Surprise Discovery of Wind Farm Project in Philippine Reserve Prompts Alarm

Surprise Discovery of Wind Farm Project in Philippine Reserve Prompts Alarm

Editor’s note: Wind farms are not a solution to ecological destruction, especially not when built in protected reserves. Singapore-based company Rizal Wind Energy Corp. (RWEC) is drilling illegally in wildlife sanctuary and ecotourism area Masungi Georeserve.

For this massive construction it is bulldozing forest to make roads. It needs diesel for the trucks and lube oil to run the wind turbines. Local environmentalists have protected the Masungi Georeserve over generations through educating local people and engaging in struggles against land grabbing.

This important work is dangerous: park rangers are shot, the army arrests workers and the government sends their agencies with legal threats.

Despite having considered giving up, conservationists won’t surrender: “If we abandon it, who will look after the wildlife?”

Everyone who is able to get active in these times of ecocide should ask themselves this same question.

Surprise Discovery of Wind Farm Project in Philippine Reserve Prompts Alarm


In late 2023, conservationists monitoring the Philippine’s Masungi Georeserve were surprised to encounter four drilling rigs operating within the ostensibly protected wildlife sanctuary. The construction equipment belongs to a company building a wind farm within the reserve, which claims to have received the necessary permits despite the area’s protected status. Masungi Georeserve Foundation, Inc. (MGFI), the nonprofit organization managing the site, has launched a petition calling for the project to be canceled, saying that renewable energy generation should not be pursued at the expense of the environment.

Drilling for windfarms without permission

Conservationists have expressed alarm over the surprise discovery that a Singapore-based company has started construction of a wind farm inside the Philippines’ Masungi Georeserve.

The Masungi Karst Conservation Area (MKCA), declared a strict nature reserve and wildlife sanctuary since 1993, is home to more than 400 wildlife species. The site is located in Rizal, a province about 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of the Philippine capital, Manila.

Drone images from late 2023 captured by the Masungi Georeserve Foundation, Inc. (MGFI), the nonprofit organization that manages the site, showed that Rizal Wind Energy Corp. (RWEC) was behind the construction, drilling to build 12 wind turbines as part of a renewable energy project. RWEC is owned by Singapore-based energy developer Vena Energy.

“This development entails widespread road construction and raises significant concerns for local wildlife, particularly threatening birds and bat populations,” the foundation said in a statement on Feb. 12. The group estimates that 500-1,000 hectares (about 1,200-2,500 acres) of the MKCA could be affected by the project, as it would require extensive road networks that may lead to forest clearing, vegetation damage, and visual disruption of the natural landscape.

The MKCA, previously commercially logged and barren, has been undergoing forest restoration since 1996 through a joint-venture agreement between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Blue Star Construction and Development Corp., owned by the founder of Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc. In 2016, when the foundation was formally established, Masungi also opened to the public as an ecotourism site, generating revenue to support ongoing restoration efforts in the area.

Green greed disturbs protected zone

Of the more than 400 flora and fauna species that call Masungi home, around 70 are endemic to the Philippines, including the Luzon tarictic hornbill (Penelopides manillae), which is nationally listed as vulnerable, and the Luzon mottle-winged flying fox (Desmalopex leucoptera), one of the world’s largest bats and internationally categorized as vulnerable.

In an online signature campaign against the construction of the wind farm, the group said this “misguided energy development” is the latest threat to Masungi, which already faces illegal logging, land grabbing, quarrying, and violence against its forest rangers. These challenges exist even though Masungi is part of the 26,000-hectare (64,500-acre) Upper Marikina River Basin that was declared a protected landscape in 2011.

The Masungi management said this venture “marked a disturbing violation” of a 1993 administrative order by the DENR prohibiting industrial or commercial uses of Masungi. The organization added that the wind farm project also shows a “blatant disregard” for the area’s designation as a strict protection zone in its own management plan.

As per the Philippine environmental impact statement system, projects that plan to operate in ecologically sensitive zones like Masungi need to obtain an environmental compliance certificate from the DENR prior to commencing activities.

wind power

Wind farm in the Philippines

Over four years of developing the Rizal wind farm, Vena Energy said that, “being mindful of its environmental impact,” it has secured various Philippine government permits, including an environmental compliance certificate, protected area management board clearances, and a certificate precondition, following an environmental impact assessment study and consultations with Indigenous peoples.

“Vena Energy assures the public that it continues to maintain open dialogue with stakeholders and is always willing to work with concerned parties to achieve the common good,” Angela Tan, the company’s corporate communications chief, told Mongabay in an emailed statement. The company has not responded to a request to verify its permits.

Coincidental discovery

MGFI says it was never formally informed of the project, which is reportedly nearing commercialization. Instead, georeserve staff discovered the project during routine monitoring of the site. MGFI advocacy officer Billie Dumaliang and her team periodically fly a drone over the reserve to monitor land changes, whether these are caused by fires, clearings, or new structures. In late 2023, they said, they were shocked to see four drilling rigs.

Zooming in on the photos, they discovered that RWEC was behind the drilling. “We immediately searched for their contact so that we can reach out to them and find out more about the project before reacting,” Dumaliang told Mongabay in an email on Feb. 21. “Nonetheless, we were surprised because as designated caretakers of the area, we were not informed of any wind development underway within the Masungi Karst Conservation Area.”

Hoping to persuade the company to relocate, MGFI did not publicize the issue until Feb. 12. This was after two meetings with company representatives where MGFI told them “they are on the wrong track.” According to MGFI, though, the company remains determined to build the wind farm inside Masungi, claiming it will undertake “‘mitigation measures.”

“However, mitigation is superficial if the site selection is wrong in the first place,” Dumaliang said, further expressing disappointment over what she describes as the company’s failure to adhere to emerging environmental, social and governance principles in the alternative energy industry.

“There are many other places to build colossal wind turbines — why do it inside a sensitive karst ecosystem and wildlife sanctuary which cannot be replaced?”

Touching interviews about the activists protecting Masungi Georeserve.

Wind power push

The Philippine government has promoted wind energy development to help meet its target of increasing the share of renewables in the country’s energy mix from 32.7% in 2022 to 50% by 2040. As of 2022, the country’s wind installed generating capacity stood at 427 megawatts, projected to rise to 442 MW by 2025. Since the enactment of a renewable energy law in 2008 up until November 2023, contracts have been awarded to 239 wind power projects. This includes RWEC’s 603 MW (potential capacity) project spanning Rizal and Quezon provinces, listed by the country’s energy department as in the predevelopment stage.

