food to fellow participants in what was going to be a caravan for the upcoming commemoration of International Human Rights Day in Antipolo City.

The construction of the San Roque Multipurpose Project, which started in 1998, deprived the farmers of San Nicolas, Pangasinan of the Agno River’s overflow, which they had been taking advantage of for irrigation. Funded by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and owned by the San Roque Power Corporation, the project required the construction site to be dried up and the river to be diverted. Aside from these, irrigation canals dried up as diggings deepened the river bed.

Jose Doton, who was then already a veteran activist, led the farmers of San Nicolas and other Pangasinan towns in opposing the San Roque Multipurpose Project, explaining that it would eventually inundate all the rice lands along the Agno River.

The construction of what is now known as the San Roque Dam was completed in 2003. Doton fell prey to an extrajudicial killing on May 16 three years later – still in the thick of the campaign against the San Roque Dam, leading a group that was calling on the San Roque Power Corporation to compensate small-scale miners and others displaced by the project.

The recent floods that inundated Northern and Central Luzon – brought by typhoon Pepeng (international name: Parma) but made worse by the release of water from five dams – have proven that Dulag, Delos Santos, and Doton were right all along in opposing the construction of large dams in their respective areas.

The San Roque Dam and the Laiban Dam are just two of the large dams in the Philippines at present. Others include the Magat Dam in Cagayan, the La Mesa Dam in Quezon City, the Angat and Ipo Dams in Bulacan, the Pantabangan Dam in Nueva Ecija, the Matuno Dam in Ifugao, the Binga and Ambuclao Dams in Benguet, the Caliraya Dam in Laguna, the Bayungan Dam in Bohol, the Manangga Dam in Cebu, the Pan-ay River Dam in Panay, and Pulangi V in Bukidnon.

The international outrage sparked by Dulag’s murder forced the World Bank and the Marcos regime to abandon not only the Chico Dam, but other large-dam projects in the Cordilleras and elsewhere in the Philippines. However, amid the energy crisis of the early 1990s, then-President Fidel V. Ramos revived the large-dam projects mothballed during the Marcos presidency.

Majority of these large-dam projects are initiated by foreign corporations and their local partners in cooperation with various government agencies. Most of these are funded by the JBIC, as well as the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Share This Post