Joseph Peter Calleja, Manila
Updated: June 11, 2021 09:10 AM GMT
Indigenous people who claim they will be affected by a dam project funded by China protest outside the Chinese embassy in Manila in this file photo. (Photo supplied)
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has welcomed a decision by the country’s lawmakers to halt construction of a controversial dam project which it says would adversely affect indigenous groups and the environment.
The Chinese-funded Kaliwa Dam project in Quezon province, south of the capital Manila, has been mired in controversy.
Environmentalists claim it would involve the destruction of a 300-hectare forest that is home to 126 plant and wildlife species.
Philippine bishops had also expressed concern in 2020 that the dam would force indigenous groups like the Dumagat-Remontados from their ancestral lands.
Lawmakers halted construction on June 9 pending an investigation into alleged corruption in securing government permits.
“The Kaliwa mega-dam project is against inclusive development. We are happy to learn of this decision by our lawmakers,” the CBCP’s Commission on Social Action, Justice and Peace said in a June 10 statement.
The state must look upon indigenous people as the guardians of the country’s remaining biodiversity
Caritas chief Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo likewise said the common good must be prioritized over business interests.
“Indigenous people, the community and the environment should not be sacrificed on the altar of development aggression that would only benefit the interests of big business,” the head of the Church’s social action arm told reporters.
He said lawmakers and the government had a duty to protect marginalized citizens like indigenous people.
President Rodrigo Duterte has pushed for the project, calling it the “last resort” to stabilize Manila’s water supply.
“The state must look upon indigenous people as the guardians of the country’s remaining biodiversity with the right to protect their ancestral lands,” he said.
“While the Earth is reeling from global warming, here we are still doing business-as-usual projects when international studies have shown big dams are not advisable because they are not reliable and are built at an exaggerated economic cost,” he told Radio Veritas.
The project was estimated to cost 12.1 billion pesos (about US$254 million)