MGFI said wind energy development shouldn’t be pursued at the expense of the environment. “The transition to renewable energy and nature-based solutions such as reforestation and biodiversity conservation should go together. There should be no conflict between the two if the transition to renewable energy is done in a responsible manner,” Dumaliang said.

“If renewable energy development falls under the usual trappings of greed and capitalism, then we risk doing more damage than good.”

The group, along with 30 other civil society organizations, has demanded the revocation of RWEC and Vena Energy’s permits in the MKCA “on scientific grounds and the lack of public consultation.” It’s also seeking outright rejections for similar applications in this wildlife sanctuary, which is meant to be off-limits to industrial and commercial activities.


A Planned $1.1 Billion Hydroelectric Dam is Threatening the Largest Lake  in the Philippines, and Community Activists are Being Persecuted for Fighting Back

A Planned $1.1 Billion Hydroelectric Dam is Threatening the Largest Lake in the Philippines, and Community Activists are Being Persecuted for Fighting Back

Editor’s note: Activists and environmentalists in the Philippines take extreme risks by speaking out to protect land and water. The Philippines has consistently been ranked as the most dangerous country in the world for environmental defenders. This story includes reference to 68-year-old environmental defender Daisy Macapanpan, who was arrested on what appear to be trumped-up charges for resisting the Ahunan pumped hydroelectric dam. This repression is merely the beginning.

Deep Green Resistance has collaborated with grassroots activists in the Philippines for many years. Some of our allies are involved in this fight, and are raising funds to print educational materials, hold events, and support community activism against the Ahunan hydro project by providing expertise, assisting in connections with lawyers, help getting international media coverage, and more. You can donate to these community organizers via PayPal to this email address. This story has not previously been reported in the international press.

MANILA — Casino billionaire Enrique Razon, one of the richest men in the Philippines, is planning a $1.1 billion hydropower dam which threatens Laguna De Bay, the largest lake in the nation and one of the largest in Southeast Asia, as well as the community of Pakil and rainforests on the flanks of the Sierra Madre mountains on the lake’s east bank.

Prime Infrastructure Capital corporation’s Ahunan Pumped-Storage Hydropower Project would destroy nearly 300 hectares of rainforest, leach toxic chemicals into Laguna De Bay, and could jeopardize the water supply for more than 20,000 residents of the area. 

Local residents fear that the project could worsen typhoon flooding and lead to landslides, will destroy natural pools that are used in religious practices, and that the region’s frequent earthquakes could damage the dam and reservoir — which is planned to be built on Mt. Inumpong which rises above their community and that is riven by three major fault lines — leading to catastrophic failure.

Despite widespread community opposition, the project is set to break ground in 2023. Community organizers allege that illegal drilling is already taking place and that the Philippe army is guarding the site. 

On June 11th, 68-year-old environmental defender Daisy Macapanpan, one of the leaders of the community opposition, was arrested in her home for “rebellion” after delivering a speech against the project. allegedly by 40 police officers with no warrant. She was released on August 10th on bail. Illegal detentions and arrests of environmentalists are common in the Philippines, which has also been ranked as the deadliest country for environmental defenders.

On August 8th, following extensive pressure from the communities and allegations of illegal conduct, the Municipal Councils and Chieftains of four directly impacted communities revoked a previous “no objection” resolution in favor of the project that had been in place since September 2021.

On August 23rd, the Department of Energy and Natural Resources Environmental Management Bureau and the community of Pakil dispatched representatives to investigate allegations on ongoing illegal construction. 

ahunan hydroelectric resistance

Community organizers gathered in Pakil in August 2022 to resist the Ahunan hydroelectric dam project.

Pumped-storage hydropower is unlike regular hydropower dams, which block a river’s flow to produce electricity. Instead, pumped hydro storage (PHS) is an energy storage method. It depends on finding (or engineering) a site where two sizable reservoirs or natural water bodies at significantly different elevations can be connected by pipes. To store energy, operators pump water from the lower to the upper reservoir, and to use the stored energy, let it run back down through electrical power generation turbines. 

According to the book Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What we Can Do About It, pumped-storage hydropower dams kill fish, distribute invasive species, destroy riparian vegetation and harm wetlands, decrease water quality, block aquatic migration, and contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. The book also states that “these facilities lead to more fossil fuels being burnt” because of inefficiencies in the process. 

The Ahunan Pumped-Storage Hydropower Project would produce 1,400 MW of electricity at full flow, none of which would go to the local community. Prime Infrastructure Capital corporation and the Philippines Department of Energy call the project “clean energy.”

The fish who live in Laguna De Bay are an important source of food for the 8.4 million people living in the surrounding communities. A petition to halt the project has been signed by more than 6,000 of the 15,000 voting-age residents closest to the proposed project. 

The World Commission on Dams estimates that at least 40 million to 80 million people have been displaced by dams.

Featured image by Ramon FVelasquez. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Struggle endures for Philippine community pitted against gold miner

Struggle endures for Philippine community pitted against gold miner

This story first appeared in Mongabay.


Editor’s note: And the Struggle endures.

“I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists.”
― Chris Hedges, Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt

  • Australian-Canadian mining firm OceanaGold was recently granted a renewal of its permit to mine gold and copper in the northern Philippines.
  • The mine has faced years of opposition from area residents, mostly Indigenous people, who say it has scarred their land and threatens the water systems they depend on.
  • In 2019, when the company’s previous mining permit expired, protesters mounted barricades to block activity at the mine.
  • This year, restrictions put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 have hampered their ability to organize.

NUEVA VIZCAYA, Philippines – Community leader Eduardo Ananayo says he wept when heard the Philippine government had renewed its mining agreement with Australian-Canadian company OceanaGold Corporation this past July.

“We felt betrayed by the government who we thought was there to protect us. Why did they side with the foreigners instead of us Indigenous people?” asks the Tuwali elder, who leads the Didipio Earth Savers Multi-Purpose Association (DESAMA), one of several organizations protesting the gold and copper mining operation.

OceanaGold holds a “financial or technical assistance agreement” (FTAA) issued by the Philippine government, which allows a wholly foreign-owned mining company to operate in the country. Its previous permit expired in 2019. The successful renewal, which came despite persistent opposition from both residents and the local government, allows the mining firm to continue operations until 2044.

“That will not dampen our resistance,” Ananayo says. “We will not let all our years of struggle go to waste.” Around 4,000 indigenous people living in the villages of Didipio and Alimit, in Kasibu town, Nueva Vizcaya province, have mounted strong opposition to the mine: first against Arimco Mining Corporation, which obtained the initial mining rights in 1994, and then against OceanaGold, which acquired the FTAA in 2006.

