Pakil residents protest construction of hydropower plant

Townsfolk fear loss of ‘nurturing, healing spring water’ from nearby mountains

By Elmer Nev C. Valenzuela

PAKIL, Laguna — Residents of this small Southern Tagalog town oppose a hydropower plant project they fear may endanger the supply of clean spring water that has always nurtured their community.

Pakileños have formed an organization to oppose the $1.1 billion Ahunan Hydropower Project they say poses a great threat to their community by potentially altering their water supply of natural spring water from the Sierra Madre or may totally stop their flow.

Mamamayan Nagmamahal sa Pakil (MANAPAK) members in a meeting.

Calling itself the Mamamayan Nagmamahal sa Pakil (MANAPAK), the group demands a stop to all fieldworks on their mountains, particularly near Mt. Ping-as, traditionally regarded as sacred by Pakileños.

A joint venture of billionaire Enrique Razon’s Prime Metro Power Holdings Corp. and JBD Water Power Inc., the Ahunan project aims to generate 1400 megawatts of electricity for the Luzon grid.

Estimated to affect 299 hectares in four Pakil barangays—Baño, Burgos, Rizal and Taft—the project requires the construction of an upper basin to serve as reservoir for power generation.

Town of healing water

Located at the mountainous part of Laguna province, Pakil and its neighboring towns on the east bank of Laguna de Bay are blessed with free-flowing spring water residents have enjoyed as drinking water and for irrigation for as long as they remember.

In the town’s famous public bathing pools, such as the old Turumba Spring, the waters are appreciated for their reputed healing properties and have become pilgrimage sites of sorts.

Pakil’s famous public pool from spring water sources.

Resident Melquiades de Cadiz said they are starting to see signs of water disruption since Ahunan hydropower project pre-construction activities have started upstream.

He said further degradation of water quality is imminent should the earthworks continue.

Cadiz added the project’s other socio-cultural and environmental impacts may include the destruction of the town’s mountain, displacement of affected families, desiccation of spring water, as well as damage to cultural and religious sites and heritage.

MANAPAK member Nora Macapanpan said they are concerned that the Ahunan dam is to be built along a stretch of four active fault lines in the area that are characterized by authorities to have moderate to high seismicity.

Macapanpan’s group also warned of agricultural impacts, floods, landslides as other potential risks posed by the project.

“Marami pa ang mga panganib na kaakibat ng proyekto, tulad ng pagbaha at pagguho ng lupa. Maapektuhan din ang mga magsasaka at mangingisda, ang Turumba sa Birhen, at ang ating tubig inumin,” MANAPAK official Teresa ‘Ka Tessie’ Sanchez added.

(There are more dangers connected with the project, such as flooding and landslide. The farmers and the fisher folk, the spring pool, and our drinking water.)

Ka Tessie appealed to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for support and to deny the permits the project proponents seek to be able to move on to the next phases of the project.

Posters opposing the hydropower project in Pakil.

Initial victory

Pakil’s Municipal Council has issued a “No Objection Resolution” to the Ahunan project last September 14, however, a vital first step leading to the issuance of the prerequisite Environmental Compliance Certificate.

Ka Tessie says they were unaware the resolution was being discussed. She said they were shocked to learn of it only last March, five months after its approval.

“Talagang parang, ano na pala ito, tuloy na! Sabi ko, ay kailangan na eh tumayo,” she said.

(It seems the project is really to be implemented. I said, it is time to stand up.)

MANAPAK has since gathered six thousand signatures from fellow Pakileños and engaged the Municipal Council in a series of dialogues.

Citing the dam proponents’ poor consultation with the town’s various stakeholders, the Council has revoked its No Objection Resolution last August 9.

Salamat naman sa Diyos at pagka tumayo ka sa isang bagay na ang paniwala mo ay mabuti, talagang laging may sumusunod, tumatayo din kasama mo,” Ka Tessie said.

(Thanks to God. When one stands up for something she believes is good, others will follow.) #

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