(Updated Nov. 20, 2020; 10:08 a.m.) Calls to protect the Sierra Madre mountain range and suspend the construction of the Kaliwa Dam project were launched online after Typhoon Ulysses ravaged several parts of Luzon.
The Sierra Madre, also considered as the barrier or backbone of Luzon, is the longest mountain range in the Philippines that covers the northeast coast of Luzon.
It is also where 20 of the country’s protected areas and forests are located, including the La Mesa Watershed Reservation and the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscapes.
On the other hand, Kaliwa Dam project is a P12.2 billion China-funded project which is among the government’s priority projects as a long-term solution to Metro Manila’s water woes.
It is planned to be a medium-term water source for Metro Manila that will supplement Angat Dam in Bulacan.
Why Filipinos are pushing to preserve Sierra Madre
In a post on Facebook on November 19, environmental conservation group Random Act of Kindness (RAK) shared photos of the typhoon damage at the Tinipak River-Mt. Daraitan jump-off point in Rizal.
The landscape, especially the path, was nearly ruined with boulders of rocks everywhere.
“This is NOT the Tinipak River-Mt. Daraitan jump-off point that we know of,” the caption read.
The group also cited a quote from a resident named Ka Buro, saying: “Sa tagal ng panahon ko dito, 49 years, dito na ako sinilang, ngayon ko lang nakitang ganito ‘yong ilog.”
The advocates then noted the importance of protecting Sierra Madre amid the worsening climate crisis, citing the consequences of the Kaliwa Dam project.
“This could only be the beginning. As we continue to face climate crisis, we need the protection of Sierra Madre Mountain Range. However, residents of Daraitan fear that the illegal construction of Kaliwa Dam could further endanger their lives and destroy their homes when future typhoons, just like #UlyssesPH, hit Tanay, Rizal,” the post read.
“The opposed and illegal Kaliwa Dam would take up portions of Sierra Madre between Tanay and Infanta, Quezon, as well as claim ancestral lands of Dumagat-Remontado. #STOPKaliwaDam,” it added.
RAK also shared photos of the jump-off point before the typhoon arrived. The photos were taken in May 2020.
Masungi Georeserve, a private-led conservation area in Baras, Rizal, also called for the restoration of the Upper Marikina River Basin Protected Landscapes or the Upper Marikina Watershed, a 26,000-hectare protected area in Rizal. Its restoration will help prevent floodwaters from inundating surrounding communities.
“In this case, water from the Sierra Madre Mountains flows through areas such as Antipolo, Baras, General Nakar, Rodriguez, San Mateo, and Tanay, all the way down to rivers and waterways such as Pasig River, Marikina River, and Laguna de Bay. However, the continued destruction of the forest has affected the watershed’s natural ability to hold stormwater,” read the post on November 2.
Local artist Kevin Raymundo, also known as Tarantadong Kalbo, on November 13 also shared a comic strip depicting Sierra Madre’s importance during typhoons.
Online petitions resurfaced
There are two ongoing online petitions on Change.org addressed to President Rodrigo Duterte urging him to discontinue the construction of the Kaliwa Dam and look for alternative water sources.
These were initiated by non-profit coalition Green Convergence Philippines with the goal of getting 300,000 signatures and the civic group Stop Kaliwa Dam Network with the goal of obtaining 150,000 signatures. The first petition titled, “No to Kaliwa Dam!,” was created two years ago while the latter titled “Stop Kaliwa Dam, Save our Future!” was created a year ago.
The Stop Kaliwa Dam Network said it is opposing the following:
- Destruction of 5,000 homes of indigenous groups Dumagat-Remontados
- Destruction of biodiversity and habitat of 126 species in 300 hectares of the Sierra Madre and endanger 100,000 residents downstream
- Possibility of further encroachment of China on the territory
- Not sustainable because of the high rate of sedimentation in the area
“Alternative water solutions that are both cheaper and more sustainable (e.g. watershed rehabilitation, repairing and improving existing dams and water distribution facilities, water conservation policies) have been offered by various experts,” the petition of Stop Kaliwa Dam Network read.
Meanwhile, the petition of Green Convergence Philippines is already outdated because it is asking Duterte to not sign the agreement with China, citing that the signing of deal is scheduled Nov. 11, 2018.
It stated the similar reasons in opposing the project. It added that the proposed infrastructure is to be located at an earthquake prone area.
“Most of the proposed dam sites would be subject to high peak acceleration and are exposed to generally high degree of seismicity,” the petition read.
This covers the projects listed in the National Economic and Development Authority‘s February 17 list of flagship projects, which included Kaliwa Dam Project.
The outdated petition, however, is still making rounds across Facebook and Twitter especially after devastation of recent tropical cyclones “Quinta,” “Rolly” and “Ulysses.”