THE BEEKEEPER: NIA desperate for the mega dam in Iloilo

By Pet Melliza

Manny Piñol, incoming agriculture secretary, must have shivered the spines of some bureaucrats of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) when he declared that direct support to farmers, not mega dams, are the priority of the Duterte administration.

Can’t add more. Since Saturday, June 18, 2016, the morning broadcast carries repeatedly an “infomercial” or “praise release” from the NIA that the proposed mega-dam in Calinog, Iloilo is “very much welcomed” by the Panay-Tumandok who view it as an opportunity to seize because it will save them from poverty.

The NIA praise release does not identify which of the Tumandok welcomed the P11.2 B dam but just drops the name of “Leopoldo Caballero,” an alleged tribal chieftain, among those who bat for the project. This NIA’s poster boy lives outside the mega dam area, far from the risk of being submerged for the reservoir or swept away in case of breakage of overflow of the artificial basin.

NIA, two years ago, assures downstream communities their safety because it is so designed to withstand strong earthquakes and “only a terrorist attack can destroy it.” NIA Region 6 Director Gerardo Corsiga prefers to lull us to dreamland, to blot out from our collective memory the 8.2 magnitude earthquake when the West Panay Fault moved, January 25, 1948, that wrecked 17 churches in Iloilo, four of them beyond repair.

West Panay Fault passes through Lambunao town, 11 kilometers from the dam site in Calinog. Corsiga gloats that the dam’s safety is so glaring that even Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo endorses the mega dam.

The NIA-6 director doesn’t mention that the good prelate is no scientist and who must have been stricken with amnesia: just across his residence, the rehabilitated belfry of the Jaro Plaza, is a stark reminder to Ilonggos of “Lady Caycay”, as the earthquake is called. It collapsed from the quake. More such structures would have followed only that Panay Island where Iloilo is located was yet to recover from the ravages of WWII and buildings of that height were yet to be built.

NIA execs already used up the P2.5 billion Philippine counterpart, let alone wasted it on dubious cash advances, overpriced purchases (like the P5.8 M drone and quadcopter for aerial survey), and fictitious studies. They convened bogus fora and consultations which included only Tumandok residents living far from the dam but excluded those directly affected, those to be displaced, and communities (Tumandok and Bisaya), living downstream whose lives are at risk during floods and, god forbid, in case the dam overflows or collapses as what happened to Italy’s Diga del Vajont Dam in 1963 that killed 2,000 people instantly.

Here is the web page of the tragic story, but let me quote a portion thereof:

“The Diga del Vajont dam was built in the Vaiont Gorge to supply hydroelectric power to Northern Italy. Located 10 miles northeast of Belluno, it rose 875 feet above the Piave River below and was a full 75 feet wide at its base. The construction of the dam created a large reservoir, which held more than 300,000 cubic feet of water. While the dam was solidly constructed, its location was a poor choice.”

“The Vaiont Gorge was located in a section of the Alps known for instability. In 1963, the area experienced heavy rains—about 90 inches by October 9. At 10:41 p.m., the wet land could no longer hold and a massive landslide came crashing down from Mount Toc, causing a huge pile of dirt and rocks to plunge into the reservoir at about 70 miles per hour. The impact of the debris caused an immense wave of water to rise as high as 300 feet above the level of the dam.Workers living alongside the dam were killed instantly.”

“The displaced water crashed over the dam and into the Piave River below. It stormed down the river and engulfed the town of Longarone. Within minutes the town had virtually vanished and nearly 2,000 people were dead. The tsunami-like wave then rushed down to San Martino, where it killed hundreds more. “/PT

Pet Melliza, a member of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), is one of those who represent political detainees in criminal cases.

Like his fellow NUPL colleagues, he also advocates environmental defense.

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