Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 2, Number 26 August 4-10, 2002 Quezon City, Philippines
To Bury Pangasinan’s ‘Little Paradise’ This August
villagers and Ibaloi communities brace for the day when water impounding starts
at the controversial San Roque Dam project in remote and bucolic San Manuel,
Pangasinan. Bolangit, among other villages, will be buried under water this
month but bigger catastrophes loom as the project is being rushed on government
By Audrey Mary Beltran
BAGUIO CITY - Sitio Bolangit used to be Pangasinan province’s “little paradise” in the town of San Manuel north of Manila. It was inhabited by some 84 families who farmed the sub-village’s verdant and fertile valley while panning for gold along the historic Agno River.
Before this month ends, Bolangit will just be a memory.
August, the water impounding of the controversial San Roque Multi-Purpose Dam
Project (SRMPDP) will take place. This engineering activity is supposed to pave
the way for the operation of the dam which, on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s
orders, will begin next year. The impounding will submerge the whole of Bolangit
and nearby villages.
last July 30, the remaining 10 houses in Bolangit were demolished and burned by
personnel of the AB Garcia Construction Company on orders of the National Power
Corporation (NPC). The demolition was secured by Armed Forces soldiers armed
with M-16s and M-203s, latest reports said.
the demolition, 20 individuals from four families were evicted. Two families
self-relocated, one of them going as far away as Nueva Vizcaya. The other
household decided to stay "to defend their right to gold-panning" -
one of the main livelihood sources in the village. They built a shack that will
temporarily shelter them from strong rains and other elements.
men in the village have defied the ban against gold panning in the area and
continue to pan for gold in the Agno.
in Bolangit were knee-deep when the July 30 demolition was conducted. The
flooding was caused by water diversion from the Agno River courtesy of the
cofferdam built to block the river flow from the construction site.
July 30 demolition climaxed the NPC’s plan to force the villagers out of
Bolangit and other sitios. Last Dec. 2, accounts said, two houses were burned
and another last Feb. 1. Five troughs (gold panning equipment) were also burned
to prevent gold panning.
a visit to the area last March 21-22, members of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance
(CPA), the Tignayan ti Mannalon a Mangwayawaya ti Agno (TIMMAWA - Peasant
Alliance to Free the Agno) along with Japanese anti-dam advocates saw the
denuded state of Bolangit due to the clearing operations.
Tree stumps and dried branches remained what used to be full-grown trees.
and other neighboring sitios comprise the main site of the 1,600- hectare San
Roque Dam reservoir which extends to the southern foothills of Benguet province.
When inundated by the dam’s operation, the villages along with their
ricefields and gold-panning areas are expected to store some 850 million cubic
meters for power generation, irrigation and flood control. Some 530 million cubic meters are reserved for active storage
and flood control purposes. The
dead storage volume totals 320 million cubic meters. According to an SMPDP information kit, the total storage
volume of the reservoir is nearly one billion cubic meters.
used to be home to tenant farmers who grew three crops of rice a year and
harvested 30-50 cavans per household every cropping season.
They gave 1/2 to 2/3 of their produce to their landlords depending on who
shouldered the cost of production inputs.
no surplus rice to sell, the people turned to gold panning along the Agno River
for cash. During dry season, gold
production ranged from 2.0 to 3.0 grams per day.
When rains fell, production increased to 7.0 grams per panner each day.
One gram fetched P240- P280 in the market.
panning enabled the villagers to buy some of their basic needs, send their
children to school and access basic health services.
was hard but at least the people of Bolangit and other villages could eat three
meals a day. SMPDP changed all
years ago, NPC officials had residents of Bolangit and other villages relocated
to the Lagpan resettlement site. Small
sub-standard houses that were hastily built showed cracks on the walls on the
first days of their relocation, villagers said. To entice them to stay, those
who resettled were initially paid part of the compensation package promised by
other villagers defied the NPC orders and the ban on gold-panning especially
after learning that life was harsh at the resettlement site.
grievance would be heard from Juanita Carolino of Muging, a neighboring sitio of
Bolangit. She told members of a fact-finding mission last October 2000:
"We've had a hard life. But it was better when we lived on the riverside.
Whenever we ran out of rice, all we had to do was pan the river's waters
for gold. Here, we have to rely on
odd jobs for cash."
told the mission that NPC officials failed to deliver promises made to the
people in exchange for their relocation. Left with no more land to till and
banned from gold-panning, the villagers have no livelihood projects in order to
make ends meet.
promised employment but only a handful of those relocated were hired by the San
Roque Power Corporation (SRPC). It also took long for the people to be
compensated for the land and homes they had lost.
the displaced villagers particularly the gold panners continue to demand for
livelihood and compensation. Based
on the “Summary of Presentations and Demands of Affected Communities of the
San Roque Dam Project,” compensation should also take the form of an
agricultural land of the same size and regular employment should be given to
those who have lost their source of livelihood.
the June 22 dialogue, gold panners from the area reminded SRPC officials and
Renato Diaz, presidential assistant for Northern Luzon, that their demands for
compensation have not been met. Each
gold panner asked P171, 000 for income lost for the three years (1999-2001) that
they were banned from gold panning. They
also demanded that the ban on gold panning be scrapped.
the completion of the dam and other structures is being rushed for the
project’s operation next year. The operation of the dam will definitely push
through despite a recent report by Finance Secretary Isidro Camacho indicating
that the project contract is onerous.
there are dire predictions that the dam could bring an untold holocaust to the
villagers and nearby towns in Benguet and Pangasinan. In order to meet Mrs.
Macapagal-Arroyo’s deadline, the completion of the project has to be rushed
prompting its engineers and contractors to revise the design that could lead to
call to stop the SRMPDP continues and the immediate measures being asked of
government and of its private contractors is to stop the water impounding this
month. But government has made sure all plans won’t meet any more resistance
by deploying, according to reports, a battalion of troops in the area.
dam project, said CPA chair Joan Carling recently, will lead to the loss of
livelihood not just of the gold panners of Bolangit but of thousands of other
peasants and other people who are bound to lose their land and other property
with the “destructive environmental effects foreseen in the technical studies
conducted in the past."
the San Roque dam reservoir starts to be filled up with more silt than water,
Carling warned, its gates will have to be opened every time torrential rains
occur. Citing technical studies, probable maximum flood rate is 12,800 cubic
meters per second, she said.
least 1,250 square kilometers of land in Central Luzon will be inundated,” the
CPA chair added. “More than a million people will suffer."
of flood control, the dam will heighten the risk of "catastrophic flood
events," Carling said. Mismanagement of the dam's gates during emergency,
seismic activities and a major breach in the dam's structure may result in the
flooding of the entire Agno drainage area. The area includes more than half of
Pangasinan as well as parts of Tarlac and Nueva Ecija.
the upstream, the threat of siltation and flooding also looms. The technical
studies also reveal that waters of the dam reservoir will engulf not only gold
panning and fishing sites, pastures, orchards and ricefields but also the lands
and other livelihood resources of about 2,000 Ibaloy peasant families when
sediment-control check dams begin operating at several points along the Agno and
of food security and debt payment
have also been raised. Food
security will be brought to dangerous levels in Central Luzon due to the land
loss and floods. Debt payment, on
the other hand, will further burden the people due to the reportedly onerous
Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) between the NPC and SRPC signed last 1997. In a
statement, the Alyansa Dagiti Pesante iti taeng-Kordilyera
(Apit-Tako or Alliance of Peasants in the Cordillera Homeland), said
the agreement will increase electricity rates once the San Roque Dam is