Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. IV,  No. 32                               September 12-18, 2004                      Quezon City, Philippines


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Tarlac’s Colibangbang Dike: Unfulfilled Promises

Heavy rains late August caused cascading waters from three dams, the Ambuklao, Binga, and San Roque Dams, to submerge almost the whole of Paniqui, Tarlac in Central Luzon.  The Colibangbang earth dike, which was constructed to protect Paniqui from floods, was damaged thereby allowing the floodwater to spill into the town.  Doubly damaging to the residents is the fact that they have not yet been paid for the lands that were gobbled up by the construction of the Colibangbang earth dike in the 1980s. 


Romy Rosete points to the damaged Colibangbang dike (left), while his neighbors -  victimized by the flood - build temporary shanties on top of the dike.                                                Photos by Aubrey Sta. Cruz Makilan 

PANIQUI, Tarlac - Heavy rains caused by typhoon Marce during the last week of August submerged almost the whole of Paniqui, Tarlac. The floods caused by typhoon “Marce” was so far the worst Tarlac has experienced according to a resident. The floods left nine deaths in the province.

At the height of the rains, excess water was released from Ambuklao Dam in Benguet province, northern Philippines causing water to flow to Binga Dam.  When the water reached critical levels excess water was also released from Binga Dam causing the overflow of water to San Roque Dam in San Manuel, Pangasinan. Moncada, Tarlac served as the catch basin of San Roque Dam when it reportedly released excess water thrice during the typhoon.  The flood in Moncada flowed to Paniqui, Banawang, Sapang, and other towns in Tarlac. It also affected Pangasinan, where many towns and cities went under water for several days. Farmers in Paniqui believed that the excess water from the three dams aggravated the flooding in their place.

Romy Rosete, a resident of Brgy. Rang-ayan, told Bulatlat that the great volume of the flood damaged the Colibangbang Dike, which is at the right side of the Paniqui section of the Tarlac (River) Gerona-Paniqui-Moncada (Left and Right) Earth dikes Project.  (Colibangbang in the local dialect means beautiful butterfly.) Rosete said the water from the San Roque Dam could have increased the current of the water when it joined the O’Donnell River extension in Tarlac. Since the dike has never been cemented since its construction in 1989, the flood easily damaged about 500 meters of the Colibangbang earth dike.

Rosete, 59, said that this was not the first time that portions of the Colibangbang Dike were damaged.  The 1990 “killer earthquake” and mudflows caused by the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption destroyed big portions of the dike.  Still, the government did not institute measures to strengthen the dike such as reinforcing it with cement, according to Rosete.

However, the damage to the Colibangbang Dike, which caused flood waters to destroy the houses of his neighbors, spared Rosete’s house.  Rosete’s house was built on a spoil site, which has the same elevation as the dike. A spoil site is a place where soil dug out from a silted river is dumped. Though temporarily saved from the flood, Rosete worries that his lot would eventually be wiped out by future floods that may overflow from the dike.

The residents tried in vain to reinforce the dike with sandbags last August 25. When the dike was damaged at 1 a.m. of the next day, water flowed to barangays (villages) Nipaco, Rang-ayan, Nancamarinan, Ventinilla, Cabayaosan, Acuculao, Apulid, Colibangbang, San Isidro, Tablang and Salumague. People living lower than the dike evacuated and built temporary houses on top of the dike after the water submerged their houses. Carabaos, goats, chickens, and other livestock were among the first to be brought to the top of the dike.

The Colibangbang earth dike failed to save the residents of Paniqui, Tarlac from the flood.  But more hurting than the flood is the fact that residents, like Rosete, had to give up part of their lands to pave the way for the construction of the dike, which was supposed to protect their communities from floods.  And the worst part is, they have not yet been compensated for their sacrifices. 

Unpaid claims

Partial construction of the Tarlac (River) Gerona-Paniqui-Moncada Earth dikes Project started in 1962 during the presidency of Diosdado Macapagal. The Colibangbang Dike, which was part of the whole project, was completed in 1989.

