PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday set aside opposition against a P12.2 billion China-funded water dam project and said he will be explore his options, including the possible use of his police powers or other extraordinary powers available to the Chief Executive, to address the issue and eventually prevent a looming water crisis in Metro Manila and nearby areas.
The President, while acknowledging that the Kaliwa dam project “might create some danger or damage, but that is not my concern. My concern is the welfare, the greatest good for the greatest number. That is democracy.”
In a chance interview, Duterte said he was well aware of the opposition of some sectors to the dam project but said he was more concerned with the welfare of the majority and greater good that will benefit the greatest number.
“You have every right to protest if it really puts your place in jeopardy. But if the safeguards are there and between your concerns and the crisis that we are trying to avoid, I will use the extraordinary powers of the presidency,” he said.
Asked to elaborate how he will use his extraordinary powers, he said he is still “taking stock of my options,” including using his police power.
The project, funded through China’s Official Development Assistance (ODA), aims to address the water shortage in Metro Manila but environmental, tribal and militant groups oppose it due to its alleged adverse effect on the environment and the threat to displace indigenous and tribal people in the areas of Tanay in Rizal and in Infanta and General Nakar in Quezon.
Militant groups have also claimed that the water supply shortage in Metro Manila and surrounding areas is being exploited by the government to push for the dam project.
Prior to Duterte’s statement, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and concurrent presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the dam project is not yet final and the contract with the Chinese firm to construct the dam may still be rescinded if the project is “indeed disadvantageous and against the interest of the people there.”
Panelo said the project is again being reviewed and “if the finding shows that it is indeed disadvantageous and against the interest of the people there, then it can be rescinded”.
He expressed confidence that China will understand should the Philippines rescind the contract for the project.
“If the findings will show that it is against the interest of our country, I’m sure the Chinese government will understand, as it would do the same, if it was placed in the same situation,” he said.
Duterte said his order to government officials in charge of the water supply situation was to ensure that water concessionaires “produce water.”
Duterte said he does not know how the water utility officials will do it, but he will not allow the people to have no water, especially for drinking.
Panelo warned the two firms that Duterte may undertake “drastic measures” against them should they fail to resolve the water shortage situation.
Panelo did not elaborate what these drastic measures maybe but said the failure of the water concessionaires to prevent a repeat of the water supply problem earlier this year will be a factor in the decision and actions that the President may take against Maynilad and Manila Water.
“I suppose the fact that they have not undertaken corrective measures that will prevent the evolution of this upcoming crisis again would be a factor that would make the President decide on drastic action against them,” he said.