OPPOSITION presidential candidate Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo on Monday vowed that the construction of a strongly-opposed dam project in the southern part of Luzon would not proceed without the consent of affected sectors should she win, reiterating that community consultations would be an integral part of projects under her administration.
“I am assuring you, we will not deliver any project to you without your consent,” she said in Filipino at a campaign rally in Infanta town in Quezon province.
During the rally, Ms. Robredo was joined by members of an indigenous community who have expressed opposition to the China-funded project.
Environmental advocates have said that 300 hectares of forested area will be permanently flooded for the dam project, which is expected by the government to become an alternative source of water for the capital region Metro Manila by 2025.
Ms. Robredo, who vowed to side with indigenous people and uphold due process, cited that the law requires that affected residents in a project site must give their free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) before any planned construction can proceed.
Despite opposition from tribal communities and environmental advocates, the project received an environmental clearance certificate in 2019 from the government. Construction, originally set for Jan. 2020 to Dec. 2025, will now start in June.
Community leaders have said that talks for a memorandum of agreement were railroaded by the government, leaving their concerns unaddressed.
Terry L. Ridon, convenor of infrastructure think tank Infrawatch, said the next administration should ensure that all government projects undergo community-based consultations and strictly comply with existing laws so as not to waste earmarked government funds.
“This will afford more efficient project planning as this will already limit the types of projects applicable in areas where the FPIC of communities is required,” he said in a Messenger chat.
“As an example, a smaller, more limited dam project may be more acceptable than a larger dam which may permanently flood entire ancestral lands of an indigenous community,” he said.
Representatives of affected communities said during the rally that among popular presidential candidates, only Ms. Robredo has strongly opposed the project. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza