The Tumanduk are being forced to accept P50,000 per hectare for those holding a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title, lesser amounts for those without a title. These monies could not last long.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Current survey results have factored in how, for many ordinary Filipinos, life has become harder as a direct result of government policies and projects. Aside from increased taxes and inaccessible social services, ‘development’ projects have rendered affected communities poorer or more marginalized than before. Remia Castor, 48, a Tumanduk from Iloilo, told Bulatlat how their lives and future are being compromised by the government’s Jalaur dam-building project.
Read: Jalaur Mega Dam – Aquino’s DAP in bad faith exemplified
In a series of interviews with Bulatlat, the community organizer related how the dam project is more actively being pushed by the Duterte administration in her village and three other contiguous communities. Based on her monitoring, the villages higher upstream of the river have not yet been subjected to the same intensity as the push for the dam project that their communities are seeing lately. She noted that at least two battalions of soldiers have encamped near the village where once only the police were regularly patrolling.
Although there have been scientific studies warning about the safety and dubious contribution to sustainable development of the said dam project, not to mention its impact on the Tumanduk families to be displaced and the locals who may suffer downstream, various dam projects are being continued in full gear by the Duterte administration.
A farmer from Agcalaga and Alibunan villages in Calinog, Iloilo, Castor is one of the indigenous peoples who will be forced to give up their farm and way of life if the dam were to be constructed. As of now, she and her families are still able to put up resistance to the project. But within her village and nearby villages, she complained of being vilified by certain executives in local government who want the dam to push through.
After she visited South Korea last April, accompanied by John Ian Alenciaga of Jalaur River for the People’s Movement, and confirmed there that the project funders have not yet sent the funds to begin construction, she came home to rumors, which she traced to the local government, that she is “persona non grata” in her town.
She concluded that all the funds currently being used by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the National Irrigation Administration to buy out the Tumanduk in preparation for the dam-building are likely mainly coming from the government.
The dam project has been “starting” for eight years now – though the construction of the actual dam has yet to begin. As of last April, officials of the Korean Export-Import bank, the funder of the P11.2-billion dam project, told Castor and Alenciaga that the bank hasn’t released the budget yet to begin the dam construction. The opposition of the Tumanduk, as well as environmentalists, have, in the past, stalled the actual dam construction.
Read: ‘Damn as No’Damn as Not
But the lives of the Tumanduk have already been in turmoil, or at least, the Tumanduk in Alibunan, Agcalaga, Sumuroy, and Barangan – the lower villages to be straddled by the future mega-dam. Its gates will likely be situated in Agcalaga or Alibunan, two villages separated only by the river, according to Castor.
In these villages, the government through the National Irrigation Administration has been actively trying to convince the Tumanduk to agree to give up their land.
They have been getting signatures from some of the Tumanduk, wearing down their initial resistance with repeated threats and messaging that the dam project will push through, anyway, with or without their consent. In 2013 the construction of an access road (and lateral canal) from the Agcalaga side of the mountain, was started. By 2015 the access road construction had reached the higher part of the mountain near the proposed dam site, Castor said. There the crew stopped.
The result, there is an access road now that the people in the villages upstream could also use. Castor said there were parts of the river in the lower villages that are now “shallower, ugly to look at especially after the bulldozed rocks fell to the river and destroyed the trees it passed along the way.”
“When the construction crew arrived with many policemen, some Tumanduk thought that whether they agree or not, the project would push through anyway. So, they agreed to get paid for their land but deep inside they resented it.”
Castor said the community is distraught and feeling helpless in the face of representatives of the government project – mainly people from the National Irrigation Administration with police or Army soldiers — telling them in meetings and house-to-house visits that the government would acquire the lands covered by the dam project, whether they agree to it or not.
“This forced the Tumanduk even more to accept the payment being offered for their land,” Castor said.
The Tumanduk are being forced to accept P50,000 per hectare for those holding a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title, lesser amounts for those without a title. These monies could not last long, Castor said. In fact, the longest she heard it lasted in a family that was forced to accept the offer was two months. After that, the family no longer has a viable source of livelihood. They could no longer farm on their former land, even if the actual dam construction has not yet begun.
As of this writing, the access road remains as tamped-down earth. Higher in the mountain, Castor said, the rocks and cut branches of trees caught or tangled in remaining trees are still there. “Some Tumanduk farmers fear to go to their redor (farm) because an accident could start a landslide of those rocks and scraps. Some of the dislodged rocks had found its way to the river.”
