INFANTA, Quezon – More than five hundred protesters today kicked off their grueling 148-kilometer march in a bid to stop the construction of the P50-billion dam project in the Sierra Madre watershed.

The marchers, mostly residents of Quezon Province and indigenous peoples, are calling on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to issue an executive order scrapping the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage Services' (MWSS) proposed 113-meter high Laiban Dam Project.

The protest march, dubbed “Lakad Laban sa Laiban Dam,” will run until they reach Malacañang on Nov. 12, according to Bro. Martin Francisco of the Save Sierra Madre Network (SSMN), the lead organizer of the nine-day march.

Francisco said that there are 123 people who pledged to finish the march, 52 of whom are from Dumagat/Agta and Remontado tribes led by Quezon Tribal Governor Napoleon Buendicho and the rest are from church-based, farmers, environmental, and non-government organizations. By gender, there are 79 males and 49 female protesters. The oldest marcher is Yolly Crisostomo, a 68-year old retired elementary teacher from Gen. Nakar in Quezon.

Aside from SSMN, the protest organizers include the Task Force Sierra Madre (TFSM), the Pambansang Kilusan ng Samahang Magsasaka (Pakisama, National Movement of Farmers’ Associations), and the Freedom from Debt Coalition. Representatives from various groups like Haribon Foundation, Ecowaste Coalition, COPE Infanta, Green Convergence, Saginin Indigenous People’s Coalition-Quezon Province, Tribal Center for Development Foundation, Inc., and Urban Poor Coalition also joined the march.

“We want everyone to know, especially our President, that the proposed dam project is anti-environment, anti-development and anti-human rights,” stressed Francisco.

The dam reservoir of the dam project will submerge nine barangays in Tanay and one in General Nakar and will destroy more than 27,800 hectares of agricultural land. Legally-protected rainforest areas housing endemic and endangered species are set to be buried underwater as part of the dam reservoir area, along with areas being claimed as ancestral lands by the Dumagats and Remontados.

In addition, the groups underscored that should the dam break or be made to release sudden bursts of large water volumes, a repeat of the destructive flood in Northern Quezon in November 2004 can result to unimaginable catastrophes. These fears are said to be further aggravated by the dam site's proximity to the active Marikina fault zone.

According to the group, Metro Manila's consumers would bear the brunt of the costs for the project, which is presently the most expensive water supply project of the MWSS to date. The hefty price tag of $1B is also expected to hike up to almost $2B due to delays and huge cost over-runs, which are typical of large dam construction.

Better alternatives to the Laiban Dam do exist, the groups claimed.  
 
They added that one of the most viable alternatives is to restore denuded forests in Angat, Ipo and La Mesa watersheds. In addition, the government must intensify the anti-logging campaign and rehabilitate existing watershed such as the Wawa Watershed to increase water flow. Furthermore, another simple and economical option is to reduce the demand for water coupled with improvement of the efficiency of the Manila Water and Maynilad by reducing their non-revenue water levels which translate to water wastage.

The groups said that the destruction that inundated the Northern and Central Luzon because of large dams must convince the government and the public that it is both necessary and possible to put an end to the construction of destructive large dams.

Since large dams have proven to be disastrous to the communities and the environment, all plans of the government to construct monstrous dams must be abandoned immediately, said the group. -30-

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