Editor’s note: We wrote this article to give you a historical and current background of how people of the Philippines work relentlessly against dam constructions. It is a summary of the book Mapping Anti-Dam Movements: The Politics of Water Reservoir Construction and Hydropower Development Projects in the Philippines by Fernan Talamayan of the National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University.
The Filipinos, of which some of them are DGR allies, bravely try to protect water and land, even though the military persecutes and sometimes kills them for doing this.
A few years ago two DGR members went to the Philippines to exchange training and struggle methods. Since then the connection has developped into an ongoing solidarity, where we are able through donations by readers like you to support the allies’ activism and work together in grassroot projects. DGR Asia Pacific Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/dgrasiapacific/
By Mary Ann Jasper and Benja Weller
The people of the Philippines Archipelago are known as one of the world’s “most vibrant and advanced” multicultural society. They know how to organize in different affinity groups such as youth groups, workers alliances, and indigenous women’s groups, and how to build a culture of community and resistance to engage in important issues that the government fails to address.
There’s been more research done on the anti-mining movement in the Philippines, and less research on the anti-dam movement. But dam building is as relevant, and impacts as many local people, as mining projects do. National organisations such as the Haribon Foundation, Infrawatch PH and the Philippine Movement for Climate Change are also involved in helping the anti-dam movement.
Development means less indigenous land
Most regions affected by dam building are indigenous ancestral lands around the Manila metro area, because the country’s capital suffers chronic water shortages.
The indigenous peoples in the Philippines are the most marginalized people regarding health care, education, and income. This dates back to the late 19th century where the Spanish colonialists, on the basis of a new law, took away the land of indigenous peoples.
The existing Philippine law should protect indigenous peoples with it’s “Freedom, Prior and Informed Consent” policy and “The indigenous peoples rights act of 1997”. Instead research of Fernan Talamayan shows that these rights are being violated across the country. The Philippine government supports hydro power dam projects under the declaration of “development” and “clean energy” in order to purportedly create more jobs and solve the energy crisis.
“Red-tagging” as a method to silence people
In announcing the construction of the New Centennial Water Source Kaliwa Dam 2019, President Duterte pointed out that his government will push infrastructure projects at the cost of indigenous and environmental concerns:
“Let me be very clear to the citizens. You have every right to protest [infrastructure development] if it places your life in jeopardy, but if the safeguards are there between your concerns and the crisis that you’re trying to avoid, I will use the extraordinary powers of presidency.”
In other words, he sees no alternative for the water crisis other than dam building, whereas the indigenous peoples aim for restoring the true source of fresh water: healthy forests and watersheds.
The government uses a method called “red-tagging”, where it willfully accuses the most influential members in the anti-dam movement of being supporters of the New People’s Army (NPA), an armed wing of the Philippine Communist Party. That gives the military a mandate to surveille, harass and even kill these innocent local people.
These extrajudicial killings and other forms of state violence can weaken or strengthen anti-dam movements. While they can intensify the popular call for justice, they are also used to directly intimidate indigenous communities and force them to sell their lands to the government.
Stopping the Laiban dam
The Philippine state, meanwhile, employs divide and conquer tactics to manipulate local people into voting for the dam building by using shady voting methods which can cause division between the community members.
But if the protests stay strong, then the government’s dam-building plans can be stopped, as we see in the case of the Laiban dam project: The pressure of mobilization of the opposition consisting of religious groups, farmers, local environmental justice organizations, fisherfolk, local scientists and professionals stopped the construction of this dam in 2019.
A Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) commented on the halt of the project, saying that “Laiban is out, insofar as this administration is concerned, because of the social engineering nightmare that we’ll encounter in resettling 4800 families”.
Nonetheless the success of the opposing groups was overshadowed by several extrajudicial killings of engaged activists and indigenous peoples who the Philippine military harrassed prior to their murders.
No livelihood nor income when resettling
The same story of state-sponsored violence continues in other anti-dam construction projects.
A local group called Peasant Movement to Free the Agno (TIMMAWA), against the construction of the San Roque Dam, which several national and international environmental justice organizations supported, had a leader called Jose Doton or Apo Jose. He received death threats and was surveilled and “red-tagged” by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as a “communist sympathizer and a terrorist” before he was killed on May 16th 2006 near his home in San Nicholas, Pangasinan in northern Luzon.
Even when such extreme methods aren’t being used, indigenous peoples are paid to leave their ancestral land – but these resettlements under the Philippine law to other locations don’t turn out as successful as promised by the government.
One member of the Ibaloi people, who had to leave their land to make way for the San Roque Multipurpose Project, says in an Interview by Imhof:
“Before we moved, we were far better off. We had smaller houses but we had sources of livelihood. We could eat, grow vegetables, do gold panning. Here we need money to survive, but we have no source of income.”
The consequences of the Kaliwa Dam in 2019, where indigenous peoples lost their sacred burial sites and fishing and hunting grounds, led to the destruction of their culture and source of livelihoods in such a way that future generations may not be able to survive.
Communities mobilize against San Roque dam
The dam in the Pangasinan Province in northern Luzon stopped the natural overflow by the Agno River which was a traditional method used by farmers of San Nicolas to irrigate their fields. When the region is struck by strong typhoons, as happens frequently in the Philippines, the dam needs to release excess water which causes major flooding. In 2009 the release of excess water killed 57 people and destroyed crops and infrastructure worth billions of dollars.
It is no surprise therefore that local communities accompanied the building of the San Roque dam on the same river by huge protests: They filed lawsuits, engaged in judicial activism and media-based activism, sent letters and petitions to government officials, and mobilized public campaigns and street protests.
Philippine’s wildlife needs rivers
The survival of endemic wildlife is also in danger, as the planners want to build the dam within the National Wildlife Sanctuary (NPWS) and would directly impact 96 endemic species. Among those are the endangered Raflessia Manillana corpse flower, the Philippine mahogany and the endangered Philippine eagle. When dams are being constructed, entire ecosystems of rivers collapse and rainforests are destroyed, causing the loss of countless individual animals and species.
Despite all the threats and repression that local people have to endure, their opposition against dam building stays strong. When the solution of the government to energy crises in the Philippines is “development”, environmentalists and indigenous peoples ask, “development for whom?” and do everything in their power to keep protecting the livelihoods and rich ecosystems all of the Philippines depends upon.
The population in the Philippines is among the fastest growing in the world and consequently the Philippine government faces an enormous challenge as to whether it can provide for its human population without obliterating the environment that provides the basis of life.
Here you can find the above mentioned book, it’s worthwhile to read:
Photo by DGR Philippines, organizing against a hydro-power storage dam