New year open letter to Philippine leaders: Building of destructive megadams like Kaliwa not needed to ensure right to water

December 29, 2022

Before we enter the year 2023, we advocates of the right to water and other people’s and consumers’ rights urge the Philippine government, especially our infrastructure and development planners and agencies, to urgently address the lack of safe, accessible, and affordable potable and domestic use water without resorting to the destruction of homes, livelihoods and the environment, such as by going right ahead with the construction of Kaliwa Dam.

Protest against destructive dams at Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage Systems at Quezon City
December 29, 20220

With our Dumagat and Remontado brothers and sisters we lament being disadvantaged by the green light on Kaliwa Dam construction. It has repeatedly been established in numerous forums, dialogues and hearings that the Kaliwa project has not legitimately secured the free prior and informed consent of the communities both indigenous and not. Also despite claims to any environmental clearance, the communities fear the encroachment of the rivers and mountains that serve as their homes, farms, sanctuaries and sources of food and medicine.

Instead of prioritizing a destructive project, what government should give primary attention to in the affected communities of Tanay, Infanta, Nakar, Rizal and adjacent areas are expanded social protection in light of the pandemic and stronger health services. We recall how recent events have caused the illness and death of Dumagats and other community folk seeking subsidies and even an unfortunate accident for which our brothers and sisters got only limited help from the state. This, while it is the latter who should be the first to respond and troubleshoot the situation to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Similarly, communities around the Genned and Jalaur dams in Apayao and Iloilo have not gained the full consent of affected communities due to the threat these projects pose on their lives and livelihoods. And while the Kaliwa, Genned and Jalaur dams pose threats against the people and ecology, big local and foreign construction, contractor and materials corporations are the ones that are certain to gain.

Relatedly, we urge a stop to land and water conversions, reclamation and privatization for big commercial purposes that deprive our fisherfolk, farmers and communities of natural sources of production, food and jobs. Instead we call for the rehabilitation of these resources and allowing the more active participation of communities in water management for their daily and livelihood needs.

For urban poor dwellers, private right of way still hinder families from enjoying direct water connections and are thus compelled to pay even more than directly connected households at some more than Php1,500 monthly. They are thus subjected to more taxing arrangements such as the water supply of multiple families being cut even when just one family is unable to pay the bill. Though urban poor advocates know that some measures are being taken to reduce their water woes, they continue to demand transparency as to where the supposed funds for community services are spent.

Meanwhile instead of improving water services, the increasing privatization of local water districts (LWDs) nationwide, with over 160 now under joint venture agreements (JVAs), have seen murkier water, employee retrenchments, untransparent contracts and even more water interruptions. These are under the control of oligarchs in the water sector such as Villar, Co, Ayala, and Razon.

This trend follows the 25-year privatization of Metro Manila water which contrary to promise has seen rates shoot up by over 600 and 1,000% despite low sanitation rates, unsolved and almost perennial water interruptions and still having to buy potable water most often from the same companies.

The revised concession agreements with Maynilad and Manila Water may have conceded to some points historically and repeatedly raised by water rights groups such as removal of corporate income tax pass-on charges, reduction of inflation as an additional charge measure, removal of foreign currency adjustment charges, removing international arbitration when the private firms fail to recover their profits due to government decisions, and such. Still, these do not change the process of rate rebasing for computing tariff movement based on the goal of the firms to earn their return on investment, nor the ambiguity of and possible risk posed by the emergency, exit and adverse government action payments on the Philippine government’s and Filipino public’s self determination and assets. Joint venture agreements meanwhile are generally opaque even while these are supposed to be public documents, hence undermining the public’s right to scrutinize.

Aside from allowing greater public scrutiny of the concession agreements and joint venture agreements, we demand government’s full assessment of water privatization and its reversal as in the long run the above attest to the pitfalls of this policy direction. In the immediate we demand a moratorium on all hikes whether in Metro Manila or in the provinces.

Lastly, our recent dialogues with government agencies have so far strengthened water rights advocates’ position versus water and other resources’ privatization. We urge that the creation of a Department of Water and Water Regulatory Commission be likewise deliberated more thoroughly lest this step of consolidating water management entities only reinforce privatization and along with it consumers’ and communities water-related woes.

Stop Kaliwa Dam! Ensure services in indigenous and non-indigenous communities!
Stop privatization! Ensure safe, accessible, affordable and efficient water services without burdening the people or destroying their lives, livelihood, and environment!
Genuinely consult the people on how to manage water sources!

Network Opposed to Kaliwa Kanan and Laiban Dams
Bai Indigenous Women’s Network
Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment
Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG)

KATRIBU On Potok (On People’s Opposition to Kaliwa Dam) Protect Sierra Madre Water for the People Network Water is Life Network Water Systems Employees Response