Panay Island’s “Killer Dam”: The Jalaur River Multipurpose Project-II

jalaurI wrote this commentary for the Philippine Online Chronicles.

“Reclaim our land!”

These were the words etched in the grave of Elena Gardose, the last of the binukots of the Tumandok indigenous peoples of Central Panay and Cultural Center of the Philippines Awardee for Oral Literature, when she passed away at the age of 110. [1]

Fondly called Lola Elena, she passed on the long history of her people’s struggles against oppression and exploitation through the chanting of Tumandok ambahans and sugidanons. [2]

But ironically, her very own barangay Garangan in Calinog, Iloilo is now being threatened with oblivion by the Noynoy Aquino government’s P11.2 billion Jalaur River Multipurpose Project-II (JRMP-II).

Barangays Agcalaga, Garangan, and Masaroy in Calinog and barangay Tampucao in Lamubano will be completely submerged underwater after the construction of the JalaurMega Dam.

Another seven barangays in the dam’s upstream area will also be affected, resulting in the dislocation of an estimated 15,000 Tumandoks from their ancestral lands.

The Jalaur mega dam will supposedly improve year-round irrigation for increased agricultural production in Iloilo, augment electric power supply through a 6.6 megawatt hydroelectric plant, provide additional water supply, enhance flood mitigation measures, and even promote tourism.

However, people’s organizations of peasants, workers, women, students have gathered together with indigenous peoples, Church workers, professionals, and academics under the Jalaur River for the People Movement (JRPM) to oppose the construction of the mega dam.

Aggravating calamities and rights abuses

According to Cynthia A.Deduro, Dagsaw Panay-Guimaras Indigenous People’s Network Executive Director, the construction of the Jalaur mega dam will aggravate calamity risks from earthquakes, landslides, and flashfloods.

First, the mega dam location in Agcalaga, Calinog is a mere 11 kilometers away from an active fault line. The West Panay fault line was the epicentre of one of Panay Island’s most destructive earthquakes in 1948 which led to the total collapse of 17 churches and damaged 38 others.

Second, a Mines and Geosciences Bureau Rapid Geohazard Assessment of Barangay Agcalaga, adds Deduro, shows that the area surrounding the construction site is highly susceptible to landslides and thus questions the soundness of pursuing the project.

Third, the 123-kilometer long Jalaur River crossesBarotac Nuevo, Calinog, Dingle, Dueñas, Dumangas, Pototan and Zarragatowns and Passi city which are threatened with flooding once heavy rains force dam operators to open floodgates to avoid the rise in water volume from breaking the dam walls.

Deduro fears that mounting opposition to the construction of the Jalaur mega dam will be met by the same repression that led to the murder of Macli-ing Dulag, the indigenous leader who led opposition against the construction of the World Bank-sponsored Chico Dam in the Cordillera during the 1980s.

The Marcos dictatorship’s security forces allegedly murdered Macli-ing Dulag in order to silence the people’s resistance to the Chico Dam.

Rights groups have assailed the Aquino regime’s Oplan Bayanihan counterinsurgency program, and said the difference between legal mass movements and the Communist Party-led revolutionary underground are obscured to justify the suppression of legal organizations opposed to its anti-people policies and programs.

They say deceptive slogans of “peace and development” and “respect for human rights” are used to justify the entry of military troops in civilian communities to secure foreign investments. Several cases of extra-judicial killings have already been linked to attempts to stop opposition to mining and logging projects.

Already, there is increased militarization of the area surrounding the dam construction site, said Deduro.The Calinog municipal government has established the paramilitary Kabayan Action Group guarding the area around the mega dam construction site.

It also prohibited the free entry of people’s organizations in communities surrounding the dam site without its permission, as if the claiming of 33,310 hectares of the Tumandok’s ancestral lands by the 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army to serve as its military reservation is not enough. [3]

A killer dam threatening the people

The Jalaur mega dam is anticipated to be the largest reservoir dam outside of Luzon. Its construction is partly funded by a P8.96 billion loan from the Korean Export-Import Bank which also serves as the South Korean government’s Official Development Assistance (ODA).

Madya-as Ecological Movement Secretary General Geobelyn Lopez warns that this will inevitably burden the people as the government imposes more taxes and imposes more budget cuts on social services like health and education in order to pay for the soaring debt resulting from its construction.

“Only the foreign banks, contractors, and multinational corporations and their local Filipino partners – landlords, corrupt bureaucrats, and big business – stand to truly benefit from the construction of the JRMP-II,” said Lopez.

For the environmentalist leader, the Jalaur projectis a “killer dam” in all senses of the word: “It threatens the lives of the people of Panay by dislocating Tumandok indigenous peoples, magnifying the risk of calamities like earthquakes and floods, and intensifying human rights violations.”

Ultimately, the mega dam is anchored on a neo-colonial framework imposed by foreign powers that perpetuate local backwardness and poverty for the purpose of keeping the country as a source of cheap labor and raw materials and as a dumping ground of their surplus capital.

Projects like this expose the hollowness of Aquino regime’s empty rhetoric of “change.” The people, united by the collective purpose of defeating all forms of social injustices must counter the Jalaur mega dam and similar attacks on the people’s rights and interests.

Only a program of national industrialization that is anchored on genuine land reform can provide genuine development, not projects that damage the environment, destroy livelihoods, and displace the people.

Lola Elena’s last words reverberate to this day: “Reclaim our land!”

1. Binukots are Tumandok women who are kept in isolation in a dim room and prohibited from any work until their marriage in exchange for a high dowry. Binukotsare the receptacles of folk knowledge of their tribe.

2. An ambahan is a kind of verse while the sugidanon is the Tumandok’s epic.

3. President Diosdado Macapagal’s Presidential Proclamation No. 67 issued in 1962 declared 33,310 hectares of Tumandok ancestral land in Jamindan, Libacao, and Tapaz in Capiz as military reservation for the Philippine Army.

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