“Water is part of national patrimony. If only a few control the sources of water, you could not drink if they would not allow it.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – On hot summer days many still remember the glory days of the pristine, very much alive rivers of the past. Some go to the remaining good rivers that are still suitable for boating, irrigation, swimming, fishing and other community activities including fluvial parades. But such rivers may soon be diverted into private dams as the government has identified 400 sites for hydropower projects.
In the Philippines, the struggle to save the rivers from corporate control has inspired many songs, valiant stories of struggle, heroes and environmentalists. These songs continue to be played in gatherings aimed to strengthen cooperation for saving the remaining rivers. The martyred Macliing Dulag, who has become the face of the indigenous people’s fight against moves to direct the river away from the people to run power projects instead, continues to launch more gatherings for the same cause he died for. Like this month, marking the day he was killed and ensuring his death did not end the people’s fight for their right to have access to water, indigenous groups and supporters are holding the 33rd Cordillera Day in Kalinga.
Since huge dams were built in the Philippines in the 50’s, the people, especially the directly affected, have seen and experienced its high costs, thus any subsequent dam project planned or begun from the 70’s onwards have been met with resistance. At the forefront and comprising the first affected by past and present dam-building projects are the indigenous peoples.
“For us indigenous people, water resources like rivers play a crucial part in our communities’ survival, and are integral to our culture and identity,” said Piya Malayao, secretary general of the nationwide indigenous group Katribu. A Bontok from the Mt. Province in the Cordillera region, her family’s name had inspired the parents of Macliing Dulag.
Last month Katribu spearheaded mass actions marking the international commemoration of people’s action for rivers and against large dams.
Worldwide, similar activities were held since more than half of the world’s rivers have been dammed, displacing over 80 million people. Testimonials and research attesting to the high costs to the environment and to the river system not to mention to the people directly affected by these dams also abound.
The dangers to the environment by the already existing dams would still multiply if the dam projects on the pipeline actually get built, the patriotic scientist group Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM) warned in a forum last month.
Teddy Casiño, former Bayan Muna Representative and convener of People Opposed to unWarranted Electricity Rates (POWER), said that if these new dam projects were to push through, it would mean diverting the said rivers’ water to hydropower projects under control and for profits of a few big corporations, and not for public service. Such had been the experience in the active dams and hydropower projects in this country especially after these were privatized. Since water has become more expensive now than oil products, he said the more apt description for easy profit nowadays is “tubong tubig” rather than “tubong lugaw” (profit comes as easy as cooking porridge).
‘Dam projects pose little to no benefit to people, offer huge profit to few’
Although all the present dams in the Philippines that were built at huge cost to the affected communities and the environment were at first owned by the Philippine government, it eventually fell under the control of private companies after the government privatized power and water industries.
The Philippines currently has 66 dams which, before it became dams, used to be populated by people, Katribu said. Even as these people have not yet been properly compensated for their submerged farms and communities, the existing dams denied them irrigation when they needed it most and inundated them when they least needed it, said peasant leader Tunying Flores.
Dams have reportedly been pushed through by corrupt governments and corporations in developing countries. In the Philippines, many of the already funded dam projects have also been tainted with corruption scandals and human rights issues.
Still, the sheer number of dam projects reveals the government and big corporation’s disregard of the countless environmental impact assessments showing dams have deadly impact on rivers, marine biodiversity and the communities living around it. Reports in other countries call it “greenwashing hydropower,” or misrepresenting dam-building as a response to climate change. It is happening also in the Philippines, said Katribu’s Joana Jaime. She said the hundreds of identified dam projects are being promoted as supposed responses under the Renewable Energy Act.
In a forum, she said that the government and private sector proponents of large dams, including some international financial institutions led by the World Bank, are promoting large dams, selling it as a source of cheap energy and water supply to poor countries such as the Philippines. But she argued that everyone has an inherent right to water, and no one should own these resources exclusively. Unfortunately, given than power and water industries have been privatized in the Philippines, the people’s right to water is now being compromised, she said.
“Even if you add more dams, water and power would still be priced higher and higher because it’s under capitalists’ management and control,” Jaime said.
The Water for the People Network said that indeed, many Filipinos still lack access to water. In a statement, it said that millions of people in Metro Manila, whether they have water connections or not, still lack water, yet pay an exorbitant price for the little supply they get.
The Water for the People Network added that in some areas in the country such as in Mindanao, power services intermittently shut off, yet power rates continuously spike.
“Water is part of national patrimony. If only a few control the sources of water, you could not drink if they would not allow it,” warned Jaime in a forum attended by members of communities where new dams are planned to be built.