OceanaGold’s mine claim spans 27,000 hectares (66,700 acres), straddling the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, some 270 kilometers (170 miles) northeast of the Philippine capital, Manila. The concession is believed to hold 1.41 million ounces of gold and 169,400 tons of copper, enough to keep the mine running for another two decades.

Opponents of the project say it threatens the local water system, which is critical to the community’s survival, to their agricultural livelihoods, and to the surrounding ecosystems.

Immense volumes of water are used to process mineral ores, leading to both water pollution and depletion. In addition, both open-pit and underground mining (which OceanaGold shifted to as of 2015) can disrupt the natural underground water systems that feed springs and creeks.

Protesters also decry what they say is the company’s disregard for the land rights of the Indigenous people, and the wide open-pit and abandoned untillable farmlands that they consider a permanent scarring of their natural landscape.

A history of resistance

Since the 1990s, Indigenous peoples in Didipio have resisted attempts to mine their lands.

The area was originally settled by the Indigenous Bugkalot, but was later occupied through peaceful agreements by the Tuwali and Ayangan of Ifugao province and the Kalanguya and Ibaloy of Benguet in the 1950s. This means that although they belong to recognized Indigenous communities, the residents are not regarded as ancestral domain holders. This precludes them from asserting the need for a free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) process under the Philippine Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.

With a semitemperate weather, Didipio was an ideal place for rice and vegetable agriculture because of the abundance of water coming from numerous springs and creeks from the forest, Ananayo says.

The Dinauyan and Surong rivers, which cut across the village, were not only abundant with fish but also nuggets of gold, which locals traditionally pan, Ananayo recalls. “After tending our farms, we would go pan for gold which we sell to buy other necessities.”

But in the early 2000s, OceanaGold pushed through with its operation, despite resistance from the community and the municipal and provincial government. To begin excavating its open-pit mine, OceanaGold demolished at least 187 houses in June 2008. According to a 2011 report by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR), a constitutionally mandated body, this demolition was violent and was carried out without the legally required permits or relocation and compensation agreements. The evictions, the commission said, also amounted to a violation of the Indigenous community’s right to “manifest their culture and identity.”

“Some people were still cooking breakfast while others were still sleeping when Oceana [OceanaGold] bulldozed their houses,” recalls Myrna Duyan, also a resident of Didipio. Company security officers even shot a man for trying to save his neighbor’s house, she says.

With a semitemperate weather, Didipio was an ideal place for rice and vegetable agriculture because of the abundance of water coming from numerous springs and creeks from the Kasibu forest. Image courtesy of Karlston Lapniten.
OceanaGold’s mine in Didipio, Philippines. Image courtesy of Karlston Lapniten.

Following its investigation, the CHR recommended the government “consider the probable withdrawal” of OceanaGold’s FTAA due to gross violations of human rights related to the 2008 demolition. But no official action was taken.

Instead, by 2013 OceanaGold had completely demolished Dinkidi Hill, inverting it into a vast open-pit mine. Since then, Duyan says, the water systems across Didipio started to recede significantly.

As of October 2021, Duyan says that at least a dozen water pumps and springs have dried up in the community immediately surrounding the mine, forcing residents to travel at least a mile (1.6 kilometers) to fetch water for household use.

Other residents have given up tracts of farmland, as there is not enough irrigation to sustain crops. Duyan says her own father was forced to abandon their farm in Upper Bakbakan, a district in Didipio, when water became totally scarce in 2017.

The area where the water is drying up is part of the headwaters of the Addalam River, a major tributary of the Cagayan River, the longest in the Philippines. The Addalam irrigates rice paddies in downstream Isabela and Cagayan provinces, known as the rice-producing heartland of the northern Philippines.

The proximity of the mine to the community is also worrisome, since the center of the open pit is just 1 km (0.6 mi) from the edge of the community. When OceanaGold conducts rock blasting underground, the earth trembles as if an earthquake happened, Ananayo says.

Cracks can be seen in the walls and floors of many houses, as well as the community school, which the villagers attribute to the blasting.

“With their continuing operations, this will surely worsen. Nearby communities should also expect losing their waters,” Ananayo says.

Gold panners have also been stopped from panning in their traditional spots, Duyan says. Even those far downstream of the mine have had to stop after experiencing skin irritation from the river water, a phenomenon they attribute to the chemicals seeping from OceanaGold’s tailings dam.

At one time, Ananayo says, the company hired a “military man” who destroyed the residents’ sluice boxes along the river and threatened to hurt those who planned to resume panning.

“They accuse us of stealing from them by panning, but this is our land! How can we steal something we own?” Ananayo says.

OceanaGold did not grant Mongabay’s request for an interview, and instead directed Mongabay via email to visit its website “for more information.”

Residents forming a human barricade along the road, 2019. Image courtesy of Kalikasan PNE.

People’s barricades

Following the expiration of OceanaGold’s FTAA in June 2019, residents of Didipio set up “people’s barricades” along the gravel roads leading to both of the mine site’s entrances, halting the entry of OceanaGold’s fuel tankers and service vehicles.

Ananayo says they resorted to such means after numerous petitions and letters asking government agencies and national officials to intervene resulted in nothing. (The regional office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which is responsible for regulating mining, did not respond to Mongabay’s request for comments.)

The opposition became even more emboldened with Nueva Vizcaya Governor Carlos Padilla’s vocal support: “[OceanaGold] no longer have the right to operate,” Padilla told local media in July 2019. “If they have no right to the land, then they have no right to continue enriching themselves from the land.”

Ananayo says the barricades have been the site of altercations between villagers and workers trying to bring in fuel and other materials for the mine’s operations. Violence escalated on April 6, 2020, when three oil tankers escorted by at least 100 policemen forced their way into the mine site from the northeast road.

Residents immediately gathered to form a human barricade along the road. Some sat down, others lay down on the gravel road, and others still tried to go under the tanker trucks. But the police, armed with riot shields and sticks, beat the protesters and shoved them to the side of the road. Witnesses said other policemen stood guard with their heavy rifles.

Duyan was struck on her foot, resulting in the loss of her toenails, while Ananayo was hit in the face. Rolando Pulido, at the time the chair of DESAMA, was stripped down to his underwear, beaten, and detained overnight at the police station.

Trauma from the event has led other residents to “lie low” for fear of an even greater impunity, Duyan says. But she says she remains undeterred. “Of course, we fear for our lives, but we will not let it conquer us. God is watching over us.”

An abandoned barricade post in Didipio. Image courtesy of Karlston Lapniten.
In April 2020, while the mine’s permit was suspended, police dispersed protesters and escorted a convoy of oil tankers to the mining site. Image courtesy of Karlston Lapniten.

