A fisherman of the Dumagat tribe stands in his boat at Angat Dam in Norzagaray in Bulacan. Tribes in the Sierra Madre mountains face a threat from a huge dam being built in Quezon province. (Photo: AFP)
A Philippine bishop has warned that a multibillion-dollar dam project will bring destruction to thousands of indigenous people.
Bishop Bernardino Cortez of Infanta said the fight against Kaliwa Dam is a “matter of survival” among those who cannot defend themselves because of poverty and lack of education.
He said the dam in Infanta in Quezon province would pose risks to lowland agricultural and fishing communities including the Dumagat tribe.
The Dumagats are one of the major indigenous peoples living in southern Luzon along the Sierra Madre, the longest mountain range in the Philippines. They depend on farming, hunting and fishing.
Government figures say the tribe now numbers less than 30,000 while many members were robbed of their ancestral land by big corporations.
Bishop Cortez said he had received reports that the Dumagats had been displaced and their source of food was threatened due to construction of the dam, which will supply Manila with water.
“So, you will understand by geography and the nature of our indigenous people that their survival highly depends on the condition of our mountains, forests, rivers, and the protection of our mangroves and seashores,” said Bishop Cortez in a video message.
The prelate also said it was unjust if the Dumagat tribe were forced out of their ancestral land because their rights were protected by law.
“The government must not be the cause of the abuse of their rights. Rather, it must protect the rights of these people because there is a law that protects them,” said Bishop Cortez.
The bishop was referring to Republic Act No. 8371, otherwise known as the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997, that sought the protection of indigenous communities.
“The state shall protect the rights of indigenous cultural communities and indigenous peoples to their ancestral domains to ensure their economic, social and cultural well-being and shall recognize the applicability of customary laws governing property rights or relations in determining the ownership and extend of ancestral domain,” the Act states.
Bishop Cortez said the government must treat the poor fairly even though an influential and rich country like China had funded the project.
“This dam would pose environmental threats in the watershed forest reserve where our indigenous people live. By destroying nature in the area, we also destroy the source of living and habitat of our indigenous people,” Bishop Cortez added.
He said the government must look for alternative sources of water instead of destroying nature that indigenous people depend on for survival.
“We hope and pray that our people in this ‘Jubilee for the Earth’ will develop a new mindset and a paradigm shift in our care and use of the common home,” Bishop Cortez added.