BY SAMMY JULIAN
YET again, the highly controversial P11.2-billion Jalaur River Multipurpose Project – Phase II has received another indictment, this time from a Korean non-government organization (NGO) monitoring foreign projects funded by loans from the South Korean government.
Concerns have recently been raised by the Center for Green Official Development Assistance (ODA) on how the mega dam project in Iloilo province is being implemented.
According to a researcher of the Korean center, which focuses on monitoring the environmental effects of projects in other countries funded by the ODA of South Korea, certain processes were not being strictly followed by the proponents of the project, particularly the environmental impact assessment (EIA).
There was also a lack or absence of consultation with and participation of affected residents in decision-making and project monitoring.
The Korean center further pointed out that a recommendation from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), the main proponent of the project, to submit an amended EIA was not complied with but an environmental certificate of compliance was still issued.
The EIA contains the environmental effects of a project and proposed mitigating measures, and serves as a guide in implementing or shelving a project.
The construction of access roads leading to the project site was likewise questioned even as NIA was still in the process of acquiring free and prior informed consent (FPIC) for the construction stage of the project.
The project is funded by a $203-million ODA from the South Korean government through its Export-Import Bank’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund, with a counterpart fund from the Philippine government amounting to P2.2 billion.
Set to be completed in 2016, it involves the construction of three dams, Jalaur reservoir, afterbay and catch dams, a 6.6-megawatt hydropower plant and an 81-kilometer high-line canal in Calinog.
The multimillion-peso undertaking is aimed at developing irrigation systems for 32,000 hectares of farmlands, generating hydroelectric power and providing domestic and industrial water supply.
Earlier, the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines (EANP) has claimed that with the impending construction of the Jalaur II mega dam in Iloilo, 17,000 Tumandok people, the largest indigenous people’s group in Panay Island, are threatened to be displaced from their homes.
The EANP said the mega dam project will be devastating to the Tumandok people, who will lose their ancestral lands and livelihood.
According to the EANP, historically the Philippines does not a have a good record of providing for the welfare of indigenous peoples (IPs) displaced by large-scale development projects and they are concerned that history is being repeated with the Jalaur II project.
NIA has repeatedly denied allegations that procedures were not being followed and that there was a lack of consultation with residents of the areas that would be affected by the project.
NIA experts have also said the project would not harm the environment or cause safety risks among residents.
Gerardo Corsiga, NIA Western Visayas general manager, said the IP communities were consulted and their concerns were properly addressed.
The council of elders of the Panay-Bukidnon representing IP communities in Calinog has also expressed support for the project, according to NIA.
Under Republic Act No. 8371, or the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, proponents of projects and activities that will affect IP communities are required to apply for the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) and secure a certification from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples that says the project is supported by the affected IP communities.
The NIA earlier acquired the FPIC to conduct a project feasibility study.
The Supreme Court on October 31 last year issued a Writ of Kalikasan but did not order the suspension of the project.
The Court of Appeals is hearing oral arguments on a petition for the stopping of the project due to environmental and safety concerns.
There has been little progress on the project since that time. Now, with the latest criticisms coming no less from the source of the project’s funding, it seems the construction of the dam will not continue.
Sadly, the people who will directly benefit from the project will have to wait a little longer more./PN