Pandemic restrictions

With the rise in the number of coronavirus cases in the Philippines this year, protesters abandoned their barricade posts in compliance with local health protocols and regulations. They even avoided holding physical meetings to avoid the risk of local transmission, Duyan says.

It was during this period, when lockdowns and economic distress hampered the community’s ability to organize, that OceanaGold’s contract was renewed. “We are already suffering a lot from the effects of COVID and they included yet another burden on top,” Duyan says.

Duyan says OceanaGold has taken advantage of the restrictions imposed by the government to curb the pandemic. With no hindrance, its vehicles can now freely go in and out of the mine site, Duyan says. Hundreds of people from outside Didipio also frequently enter the community to apply for jobs after the company posted announcements for job openings. “Now we also have health security issues, since each of those people could be carriers of COVID,” Duyan says.

COVID-19 restrictions have also halted consultations and visits from NGOs and advocacy groups who are helping the community in their struggle against the mine. Ananayo says the community relies heavily on organizations like the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center and Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance to Stop Mining) to provide pro bono assistance in legal actions and in understanding court and administrative processes.

“We’ve lost hope on government agencies because we have not seen them advocate our cause,” Ananayo says.

Information relayed to DESAMA by sympathetic OceanaGold employees indicates that the company will resume operations in December. This October, Duyan says, seven passenger vans loaded with blasting materials were seen entering the well-guarded mine compound.

With COVID-19 restrictions keeping the residents from going out to protest, OceanaGold’s vehicles now freely go in and out of the mine site. Image courtesy of Karlston Lapniten.

Call for help

With general elections coming up in May 2022, Duyan says the stance of politicians on large-scale mining will decide whom they will campaign and vote for.

“We will use this election to vote officials who truly champion our cause and will help us stop Oceana’s operations,” she says.

Following the inaction of the government in response to the illegal demolition of houses in 2008 and the violent dispersal of protesters in April 2020, Ananayo says protesting residents feel that even state forces and government agencies have become instruments to further oppress them. OceanaGold, Ananyo adds, has become well-versed in burnishing its image outside Didipio, with many local news outlets portraying the company as a responsible miner.

Ananayo says the community needs any help they can muster, even from outside the country.  “I hope people will notice our voices here in Didipio,” he says. “We settled here peacefully long before mining prospectors came. We will fight for our lands.”

Banner image: Eduardo Ananayo, leader of Didipio Earth Savers Multi-Purpose Association (DESAMA). Image courtesy of Karlston Lapniten.

Popular opposition halts a bridge project in a Philippine coral haven

Popular opposition halts a bridge project in a Philippine coral haven

  • The Philippine government has suspended work on a bridge that would connect the islands of Coron and Culion in the coral rich region of Palawan.
  • Activists, Indigenous groups and marine experts say the project would threaten the rich coral biodiversity in the area as well as the historical shipwrecks that have made the area a prime dive site.
  • The Indigenous Tagbanua community, who successfully fought against an earlier project to build a theme park, say they were not consulted about the bridge project.
  • Preliminary construction began in November 2020 despite a lack of government-required consultations and permits, and was ordered suspended in April this year following the public outcry.

This article originally appeared on Mongabay.

Featured image: The Indigenous Tagbanua community of Culion has slammed the project for failing to obtain their permission that’s required under Philippine law. Image by anne jimenez via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

by Keith Anthony S. Fabro

PALAWAN, Philippines — Nicole Tayag, 30, learned to snorkel at 5 when her father took her to the teeming waters of Coron to scout for potential tourist destinations back in 1995. One particularly biodiverse site they found was the Lusong coral garden, southwest of this island town in the Philippines’ Palawan province.

“Even just at the surface, I saw how lively the place was,” Tayag told Mongabay. “We drove our boat for so many times that I remember the passage as one of the places I see dolphins jumping and rays flying up the water. It has inspired me to see more underwater, which led me to my career as a scuba diver instructor now.”

Tayag said she holds a special place in her heart for Lusong coral garden. So when she heard that a government-funded bridge would be built through it, she said was concerned about its impact on the marine environment and tourism industry. Before the pandemic, the 644-hectare (1,591-acre) Bintuan marine protected area (MPA), which covers this dive site, received an average of 3,000 tourists weekly, generating up to 259 million pesos ($5.4 million) in annual revenue. Bintuan is one of the MPAs in the Philippines considered by experts as being managed effectively.

The planned 4.2 billion peso ($88.6 million) road from Coron to the island of Culion would run just over 20 kilometers (12.5 miles), of which only about an eighth would constitute the actual bridge span, according to a government document obtained by Mongabay.

Tayag said they’ve been hearing about the project for 20 years now. “[I] didn’t give much thought about it before, really.” Then, in March this year, Mark Villar, secretary of the Philippine Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), posted the project’s conceptual design on his Facebook page.

Tayag said she was shocked that the project was finally going through. “I was even more shocked when I realized it’s so close to historical dive sites and to coral garden,” she said.

Part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program, construction of the Coron-Culion bridge was scheduled from 2020 to 2023. By November 2020, site clearing had already started in the area designated for the bridge’s access road. But on April 7 this year, the Philippine government announced it was suspending the project to ensure mitigating measures for its environmental impact are in place. This follows a public outcry from academics, civil society groups and nonprofit organizations that say the project is fraught with risks and irregularities.

“Without the concerned citizens and organizations who raised the alarm bell in this project, this would have gone in the way of so many so-called infrastructure projects, which are disregarding our sacred rights to a balanced and healthful ecology,” said Gloria Ramos, head of the NGO Oceana Philippines.

Cultural heritage collapse

Tayag is part of a group, Buklod Calamianes, that initiated an online petition seeking to stop the project. They warned of the damage that the bridge construction could pose to the marine environment, as it would sit within a 5-km (3-mi) radius of seven of the top underwater attractions in Coron and Culion. In addition to the Lusong coral garden, these dive sites include six Japanese shipwrecks from World War II.

“Heavy sedimentation from the construction will settle upon these fragile shipwrecks and potentially cause the collapse of these precious historical underwater sites,” said the petition, which has been signed by more than 19,000 people.

Palawan Studies Center executive director Michael Angelo Doblado said the shipwrecks need to be protected because they’re historically significant heritage sites of local and global importance. “These are evidence that important battles between the American and Japanese air and sea forces happened there.”

Doblado, who is also a professor of history at Palawan State University, said the occurrence of these shipwrecks also highlights that the Calamianes island group that includes Coron and Culion was important for the Japanese forces, whose weapons and other equipment relied on Coron as a source of manganese.