The farmers were told that the dike would prevent flood from going to the kabayanan (town center).  The promise of preventing floods and guarantee of compensation, under Executive Order 1035 issued by former President Ferdinand Marcos, made the residents to agree to give up part of their lands to pave the way for the construction of the dike.

But one and a half decade has passed and they have not yet been compensated. Rosete is just one of a thousand farmers in Paniqui with claims. The claimants are from barangays Nancamarinan, Aguas, Balawang, Brillante, Colibangbang, Nipaco and Rang-ayan.

Rosete used to own five hectares of agricultural land.  He had to give up 28,000 sq. m. for the dike. He has outstanding claims amounting to about half a million pesos computed at the agreed upon price of P17.06 per sq. m.

Unfortunately, Rosete has not received a single centavo. A large portion of his remaining lands was covered with lahar (volcanic mudflows) after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991. He was left with less than a hectare of agricultural land, which he was forced to mortgage to some well-off friends for P15,000. Now, even the land where his house stands is part of the dike.

Rosete, the landowner, became a farm worker. To augment the meager financial support from his sons, two of whom are a policeman and security guard, he sells the fruits of his mango trees. He sells his labor to other farmers. Sometimes, he earns P120 a day (US$ 2.13) as a mower. “Halos tiis na lang para mabuhay” (I just endure the hardships in order to survive), he lamented.

Ironically, the name of the village where Rosete lives, Rang-ayan, is derived from the root word rang-ay which means “prosperous life.” Obviously Rosete he has never experienced prosperity throughout his life. In fact, he said that 300 out of 400 families in their village have a family member working abroad as contractual workers because of poverty. Even Rosete’s only daughter, Joana, worked in a fast-food chain in Italy for two years.

Bureaucratic runaround

The Central Luzon regional office of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) endorsed the provision of financial assistance for the farmers, affected by the construction of the dike, to the agency’s national office in Manila only on Oct. 18, 1999, a decade after the dike was completed. The first batch of claimants in Rang-ayan is composed of 41 farmers, and the second batch, which includes Rosete, numbered around 50. They would supposedly be given about P11 million and P9 million, respectively.

The total claims, to include the compensation for affected farmers from other barangays, would cost around P148 million.  But currently, only 1.2 percent of the amount has been released. Rosete claimed that he has not yet benefited from the initial release.

Worse, Rosete said there were irregularities in the processing of the claims. He claimed that the processing of claims, supervised by Valentin Velasco, then barangay captain of Rang-ayan, was anomalous. Rosete filed formal charges against Velasco and Dominador Montoya, said to be from the DPWH, with the National Bureau of Investigation and the Office of the Ombudsman in 2001. 

He was disappointed when he heard an NBI agent saying, "Matinong tao 'yang si Montoya (Montoya is decent person)." The case filed by Rosete with the Office of the Ombudsman was dismissed last February 20, 2002.  He believed there was a whitewash.

Meanwhile, a dialogue was held last April 13, 2004 between claimants and DPWH personnel. The government officials present during the dialogue promised to act on their complaints. It turned out to be an empty promise, Rosete says. 

A peasant's resolve

The victims believe that influential and powerful persons may be blocking their efforts at receiving just compensation or may be benefiting from the money that should be rightfully theirs. Rosete said, “Kapag kinalaban mo ang mga opisyal dito sa Tarlac, mahihirapan ka” (It would be hard for you to go against government officials in Tarlac). 

But Rosete’s resolve does not waver. "'Yung maapi, wala ka na palang kinatatakuta” (A person who is oppressed fears nothing).

Rosete found new hope with the Alyansa ng mga Magsasaka sa Tarlac (AMT), an alliance of peasant associations in Tarlac. He became a member of AMT in December last year and was elected as secretary of the local chapter in Paniqui.

After experiencing disappointments in their legal battles, the claimants are now exploring the meta-legal arena. Rosete now helps in organizing his fellow farmers not just within the confines of the compensation issue. Through their unified strength, he believes they will win future battles. Bulatlat

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