‘Defend our rivers,’ indigenous and envi groups denounce destructive mega dams

Dominic Gutoman
3 min readMar 14, 2024
Photo by Katribu

by DOMINIC GUTOMAN
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — In time for the International Day of Action for Rivers, indigenous groups and environment defenders protested in front of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on March 14 to condemn the construction of destructive mega dams and hydropower projects.

They stressed that rivers are a critical source of life for indigenous communities, starting from their livelihood to cultural identity. The supposed development projects compromise the right to development of affected communities as they could result in the destruction of farmlands, fisheries, forests, and sanctuaries. They added that development projects could also impede the flow of the rivers.

Kalikasan People’s Network for Environment (PNE) said that the Marcos Jr administration still allows massive projects like Kalikan-Kanan-Laiban Dam, Wawa Dam, Ahunan Hydropower project, Jalaur Mega-Dam, Saltan Dam, and the Pasig River Expressway, all of which endanger the affected communities.

Some projects are also in key biodiversity areas like the GENED Hydroelectric Power Project in Apayao which affects Isnag communities, 105 plants, and 51 bird species.

Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu) said that the Kaliwa Dam project in Rizal and Quezon affects 5,000 Dumagat-Remontado, 100,000 individuals in nearby communities, and 126 species in Sierra Madre. The same situation is also seen in the Jalaur Mega Dam Project in Iloilo which would displace 17,000 Tumandoks and harm 16 indigenous communities.

“The mega-dams threaten the delicate balance of the ecosystems and the very survival of communities dependent on these rivers for their livelihoods,” said Beverly Longid, national convenor of Katribu.

Based on the monitoring report of their organization, Longid said that in 2023, 15 operating large dams were documented, while the previous administration of Rodrigo Duterte pursued 117 dams — some are still in the pipeline, constructed, and stalled — all in the name of the “Build, Build, Build” (BBB) program.

She added that these projects often result in the violation of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of indigenous communities and the militarization of these communities. “The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) serves as a tool in violating the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the Indigenous Peoples. The commission railroads the issuance of FPIC through the collation of fake signatures and bogus consultations. This contradicts its mandate to assess the Indigenous Peoples’ situation and uphold their collective rights.”

Opposition to the projects could result in violence. Indigenous peoples leader Nicanor delos Santos, known for his opposition to the Laiban Dam, was gunned down in Antipolo City. During the COVID-19 pandemic, nine (9) Tumandoks were also killed for protesting the construction of the Jalaur Dam.

Cha-cha to worsen development aggression

The groups rejected the proposed charter change (Cha-cha) of the Marcos Jr administration, stressing that it could worsen development aggression. “There are 14 documented mines, eco-tourism, dams, and other energy projects built within the ancestral domains of indigenous peoples, supported by foreign entities,” Longid said.

She said that the dangers of the previous administration’s BBB program can also be seen in the current one’s “Build Better More” (BBM) program. “These programs and proposals forwarded by Marcos Jr. hold only the interest of corporations and profiteers at heart, leaving the indigenous peoples to suffer more and more.”

The Center for Environment Concerns (CEC) Philippines echoed the same sentiment as it would “sell out natural resources, leaving Filipinos to bear the brunt of economic and environmental degradation.”

With this, the groups strengthened their solidarity for the Global Day of Action for Rivers on March 14 by demanding justice for the erosion of rivers and the human rights violations that came with it. “The struggle of the Indigenous communities in the Philippines is part of the struggle for national patrimony and sovereignty. We call upon everyone to join the fight to safeguard rivers, defend ancestral lands, and uphold the rights of indigenous communities,” Longid said. (RTS, DAA)

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Dominic Gutoman

Covers human rights, environment, grassroots initiatives, and accountability mechanisms at bulatlat.com.