“For these wrecks and its local importance to Coron and its people, that would be left to them to decide,” he told Mongabay. “Is it really important for them historically as a municipality that they will be willing to preserve and protect it? Or will they be willing to sacrifice and give it up as a price for development?

“It also begs the question, if tourism is one of the major earners of Coron, and the proposed bridge … will boost its tourism, is it not ironic that the shipwrecks … will be directly affected by this infrastructure project that is supposed to boost tourism?”

The government had touted the bridge as improving connectivity between the islands to boost the tourism and agriculture sectors, among other benefits. But if it really wants to help the local tourism sector, Doblado said, the government “should have carried out a construction plan that skirts or avoids destroying or affecting these shipwrecks which are famous dive sites and considered as artificial reefs that promote aquatic growth and diversity in that area.”

This would swell the construction cost, he said, but would be vital to saving not only the historical underwater ruins but the marine environment and tourism industry in the long run.

Impact on marine ecosystems

The Philippines has around 25,000 square kilometers (9,700 square miles) of coral reefs, the world’s third-largest extent, and its waters are known for the highest biodiversity of corals and shore fishes, a 2019 study noted. However, the same study showed that the country, located at the apex of the Pacific Coral Triangle, lost about a third of its reef corals over the past decade, and none of the reefs surveyed were in a condition that qualified as “excellent.”

The bridge project added to concerns about the loss of hard-coral cover. Tayag’s group estimated that it would affect 334 hectares (825 acres) of corals, as well as 140 hectares (346 acres) of mangroves. It said the heavy sedimentation, runoff and silt from the construction could cloud the water, blocking the sunlight that’s essential for the growth of the algae that, in turn, nourish the corals.

Coral expert Wilfredo Licuanan from De La Salle University in Manila told Mongabay that the corals and the abundance of sea life they support are quite sensitive to water quality change due to sedimentation. “If you have sediments … their feeding structures are clogged, light penetration is hindered … and then there’s general smothering of life on the sea bottom.”

When corals are undernourished, he said, it can prevent the calcium carbonate accumulation that constitutes reef growth and that takes tens of thousands of years. “If the corals are not able to produce enough calcium carbonate, your reef is not able to continue to grow and … will start eroding,” Licuanan said.

Once that happens, the reefs will not be able to keep up with climate change-induced sea level rise, and will cease to protect the coastlines from big waves and to serve as habitat for many other species, including those that feed fishing communities. “So, all the ecosystem services of coral reefs are dependent on the position of calcium carbonate skeleton,” Licuanan said.

“Any construction activity, be it road building, resort construction, anything of that sort requires that you move earth,” Licuanan said. “You dig, you relocate soil, and so on. And almost always, that means a lot of the soil gets mobilized and is brought to the sea, causing sedimentation.”

That impact to the reef ecosystem will reverberate up to the residents who depend on it for their livelihoods, said Miguel Fortes, a marine scientist and professor at the University of the Philippines. “If you destroy one, you’re actually destroying the other,” he said in an Oceana online forum.

Fortes said it takes about 35 years for damaged coral reefs to recover. That compares to about 25 years for mangroves and a year for seagrass, both of which are useful in mitigating climate change, he said. In Coron and Culion, these ecosystems provide estimated annual economic benefits of 3.7 billion pesos ($77.2 million), on top of the 4.1 billion pesos ($85.2 million) generated by the islands’ recreation zones.

Coron Bay’s fisheries production is an important spawning and nursery ground, said Jomel Baobao, a fisheries management specialist with the nonprofit Path Foundation Inc., one of the partner implementers of the USAID Fish Right project. The five communities adjacent to the bridge project alone stand to benefit from a total estimated yield of 89 million pesos ($1.8 million) annually.

“A USAID-funded larval dispersal study showed that Bintuan area is the sink for larvae that come from different sources, making it a rich nursery ground,” Baobao told Mongabay. He added that Coron Bay serves to funnel larvae from the Sulu Sea and West Philippine Sea, and any disruption to that flow could affect fishing yields in Bintuan and other areas.

“The narrowest portion in the bay located in Bintuan where the bridge will be constructed is significant to water exchange between these two seas,” Baobao said. This might be affected if there will be ecosystem loss or destruction in the area because of the bridge.”

The area’s reefs are home to economically important species such as red grouper, lobster and round scad, as well as giant clams, according to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. Among the coral species that flourish around the Calamianes island group are two endangered ones: Pectinia maxima and Anacropora spinosaIn the Philippines, the latter is found only in the Calamianes.

No green permits

Preliminary tree cutting and clearing of the road leading to the bridge entrance reportedly began in November 2020, raising fears that it could trigger siltation that could jeopardize the marine park.

In a 2020 paper, Licuanan said that management actions, such as enhanced regulation of road construction on slopes leading to the sea and rivers that open into the sea, and consequent limitations on government infrastructure programs that impinge on these critical areas, are crucial in conserving the country’s remaining coral reefs.

“Road building practices locally are particularly destructive because they [the DPWH and private contractors] rarely prioritize soil conservation,” he told Mongabay.

But despite the recent activity, the project has not received the green light from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD), a provincial government agency. PCSD spokesman John Vincent Fabello told Mongabay that no strategic environmental plan (SEP) clearance has been issued to the DPWH for the project. The clearance would essentially guarantee that the high-impact project is located outside ecologically critical zones like marine parks.

“They [DPWH] don’t have an SEP clearance yet,” Fabello said. “Government big-ticket projects still have to [go] through the SEP clearance system of the PCSD. Administrative fines shall be imposed if building commences without the necessary clearance and permits from PCSD and related agencies.”

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said it will also require the DPWH to undertake an environmental impact assessment to obtain an environmental compliance certificate and tree cutting permit for the project. “Government projects will still go through the permitting; you have to follow the process … but it will be faster,” said DENR regional director Maria Lourdes Ferrer.

The DPWH confirmed it had not undertaken the required public consultations, feasibility study, or permit applications prior to the start of construction activities. DPWH regional director Yolanda Tangco said they fast-tracked the construction work because the initial 250 million pesos ($5.2 million) in project funding released to the agency in 2020 would have to be returned to the treasury if it was not spent within two years.

Fortes said this reasoning is unacceptable because projects should not only be politically expedient but also based on scientific evidence and actual user needs.

“To me, this means money still supersedes more vital imperatives [such as] cultural and ecological,” he said. “Poor planning is evident here because it entails huge sacrifices.”

Tangco said her office expects to receive additional construction funding for 2021 to 2023 from the national government. “But if we have decided not to continue it, we will remove it [in our proposal]. Most probably, we will revert the funding and terminate the contract,” she said.

