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

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3 Dams to Rise in Denuded Negros

BACOLOD CITY - A big hydro-electric irrigation dam will soon be built in a sitio of Ilog town, Negros Occidental making thousands of farmers restless over reports that the project will inundate their villages and farmlands. But two more dams are set to be constructed elsewhere – one in Kabankalan and the other in Negros Oriental.

Bulatlat.com / Cobra-ans

What many farm communities in Ilog are particularly upset about is that the project will reportedly supply power and irrigation mainly for industrialist Eduardo Cojuangco Jr.’s big corporate plantations.

Reports said the construction of the dam in Ilog’s Sitio Cawas, Barangay Canlamay starts this month and will dislocate some 1,000 farmers households not to mention villages in downstream barangays and farmlands. Construction equipment have been brought to Cawas, signalling the start of the construction. The area has also been secured by the Philippine Army’s 61st IB.

Proposed by the Southern Negros Development Program (SNDP), the Cawas dam will be implemented by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) and officials of Barangays Canlamay, Magballo and Balicotoc, of Kabankalan, Ilog and Candoni towns. The Japan Bank of International Cooperation through the Asian Development Bank is financing the project with P300 million.

NIA’s project plan shows that the dam is 25-meter high (more or less 80 feet) and its site, when opened, will engulf some 150 hectares of prime agricultural lands being cultivated by the peasants for decades.

Waters for the reservoir will tap the Magballo River and its tributaries Bucay-Bucay, Mayod, Dinarangan, Dangan, Lawaan and Indakpan. Right now, the river system accounts for 90% of the total volume of water that irrigate the farms to be affected by the project.

Ilog, made famous by its river, was the biggest settlement during the Spanish era and used to be Negros island’s commercial and political center. The municipality comprises 15 barangays, four of them upland.

Canlamay and three other upland barangays are picturesque with rolling hills and steep ridges and riverbanks. Some areas are planted with fast-growing trees like Gemelina and Ipil-ipil. But aside from trees the valleys are largely planted to rice, corn and root crops. Before “Oplan Thunderbolt,” a military operation in the heart of Negros Occidental that displaced thousands of families in the 1980s, the people were self-sufficient. In 1991, the whole area was placed under government’s reforestation program called the Integrated Social Forestry Program sometimes.

Sitio Cawas is home to traditional small farmers with farm workers in the nearby sugarlands of Magballo, Canlamay and Balicotoc. Most farmers own an average of 4-5 hectares of rice and corn lands.

Anti-dam opposition

It is going to be a rough sailing for the dam proponents, however. Peasants and farm workers communities of Ilog and nearby towns have registered their opposition to the project given the fact that it will submerge their lands and, with it, their future. They resist it also because it will cause environmental destruction to the upland villages including, most especially, the downstream and lowland areas of Kabankalan and Ilog.

There are speculations among the townfolk that Cojuangco is behind the project to energize and irrigate his cassava and ilang-ilang plantation projects. And with reason: they also say that surveyors who have visited the project site are known to be working for the magnate and his local partymates, particularly the mayors of Ilog and Candoni. They also said that armed elements of the RPA-ABB have orders to protect the project.

In a recent investigative conference in Kabankalan City on ECJ Agribusiness Expansion in Negros, farmers and church groups, students and professionals lambasted Cojuangco’s “aggressive agribusiness expansion” in central and south Negros, reports of human rights violations of the RPA-ABB, and the LGUs’ alleged indifference to the peasants problems.

Conference participants also adopted a strong resolution opposing the Cawas dam project.

Majority of the farmers in Canlamay are organized under the Katilingban sg Magagmay nga Mangunguma sa Nabagatnan Negros (Association of Small Farmers in Southern Negros), a district-wide peasant federation affiliated with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Negros. A few are former members of a local association under the Integrated Social Forestry Program of the DENR.

Farmers also said that they were not consulted about the dam project at all. They only learned of the plan after a series of transit-surveying, mapping and photography by NIA personnel. Fears of eviction were heightened when some local residents were asked by unknown people about the status and market value of their lands and other property.

Only when people began to complain openly about the discreet operations of NIA that the latter was forced to hold a dialogue with the people and their mass organizations. The complaint, however, was that the villagers were asked to attend only to be told that the dam construction was set to be implemented and that there was nothing the people could do about it.

The villagers’ speculations about the benefit the dam will bring to Cojuangco’s agro-corporate projects have coincided with the rapid expansion of the contract-growing scheme of the San Miguel Corporation  (SMC) especially through the corn, cassava and commercial trees.

In Negros, it is a known fact that Cojuangco Jr., a former crony of Marcos and Estrada, has been rapidly expanding his agribusiness projects in southern Negros, with some 100,000 hectares of cassava plantations and at least 6,000 hectares coffee plantations. In barangays Pinggot and Canlamay, he has started to lay the ground for the 7,000 hectares of arable lands for Ilang-ilang, orchard and cassava plantations.

The local peasants and KMP, backed by the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Kabankalan and other church organizations, have held fact-finding missions, local dialogues, and media exposes. But they complained that the concerned LGU, NIA and the provincial government remained deaf to their complaints.

Reports note a climate of “terror” emerging in Ilog and nearby towns stemming from the presence of Army troops and the alleged collusion of RPA-ABB, a faction that bolted the New People’s Army.

Just the same, representatives of the project and local executives have denied the farmers’ charges, insisting that there should be no cause for alarm because the soldiers’ presence is meant to protect the people and expedite the construction of the dam. They also promised the villagers that the project will benefit them, irrigate their lands, raise their production and bring power to upland barangays.

Dismissing their claims, KMP-Negros said project proponents “do not weigh the heavy social cost like the resettlement and unemployment and environmental factors like siltation, flooding and loss of biodiversity and wildlife habitat.” 

More dams proposed

Meanwhile, the two governors of Negros recently announced the construction of two more hydro-power plants in the island in anticipation of a power shortage, projected to take place in three years.

The dams will be built in the mountain villages of Guihulngan, Tanjay and Bayawan in Negros Oriental while the other will rise at the mountain village of Carol-an in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental.

Expectedly, environmentalists and other militant organizations are not taking the new plans sitting down.

A Bayan press statement said that the construction of more power plants in Negros is not meant to lower the cost of power rate but to service the expanding needs of Cojuangco, mining companies, tourism projects,  real estates, and other big business in the region.

Environmentalists also warned that the construction of a geothermal power plant right in the heart of Mt. Kanlaon will not only destroy the remaining forest cover of the island but affect the Bago river system and its tributaries that serve as the main water supply for agricultural farms in the entire central Negros including the regional capital Bacolod City.

Local engineers and scientists, some of them members of the local chapter of Scientists and Technologists for the People (STEP), are also up in arms. One of them, Efren Fabella, a mining and geological engineer, said that “the big dams are not necessary in Negros given the rich and widespread riverbed systems of the island.”

Citing studies by the Center for Environmental Concerns, Fabella said that medium and big dams are not viable in mountainous areas of Negros not only because the island is already highly denuded and lacks water. Flashfloods are a common occurrence not only in lowlands, but also in mountain villages, he said.

“The dams will only aggravate all these,” the engineer said.

A French journalist who requested not to be named, recently arrived from China upon the invitation of a media-research organization here. He has expressed apprehensions over the proposed dam projects in Negros, especially that the proposed construction contractors are Chinese companies.

“I have covered the huge disasters caused by big dams in China,” he said. “The local government here must look into the China experience before considering any dam proposals by Chinese contractors. The track record of these companies must be investigated well.” Bulatlat.com/Cobra-Ans

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