“I see the need to fight because we will lose our life, our livelihood and our culture. We’re doing this for the generations to come.” Arnel delos Santos, secretary general of Balatik
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Dumagats and Remontados from mountain villages in Rizal and Quezon marched to Mendiola bridge today, Sept. 26, to protest the revival of the Laiban dam project in Southern Tagalog. There were the tribal elders, mostly women, who, since the 80s have been fighting the implementation of the big dam. But also there were the youth – the second generation of anti-dam activists – who are now carrying the proverbial torch in defending their ancestral lands against development aggression.
“We are calling on President Aquino not to continue with Laiban dam. We are calling on you, our countrymen, to help us stop this project,” said an elderly Dumagat woman, as she spoke during the program.
Since the 80s under the Marcos dictatorship, the indigenous peoples of Rizal and Quezon provinces have continuously resisted the construction of the Laiban dam project, which different administrations have tried to revive. The Kaliwa river in Laiban village in Tanay, Rizal is the site of the dam, which will submerge 28,000 hectares covering seven to eight villages in Rizal and Quezon.
Under the current Aquino regime, the proposed Laiban dam is integrated into the New Centennial Water Supply Source Project, which will link Kaliwa river with Kanan river in Quezon province. It will be implemented in phases under the Public Private Partnership scheme. In his State of the Nation Address, President Aquino cited the Laiban dam as among the priority hydroelectric projects of his administration to ensure the supply of water and energy.
The indigenous peoples, however, lamented that such projects disregard their right to ancestral domain and self-determination, and result to their displacement and dispossession of their territories.
“The Aquino government promises development. Development for whom? How about us, the indigenous communities?” said Nardo Nakar, a leader of the Samahan ng mga Katutubong Dumagat at Remontadong Nagdadamayan sa Northern Quezon (Sakadre).
“Why can’t you see what we see?” Arnel delos Santos, 26, secretary general of the Bigkis at Lakas ng Katutubo sa Timog Katagalugan (Balatik) said in Filipino. “Why can’t you see nature that is so precious to us?”
The Dumagats and Remontados were joined by leaders of Tumandok, Manobo and Mangyan, who are also leading the opposition against mega dam projects in their communities, particularly the Jalaur dam in Panay island, Pulangi V in Bukidnon, and Baco dam in Mindoro.
The Dumagat and Remontado men were in red g-string, while the women were in red tapis or skirt. The protesters also had bright red bands on their heads. Dumagat refers to those who are full-blooded indigenous peoples, while “Remontado” refers to those who are of mixed Dumagat and Tagalog or non-indigenous.
“If you do not see what we see, you should leave Malacañang because you are only serving your foreign masters,” said Delos Santos.
Delos Santos is the son of Nicanor delos Santos, a leader of the Dumagats who was shot dead in Antipolo City, Rizal on Dec. 8, 2001 by soldiers belonging to Task Force Panther.
Now a leader himself, the young Delos Santos has picked up the task left behind by his father.
“I saw the need to continue his fight, it was because of it that the Laiban dam project was shelved,” he said. He said that because of the strong resistance by Dumagats and Remontados the dam was delayed, eventually changing sponsors, from the Asian Development Bank to the JBIC. “Then came the offer of funding by the San Miguel Corporation, which we also fought against, and so it was again stopped,” Delos Santos said.
“I see the need to fight because we will lose our life, our livelihood and our culture. We’re doing this for the generations to come,” said Delos Santos. He said many Dumagat and Remontado youth also realize their role in defending their rights and more are joining in the struggle.
Another Dumagat youth, Lodima Doroteo, 22, has also joined her elders in resisting the dam.
At a national forum on Laiban dam held on Sept. 25 in Taytay, Rizal, Doroteo, recalled that as a child, she was brought by her parents to rallies against the Laiban dam project in the 90s. Her grandfather, Lope dela Cruz, was among the Dumagat leaders opposing the project, and she recalled being present in pickets at the offices of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Supply Systems and at Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Quezon City.
“I didn’t know about the issue then, so I was just observing, watching the elders and asking why we have to protest. But now I realize that if we had not voiced out our opposition then, the project would have pushed through,” she said.
Reacting to some elderly women who expressed fear about joining protests, Doroteo said: “All of us who are afraid, we will face our fear, so that our fear will be directed towards our unity.”
“The forest is our life. If you remove the forest, then you remove our life. We will be wiped out,” Doroteo said.
“Mainit (hot),” Delos Santos described how his family caught the ire of the military. “Our whole family has joined and is continuing the fight,” he said. He and his six siblings all join protests against the dam.
Delos Santos said he is experiencing harassment from the military, who persistently ask about his whereabouts, as he carries out organizing work in communities.
Soldiers also talked to his mother, Adeling and told her to refrain from joining rallies against the dam.
In other parts of the country, indigenous peoples resisting other dam projects face a similar situation.
Roy Giganto, 49, a Tumandok leader from Tapaz, Capiz province in Panay island where the indigenous peoples are up against the Jalaur mega dam project, said his whole village of Lahug had been branded by the military as “NPA sympathizers.”
He said soldiers of the 61st Infantry battalion, after an encounter with NPA rebels, went from house to house in July, questioning the residents. In a radio program, the military also stirred rumours that Giganto “was wounded” or “was killed in the encounter.”
Giganto said the military has announced its intention to stay in the communities for 10 months as part of the “Army Literacy Patrol System (Alps)” but the indigenous peoples sees this as part of suppressing the strong opposition to the Jalaur dam.
Despite the harassment, and the fear, the indigenous leaders said they are not giving up the fight.