She added that in the feasibility study expected to be completed in July 2021, the public works office is considering two more route options: “Our alignment isn’t fixed. If we can find an alignment with lesser impacts to the environment and Indigenous people, we will pursue that and issue variation and change orders [to the contractor].”

Indigenous communities fight back

The Indigenous Tagbanua community of Culion has slammed the project for failing to obtain their permission through a process of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), required under Philippine law.

“We don’t want that bridge here because we fear that it will affect many — our seas, our livelihoods, our lands we inherited from our ancestors,” Indigenous federation chairman Larry Sinamay, who organized a rally on April 5, told Mongabay. “Where would we get our food when our place is destroyed by this project?”

“The social and sacred value of this traditional space to the Tagbanua should be respected by every member of the community, even us outsiders, tourists and developers,” said Kate Lim, an archaeologist who has conducted studies in the region. “The concept of ancestral domain is that it’s communal and utilized by everyone and not just by one sector only.”

In a letter dated March 31, the federation of 24 Tagbanua communities appealed to the national government to halt the project’s preliminary construction activities, pending impact assessments.

“If we receive no response to our plea, we will be forced to seek legal remedies to fight for our Indigenous rights provided under the Philippine Constitution, Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, and other laws related to environment and natural resources,” the federation said at the time.

The Tagbanuas have experience standing up to projects they see as imperiling their environment and culture. In 2017, they banded together to stop a proposed Nickelodeon theme park, which also lacked the necessary scientific studies, consultations and permits.

“Even if we are battling a pandemic, we can’t forget that our battle to protect Palawan’s natural resources must go on,” said Anna Oposa, executive director of Save Philippine Seas, who joined the Tagbanuas in fighting the Nickelodeon project. “The Tagbanua IPs have the experience and power to block or at the very least significantly delay this potentially destructive project and come to a consensus with other stakeholders.”

While the public pressure has prompted the government to suspend the project, the community says it isn’t dropping its guard.

“In a time of pandemic and lockdowns, projects are easily sneaked in and started out of the public’s eye who are confined in their homes,” Tayag said.

“We are closely monitoring these bateltelan [hard-headed] officials. We trust that the government offices looking into this project will do what is right and not just focus on its ‘good intention.’”


Licuanan, W. Y., Robles, R., & Reyes, M. (2019). Status and recent trends in coral reefs of the Philippines. Marine Pollution Bulletin142, 544-550. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2019.04.013

Licuanan, W. Y. (2020). Current management, conservation, and research imperatives for Philippine coral reefs. Philippine Journal of Science149(3), ix-xii. Retrieved from

The River Will Bleed Red: Indigenous Filipinos Face Down Dam Projects

The River Will Bleed Red: Indigenous Filipinos Face Down Dam Projects

Editor’s note: DGR stands in strong solidarity with indigenous peoples worldwide. We acknowledge that they are victims of the largest genocide in human history, which is ongoing. Wherever indigenous cultures have not been completely destroyed or assimilated, they stand as relentless defenders of the landbases and natural communities which are there ancestral homes. They also provide living proof that not humans as a species are inherently destructive, but the societal structure based on large scale monoculture, endless energy consumption, accumulation of wealth and power for a few elites, human supremacy and patriarchy we call civilization.

  • For more than five decades, Indigenous communities in the northern Philippines have pushed back against the planned construction of hydropower dams on the Chico River system.
  • The river is of great importance to Indigenous communities in the provinces of Kalinga and Mountain Province, who call it their “river of life” and have depended on it for generations.
  • The Upper Tabuk and Karayan dams have been proposed in some form or another since the 1970s, but are now backed by corporations created by Indigenous groups, causing divisions among communities.
  • Critics of the dams have questioned the Indigenous consent process, a requirement for a project on tribal lands, alleging that some of the community support was obtained through bribery.

by Karlston Lapniten on 26 February 2021

KALINGA, Philippines — On Nov. 12, 2020, Typhoon Vamco cut across the northern Philippines, flooding more than 60 cities and towns in the Cagayan Valley. Millions of dollars’ worth of property and crops were damaged.

Considered the worst flooding to hit the region in almost half a century, Vamco’s impact on communities was largely attributed to waters released from the Magat dam, one of the largest in the Philippines. The dam sits on the Magat River, a tributary of the Cagayan River, about 350 kilometers (220 miles) northeast of Manila.

In just 11 hours, the dam discharged more than 265 million cubic meters (70 billion gallons) of water — almost a third of the reservoir’s capacity, and enough to fill nearly 110,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The disaster has rekindled criticism of dam-building in the region, including by longtime opponents of two proposed hydropower projects on another tributary of the Cagayan, the Chico River.

“The Cagayan flooding verified one of the many reasons why we maintain our opposition to damming any part of Chico River,” says Danny Bangibang, a leader of the Indigenous communities of Kalinga province, where the rivers are located. “We will not wait for the same disaster to happen in our own soil.” In his leadership role, Bangibang is entrusted with mediating talks among Indigenous communities and facilitating interaction with government agencies.

The two planned hydropower plants, the Upper Tabuk dam and the Karayan dam, are both set to be built on ancestral domain lands. Their developers have touted them as being pivotal to providing cheaper electricity and a consistent supply of water for irrigating upland farms. Some Indigenous groups and activists, however, have opposed the projects since 2008, questioning the exclusion of downstream Indigenous communities from the consultations, and alleging bribery and sweetheart deals surrounding the consent process.

River of life

The Chico River runs 175 km (280 mi) through Mountain Province and Kalinga provinces before merging into the Cagayan River. The Chico and its 12 main tributaries are the lifeblood of Indigenous communities in the Cordillera region of the northern Philippines, providing a bounty of fresh water for drinking and for irrigation. Its watershed is also home to a wealth of wild flora and fauna;28 species of wildlife found here are endemic.

“Similar to other civilizations around the world, communities and culture developed adjacent to the river,” Dominique Sugguiyao, Kalinga’s Environment and Natural Resources Officer (ENRO), tells Mongabay. “People refer to Chico as the ‘river of life’ because it is rightly so. Our ancestors drew living from it and we continue to do so.”

“Indigenous people have always been the stewards of land, including rivers from which they draw a valuable symbiotic relationship,” says Michael Sugguiyao, Dominique’s brother and the Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative (IPMR) to the provincial legislature of Kalinga.

Indigenous peoples have maintained their traditional knowledge systems, passed down from one generation to another, that prescribe the preservation and maintenance of the forests, he says. In those practices, forests are protected because they sustain the rivers with waters, which in turn, sustain the communities with food and livelihood — an unbroken cycle even in the 21st century, Michael Sugguiyao adds.

Any venture that disturbs or hampers the natural flow of the river will have an immense and profound negative effect on this ecology and the people who depend on it, Dominique Sugguiyao says.

