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Advocacy group questions Kaliwa Dam ECC

An advocacy group over the weekend questioned the  Department of Environment and Natural Resources' (DENR's) decision to issue an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for the Kaliwa Dam project, the remaining requirement for the controversial endeavor to proceed.

In an emailed statement through the IBON Foundation, the Network Opposed to Kaliwa, Kanan and Laiban Dams comprising the New Centennial Water Source (NOtoNCWS) raised its concerns over the recent development.

Citing the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Law, NOtoNCWS argued that the projecyt area had been declared to be protected due to its "biologically unique features to sustain human life and development."

"Hence submerging a considerable portion of the Kaliwa Watershed — 113 hectares of forested lands — will have considerable environmental damages with adverse impact not only to communities in direct impact areas of the project," explained NOtoNCWS convenor April Porteria.

"These and other potentially damaging impacts of the project to the environment makes the issuance of the ECC questionable," Porteria added.

The DENR, while granting an ECC for the Kaliwa Dam project, had also promised to keep a close eye on the implementation of the project.

In 2014, the Kaliwa Dam project was initially rolled out as a PPP project, with two qualifying bidders — SMC-K Water Consortium (San Miguel Holdings Corp. and Korea Water Resources Corp.); and the Abeima-Datem Consortium (Albeinsa Infraestructura Medio Ambiento S.A and Datem Inc.)

The project involved the development of a new water source to meet the increasing water demands by constructing a redundant dam for Metro Manila's domestic water supply.

The government, however, under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, in March 2017 chose to instead push through with the project under an ODA scheme.

In 2017, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III signed a financing agreement for the project in which China would provide soft loans estimated at $234.92 million covering Phase 1-Kaliwa Dam, and Phase 2-Laiban Dam.

The final loan agreement was scheduled to be signed by government officials of both the Philippines and China in November 2018.

The project, however, has been met with opposition as community groups said over 14,000 households of mainly indigenous peoples would be displaced.

NOtoNCWS also noted that should the project push through, it would submerge sacred sites, caves, and rivers in the area, with nearby low-lying towns also potentially flooded.

Moving forward, the group said called on the government to instead look for other sources of water that would have less environmental impact.

The government, specifically Finance Secretary Dominguez, earlier made the case for the faster construction of the China-backed project given the recent water crisis. — Jon Viktor Cabuenas/DVM, GMA News