An environmentalist group in Davao City has condemned President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for relinquishing responsibility to protect Davao City’s watersheds in favor of corporate interests.
A coalition of watershed advocates called KAWAL- Tubig issued this observation after Malacañang recently lifted the limit of hectares for banana plantations, and after the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) ruled in favor of Hedcor, Inc. in its battle for water rights over the Tamugan River in Baguio District.
President Arroyo reportedly signed Executive Order (EO) 807 repealing Letter of Instruction No. 58 issued by the late President Ferdinand Marcos which limited the area for plantations of export-quality bananas to 26,250 hectares nationwide.
“President Arroyo must have signed the directive with a blindfold, mindless of the millions of people who want safe food, clean air and drinking water. Expanding areas for bananas is actually giving up the upland watersheds to pesticide-dependent monocrop plantations that will convert farms to bananas, contaminate the air and water resources,” said Dominador Lopez, KAWAL- Tubig spokesperson and president of the Watershed Management Coordinating Council.
Malacañang said the necessity of the EO is based on market statistics revealing the upsurge in production and income of the export banana industry in the country.
Data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics shows that banana exports have increased to 537,095 metric tons worth $101.267 million in the first quarter of this year, from only 503,198 metric tons worth $93,415 million during the same period last year.
“This is not to discount the fact that the Arroyo government has not yet drafted any policy banning aerial spraying after a study of government public health experts showed presence of pesticides in the blood of residents in Camocaan, Davao del Sur as well as in the air and soil,” Lopez said.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency Master Plan on Water Resource management in the Philippines estimates that only 1,907 cubic meters of freshwater will be available to each person each year, making the Philippines the second to the lowest among Southeast Asian countries with freshwater availability.
To make this water crisis more dramatic and alarming, a 1998 study of the Asia Geodyne Corporation for the Davao City Water district (DCWD) indicates that by 2013, the Dumoy aquifer can no longer supply the water needs of Davao City. By then, there will be a deficit of 13.8 million liters per day.
DCWD argues that Tamugan River, which traverses Baguio and Marilog districts, is the answer to Davaoeños water needs as it is identified as Classification A, a recommended water source because of its superior quality and ability as a recharge zone.
“But to our dismay, the DENR hastily gave an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) to Hedcor to make way for its hydropower project even when this is an environmentally critical area that requires a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement System,” lament KAWAL-Tubig advocates.
Hedcor is an affiliate of the Aboitiz Group, which as interests in power, real estate, banking, transport, and construction.
Last February, a few weeks after President Arroyo’s visit to Hedcor’s Sibulan hydropower project, the DENR Environmental Management Board issued the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to the company’s Tamugan project.
And just recently, the National Water Resurces Board (NWRB) declared null and void DCWD’s water permit to develop the Tamugan River for the city’s drinking water needs. It also dismissed the water utility’s protest to Hedcor’s plans of establishing a major power plant within the critical Tamugan River area.
“President Arroyo is silent over the NWRB decision even when its mandate is to prioritize water for drinking and not for other use. This sacrifices people’s interests over profit,” Lopez said. Katilingban Alang sa Walay Puas og Limpyong (KAWAL)- Tubig