Analyses of the environmental impacts of the Karayan dam submitted to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) show that earthmoving activities during construction could increase water turbidity, which could decrease algae diversity. This would reduce the abundance of zooplankton, which feed primarily on algae, sending a ripple effect through the aquatic food chain. The natural migration and movement of freshwater species will also be impeded, and installing fish ladders is not a solution that will work for all aquatic species, Dominique Sugguiyao says.

Overall, the interconnectedness of biological communities will be disrupted and the productivity of the river system will be reduced, the analysis concluded.

The river is also a source of aggregate (sand and gravel) that today fuels a multi-million-peso industry in Tabuk, the Kalinga provincial capital, supplying construction projects across the province and in adjacent towns. Dams would also halt the flow of aggregate, destroying the livelihoods that depend on it. “The same [analysis] is applicable if the Upper Tabuk Dam will be constructed,” says Bangibang, the Indigenous leader. “Imagine the extent of the damage if both dams will [be] push[ed] though?”

The analysis of the effects of the Karayan dam applies to the Upper Tabuk dam, and could spell greater damage if both are constructed, he said.

Upper Tabuk dam: Dividing communities

The proposed Upper Tabuk dam would feed a 17-20-megawatt hydroelectric generator from a reservoir of about 5 million m3 (1.3 billion gallons) on the Tanudan River, one of the main tributaries of the Chico. It’s also expected to provide year-round irrigation for the rice terraces and fields in Kalinga, potentially doubling rice production in the “rice granary” of this mountainous part of the northern Philippines.

The dam would be built in the village of Dupag village, which lies within the officially recognized ancestral territory of the Naneng people. In 2009, members of the Minanga, then a sub-tribe of the Naneng, formed an Indigenous-owned corporation, Kalinga Hydropower Inc. (KHI), to back the construction of the Upper Tabuk dam at an estimated cost of 2 billion pesos (about $40 million at the exchange rate at that time).

KHI partnered with DPJ Engineers and Consultancy (DPJ), owned by Daniel Peckley Jr., a civil engineer who specializes in hydro projects and whose firm operates the 1 MW Bulanao hydropower plant, also in Kalinga.

Despite scattered protests, the project obtained the necessary permits from government agencies. By 2011, it was only lacking major investors to begin construction.

In April 2012, the opposition unified, with more than a hundred tribal leaders from 18 affected villages petitioning the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to cancel the permits.

They accused KHI and DPJ of downplaying the scale of the proposed dam by painting it as “a small hydropower development,” and said that the size of its water reservoir puts it in the category of a large dam under the standards set by the International Commission on Large Dams and the World Commission on Dams.

Mongabay made multiple attempts to contact Peckley by email and by sending a representative to his office but did not receive a response by the time this article was published.

Two months after the petition, the NCIP cancelled the certificates it had issued for the project. Five years later, in 2017, DPJ revived its proposal and reapplied for free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), a legally mandated process for projects with the potential to affect Indigenous peoples and their territories.

The following year, the NCIP identified five tribes, including the Minanga and the Naneng, as the only Indigenous groups who would be impacted by the project and thus who should be consulted for the FPIC.

In response, more than a thousand people from different tribes along the Chico River submitted their own petition against the Upper Tabuk dam, denouncing the potential impact on downstream Indigenous communities. These downstream groups say all tribes whose ancestral domains are connected to the flow of the Chico and the Tanudan should be included in the consultations.

“What is done upstream will affect the river flow in the downstream communities,” Bangibang says. “It is common sense that they too … should be consulted.” He also called into question the validity of the company’s original 2008 feasibility study, saying it skipped an FPIC process that should have been carried out before the study was conducted.

The hardships of agricultural life, however, have persuaded many in these farming communities to support the dam project and its promised benefits, undermining opposition to the dam, says Andres Wailan, an elder and bodong (peace treaty and alliance) holder of the Malbong tribe.

In 2019, three Indigenous communities, including the Minanga and Naneng, consented to the dam project, leaving two other communities opposed to it: the Talloctoc and Malbong. Leaders of the consenting tribes said in a November 2019 community hearing that they were won over by the promise of jobs, infrastructure and a share of tax revenue.

“We cannot blame the people [who consented] but we cannot also just let them make bad decisions,” Wailan tells Mongabay.

Within affected communities, the split has caused tensions, including among members of the same families, straining the strong kinship ties of the Indigenous peoples, says Naneng leader Jerry Bula-at, a member of the Timpuyog ti Mannalon ti Kalinga (Federation of Farmers in Kalinga), or TMK, a progressive group advocating for farmers’ and Indigenous people’s rights.

Within his own family, some members are in favor of the Upper Tabuk dam because of the promised access to better irrigation and farming development, he says. Similar rifts have appeared in downstream communities.

“If a project causes division among Indigenous communities, it should be enough grounds for the NCIP to stop the project,” Bula-at says.

The NCIP did not respond to Mongabay’s request for comment. But in a memo to its Kalinga office, dated Jan. 11, 2021, a copy of which Mongabay has seen, the NCIP regional office said the issues and concerns regarding the Upper Tabuk dam need to be settled first and “a common and united stance” among affected Indigenous communities must be achieved before the developer’s FPIC application can proceed.

Bula-at says Peckley should back out of the project knowing it has brought, and continues to bring, tension and division to Indigenous groups. “He claims that he is one of us but he does not act like one,” Bula-at says. “Indigenous peoples know that values and preservation of healthy kinship stand above monetary gains.”

Karayan dam: Wine and dine and bribes

A few kilometers from the proposed site of the Upper Tabuk dam, a larger project, estimated to cost 5.18 billion pesos ($104 million), has stalled due to violent opposition. The 52-MW run-of-the-river hydropower project is a venture by the Karayan Hydropower Corporation (KHC), which is, in turn, a joint operation of San Lorenzo Ruiz Builders and Developers Group, Inc., and the Union Energy Corporation.

Known as the Karayan dam, it would be built on the Chico River itself, in the village of Lucog, according to DENR documents obtained by Mongabay. Its 14-million-m3 (3.7-billion-gallon) reservoir would displace five communities. DENR identifies the project as “environmental critical,” meaning it has “high potential significant negative impact.”

Like the Upper Tabuk dam, the Karayan dam faced immediate opposition from Indigenous groups for its perceived impact on ancestral domain lands and the environment. It has also caused rifts within the community by “distorting information,” Bula-at says.

“They used the same deceptive tactics they used in gaining support for the Upper Tabuk dam,” he says. “They wined and dined people to manipulate them and sow disunity as a means to divide and conquer.”