Castor lamented the loss of a huge boulder, shaped like a fish, in the middle of the river. “Our beautiful river is right in the dam site.”
The fish-shaped boulder that the Tumanduk and local tourists were used to seeing every summer is now gone. “That stone must have been buried now under the debris in the course of bulldozing the land for the access road.” Castor shivered to recall it, preferring not to equate the fate of that boulder to that of the Tumanduk.
The Jalaur project includes the construction of a 109-meter Afterbay Dam, 10-meter Alibunan Catch Dam, 80.74-kilometer Highline Canal and its appurtenant structures.
Cases filed against some Tumanduk fueling more dispossession
As a result of the Jalaur dam project, the Tumanduk today could not gather firewood anymore even from the rotting parts of trees in the mountains like they used to do. It is another source of survival income lost to them. If they harvest anything from the mountain, they will be charged by the DENR for it, Castor said. And, because there are portions of their community members’ former farmlands now that are dangerous to farm, some Tumanduk have been forced to just abandon it.
These days, after almost three years since the construction of the access road stopped, Castor said it’s not as ugly anymore, because those same trees that caught the debris have sprouted leaves. But the debris and the danger remain, she said.
To survive, other dispossessed Tumanduk gathers driftwood brought by the swell of the river, to make into charcoal. But they could sell it only in the village and no longer in the town proper. They are banned from working their (former) farmland, and they are also banned from cutting or harvesting anything in the mountain. If they were caught doing it, they will be charged and fined, Castor said.
Other Tumanduk find work as carpenters, but it’s not a regular source of income.
Where will they relocate? Castor said there were no offered relocation sites for the dispossessed Tumanduk. Most of the other viable farmlands nearby, she said, are already occupied.
Considering the plight of the Tumanduk families who were led to accept payment for their land, some have become wary, Castor said. But the option to refuse the government’s offered payment for their land carries a danger. It seems the government is giving them a warning in case they continue resisting, based on the cases of two Tumanduk couples who refused to sell their land to the government.
The government, in response, has slapped them with cases in court. According to Remia Castor, the NIA (National Irrigation Administration) charged the spouses Nestor and Mary Castor and Romeo and Berna Castor with “expropriation” cases for having refused to sell their land to the government.
Seeing these Tumanduk couples forced to attend to the court cases, hire a lawyer and spend money, the other Tumanduk seem to feel more helpless against the dam project.
“Since they filed cases against my cousins, they were able to compel more Tumanduk to agree to accept payment for their land.”
The cases against the Castor couples are the first filed against the Tumanduk in the building preparation for Jalaur Dam.
In the past, the presence of state forces to enforce the dam-building project has compelled many Tumanduk families to swallow the offered payment for their land and crops that stood in the way. Nowadays, it has been combined with threats of filing cases against those who resist.
Recently, the cause of the intensified government campaign to push the Jalaur Dam project became evident when a monitoring team of the Korean Eximbank arrived “to get new data and to complete the data they already have,” Castor said. The bank talked to NIA and to some locals.
The representatives of the Korean Eximbank reportedly informed them that after this latest monitoring, they will come back in August and everyone will know if they will fund the dam project. A brief report that came out in the Philippine Star on June 29 about NIA’s push for the P11.2 B dam project (which it calls as “irrigation project”) seemed sure about the funding, because it said the contract will be signed in the first week of September, and ceremonial groundbreaking is set on October.
Meanwhile, the Castors are still facing cases in court. The NCIP had reportedly tried to mediate a meeting between the Castor couples and the NIA, but the NIA did not turn up.
Remia Castor expressed fears that if the NIA wins the case in court, it’s like removing one of the last obstructions to the dam construction, which she prays will not happen. She attended the recent State of the Nation Address protest in Iloilo, where she heard from other Tumanduk upstream that they are not yet being subjected to the same intense level of house-to-house campaigns by the government to compel the Tumanduk to agree.
But, Castor noted, there are military personnel deployed now in their communities.
“If the dam construction began from the mouth of our villages and the access road was waiting, the communities upstream will also be forced to just leave.” She appealed to the Duterte government to scrap the dangerous dam project, which sits on an active earthquake fault. She asked that they be treated like human beings.
The 123-kilometer Jalaur river is a considered as sacred ground by Tumanduk because all water is sourced from the river. From previous estimates, the Jalaur dam project encroaches on the ancestral lands of at least 17,000 indigenous Tumanduk, and will also affect the 1.2 million population who live in 18 towns along the Jalaur river basin. At least 78 species of flora and fauna living in the area will also be submerged.