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Philippine bishop renews battle cry against dam project

Prelate uses Church's indigenous peoples' day to call for the rights of tribal groups to be protected

Philippine bishop renews battle cry against dam project

A fisherman of the Dumagat tribe stands in his boat at Angat Dam in Norzagaray in Bulacan. Tribes in the Sierra Madre mountains will be under threat if the government builds a new dam project in Quezon and Rizal provinces. (Photo: AFP)

A Catholic bishop in the Philippines has renewed calls for people to step up efforts to protect indigenous people’s lands by opposing a dam project posing a threat to tribal communities in Rizal and Quezon provinces, near Manila.

Bishop Valentin Dimoc of Bontoc-Lagawe also warned that ongoing construction of the Kaliwa Dam would likely bring about fresh dangers such as mudslides as work progresses, especially during extreme conditions such as typhoons.

The bishop’s remarks were made on Indigenous Peoples' Sunday, a day dedicated to indigenous Filipinos as members of the Catholic Church.

They also followed reports that the government had finished the construction of access roads through a watershed area.

Bishop Dimoc, who also heads the bishops’ Commission on Indigenous Peoples, said the dam project threatens the integrity and way of life of the Dumagat-Remontado tribe.

“They need to be protected because their lives are being threatened not only in terms of the project’s effects on the environment but also in their lives and property,” Bishop Dimoc said.

It is also about where indigenous people live ... Thus, if we want to protect and fight for their rights, we also need to protect and fight for their environment

The Dumagat-Remontado are a tribal group whose ancestral lands include where the government is building access roads towards where the US$236 million Chinese-funded dam — intended to provide Manila with a steady water supply — will be located.

Bishop Dimoc criticized the project for allegedly flouting construction rules.

“The Commission on Audit has flagged the Metropolitan and Sewerage System for going ahead with the project without proof of compliance with environmental requirements and submission of necessary permits,” he said.

The prelate also said that Indigenous Peoples’ Sunday was not only about people but about the environment.

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“It is also about where indigenous people live ... Thus, if we want to protect and fight for their rights, we also need to protect and fight for their environment,” the bishop added.

A coalition of activist groups called the Stop Kaliwa Dam Network (SKDN) recently said all the access roads were “illegally” constructed because they were located in a protected area covered by the Indigenous People’s Act.

SKDN convenor-priest Father Pete Montallana said the construction of access roads alone had destroyed large swathes of forest and disrupted the lives of many indigenous people.

He also claimed the dam is being fast-tracked for selfish gain by some corporations at the expense of the common good.

“We remain confounded by how our government can confidently say that the Kaliwa Dam and its annexed projects are for the common good. Therefore, they will do everything to fast-track the project,” he said.

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