Instead of directly talking to affected households, Bula-at says, developer KHC talked to residents whose properties fall outside the proposed project site, promising financial benefits and creating disputes with family members whose own properties lie within the area that would be submerged. Residents speaking to Mongabay on condition of anonymity say KHC gave out cash and gadgets, promising even bigger rewards if they agreed to the dam’s construction.

KHC did not respond to Mongabay’s requests for comment.

Ultimately,  most of the tribe’s voting members gave their consent to the project. In response, Bula-at and 88 other elders and members of affected communities filed another formal objection with the NCIP.

Since then, tensions have risen in the communities, while engineering surveys and community engagement efforts by non-tribe members have been met with resistance and hostility. (During a visit, this reporter was apparently mistaken for a company representative; residents threw stones and even chased him with a machete.)

Large signs reading “No to Karayan dam” and “Our lands are not for sale” have been painted on the roadside retaining walls and large boulders in the affected areas. In 2017, more than 300 people attended a protest in Tabuk, led by community members, local clergy, and Indigenous organizations like the TMK.

Throughout that year, the Indigenous groups maintained their staunch opposition and disdain for KHC and its employees. Residents showed up at consultation meetings but refused to sign the attendance sheets and disrupted KHC’s efforts to present its materials on the Karayan project.

The tensions dragged on until July 2018, when the NCIP suspended the FPIC process. It justified its decision on findings of technical violations committed by KHC and allegations that the developer had paid some of the community members.

A roadside retaining wall vandalized with anti-dam messages. Image by Karlston Lapniten for Mongabay

Elders and officials from three villages said they met with a group of ostensibly new developers in January 2019 in an attempt to revive the consent process. But their efforts were rebuffed by residents.

On February 2020, a retaining wall along Naneng village was graffitied: “Don’t force me squeeze the trigger of my gun to speak the language of death. No to dam.” Another read, “No trespassing. No to survey. Chapter 45, Verse M16, M14, R4 to M79” — an allusion to the use of firearms. Residents won’t say who was responsible for the graffiti. A few days later, it was covered over in paint and mud.

‘The question is life’

Today’s opposition to the two proposed dams in Kalinga mirrors a similar resistance in the 1970s, when Indigenous communities joined forces to wage a decade-long struggle against the Chico River Basin Development Project (CRBDP).

A pet project of strongman Ferdinand Marcos while the country was under martial law, the CRDBP called for the construction of four massive hydroelectric dams that would have been the largest dam system in Asia at the time. Two of the dams would have been in Mountain Province, and two in Kalinga. The project’s sheer scale would have submerged Indigenous communities in eight towns, impacting around 300,000 people.

When their efforts to secure an audience with officials in Manila failed, the Indigenous groups resorted to civil disobedience, rolling boulders onto the roads to block construction workers and hurling their equipment into the Chico River.

Indigenous women played a particularly significant role in the campaign. In 1974, Bontoc women drove away survey teams in Mountain Province, while in Kalinga the women tore down the workers’ dormitory in Tabuk four times. They used nothing but their bare hands, says Kalinga elder Andres Ngao-i, who was in his teens back then. “It is taboo to hurt women, much more unarmed, in the Kalinga culture,” Ngao-I says. “It was a strategy. If it were men who dismantled the camps, there would have been bloodshed.”

Upriver in the town of Tinglayan, Indigenous women from other communities tore down construction camps twice. They also stripped down to the waist and displayed their tattooed torsos and arms in front of government personnel and armed guards, in an act known as lusay, which is believed to cast bad luck.

Other members of the affected communities took up arms as part of a community militia, while many joined the armed wing of the banned Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army (NPA).

The Marcos government responded to the opposition by sending in the military and declaring the area a “free-fire zone,” where security forces had carte blanche to shoot perceived “trespassers.” From 1977, cases of human rights abuses and killings racked up.

The assassination in April 1980 of Macli-ing Dulag, an outspoken pangat (village elder) of the Butbut people of Kalinga, by the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division while inside his home tipped the scales in favor of Indigenous groups.

“The question of the dam is more than political,” Dulag said in a prescient interview shortly before his death for a book authored by journalist Ma. Ceres Doyo. “The question is life — our Kalinga life. Apo Kabunian, the Lord of us all, gave us this land. It is sacred, nourished by our sweat. It shall become even more sacred when it is nourished by our blood.”

Just as he foresaw, Dulag’s death magnified the resistance and mobilized various sectors across the wider region. The violent struggle ended in 1986 with the CRDBP being abandoned. The whole experience forced the World Bank, which had financed the project, to revamp its operational guidelines for infrastructure projects that involve Indigenous peoples. It was also key to institutionalizing the FPIC process, which gave Indigenous groups legal control over their ancestral lands.

The World Bank released its revised global policy on Indigenous-affected projects in 1991 to include a wider definition of Indigenous peoples, encompassing those who have close attachments to their ancestral lands, and who are often susceptible to being disadvantaged in the development process.

But the war for control of the Chico River hadn’t ended. The specter of Marcos’s mega-dams resurfaced in 1987, when then-President Corazon Aquino issued an executive order opening up the electricity generation sector to private companies. The latter quickly moved in; today, there are three large hydropower dams operating inside the Cordillera region that includes Kalinga and Mountain Province, and at least five proposed dams.

The Chico river pump irrigation system, the first infrastructure project in the Philippines that is funded by a loan from China, is set to irrigate 8,700 hectares of farmlands. Image by Karlston Lapniten for Mongabay

For Andres Wailan, the Malbong elder and veteran of the campaign against the Marcos-era dams, the current efforts to build support for the new dams rely on tactics that are all too familiar.

He says the process reeks of manipulation and deception, and suggests that the NCIP, which is meant to protect the interests of Indigenous groups, is complicit in it. “There are prescribed processes and guidelines that these proponents need to conform to, but they do not,” he says. “And the government office who are supposed to check these seem to turn a blind eye.”

Danny Bangibang, the Taloctoc tribal elder, says social media is a new battlefront, used by proponents of the dams to sow disinformation and vilify critics. “Proponents pick science and expert opinions that favor them and present them as absolute truths,” he says. “When this fails, they simply resort to made-up information.”

“We [Indigenous peoples] live here before the concept of dams,” Wailan says. “We will decide what we want with our lands and this must be respected. We will keep on fighting to maintain the natural flow of the Chico, unimpeded by any means, just as our forebears had done. We are not afraid; if the river will bleed red like before, then so be it.”

This article was published on Mongabay on 26th February 2021, you can access the original here.

Featured image: Dam project description from the government homepage. Image courtesy of the National Irrigation Administration JRMP Project Stage II