By JEMIMAH CRESENCIA and PAOLA ESPIRITU
SALCEDO, Ilocos Sur — For the third time, officials from the National Irrigation Administration swallowed a resounding ´no to dam´ response from the affected communities and their officials. This transpired during the public hearing on the proposed Gen. Gregorio del Pilar Impounding Project held on June 27 at the gymnasium in the Poblacion of this upland town.
Representatives from local government, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), and the Philippine Army were present to discuss the possible effects of the project and to hear the sentiments of Salcedo residents regarding the proposed dam. Sangguniang Panlalawigan members Pablito Sanidad, Jr. and Christopher Baterina facilitated the dialogue.
The proposed dam will be located on Buaya River in the municipality of Salcedo while the reservoir area includes the municipality of Gregorio del Pilar. The service area covers around 5,000 hectares in the municipalities of Salcedo, Galimuyod, Sta. Lucia, and Sta. Cruz and the City of Candon all in the province of Ilocos Sur.
Detrimental to communities
The main issues brought up by the local government and the residents were the displacement of one barangay and two sitios, potential threat of flooding, some areas and national roads will be submerged, and its effect on eco-tourism. The residents also brought up the problem of relocation and finding new livelihoods.
´Kahit ano pa ang sabihin ninyo, iisa ang magiging sagot naming kaugnay sa pagtatayo ninyo ng dam, hindi kami papaya, no to dam,´ said Mayor Leopoldo Gironella.
The chief executive also noted that NIA submitted the project proposal to NEDA and NIA Board without even seeking their position on the matter.
Laureano Roldan, barangay captain of Bulala-Leguey, voiced out his opposition to the project during the open forum.
“Malulubog ang Bulala kasi malapit kami sa proposed dike. Kung irerelocate, walang may gusto sa amin,” said Roldan.
He also said that they are being treated as collateral damage or sacrificial lambs for the sake of development and progress. According to him, the NIA conducted house-to-house consultations and public hearings back in 2013 and the residents have opposed the project since then.
Bal Wandas, a community leader from Del Pilar pointed that while the relocation offer floated by the NIA officials are quite tempting, the people have to decline.
´´Its easy for you say that you will provide us with a favorable relocation site, however, the reality is the government has yet to make good of its relocation program,¨ he said.
The leader explained that they are aware that people continue to suffer from neglect and faulty process in places where such relocation occurred in the past.
´The experience in these areas are enough reason for us to doubt your explanation on how to ensure that the relocation will be beneficial to us,¨expressed Wandas.
Violation of IPRA Law
The NCIP is present at the hearing underscored that the affected areas are considered ancestral lands of the Bago, Kankanaeys and Itnegs. The agency officials said that the proposed dam should not push through without a free prior informed consent (FPIC) from the residents.
Atty. Marvin Billigan, head of NCIP Ilocos Sur also noted that NIA violated the IPRA law when it undertook the feasibility study without undergoing the FPIC process.
He believed that what he heard at the gathering is already sufficient to conclude that if ever NIA will apply to undertake the FPIC, the project will be rejected.
Protest at the capitol
A day before the gathering in Salcedo, almost 230 individuals took to the streets to express opposition to the project. The protesters is under the banner of Timpuyog ti Umili ti Karayan Buaya (TUKB).
The group also delivered a letter and petition to the office of the governor outlining their reasons why they believed the dam will do more harm than good.
Leaders from the Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation and Ilocos Human Rights Alliance also expressed their solidarity with the protesters.
Antonino Pugyao, chairperson of Stop Exploitation said that big government projects involving billion pesos, such as the G. del Pilar dam, are predisposed to corruption. “No wonder they are pushing for it whilst the strong opposition from the constituents,” he added. He argued that if NIA wants to provide irrigation to farmers, they should look into other alternatives rather than putting up a costly dam that may even endanger the lives of many in the long run.
“We know that when there are big government projects there are always state forces to protect the investments of corporations – in this case, the 81st IB. They [military] give us good alibis why they are putting up a camp but we have seen the experiences of other provinces where the military is being used to silence the people- particularly those who are opposing big government projects,” explained Mary Ann Gabayan, IHRA’s secretary general.
The project is one of the eight NIA flagship projects of the Duterte administration under the Build Build Build Program. # nordis.net