Freedom Wall: Statement from the Cordillera People

October 30, 2009

Decommission the San Roque Dam and Rescind the Power Purchase
Agreement Now!

The flooding of Pangasinan at the height of Typhoon Pepeng was foreseen as an impact of the San Roque Dam. This was among the reasons why people protested against this Medium Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) flagship project launched by then President Fidel V. Ramos and completed during the term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Agno River communities and the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance sounded this warning prior to dam construction, and reiterated it several times before dam completion, but it was not heeded.

Now that the flooding has happened, an independent probe of the management of the dam, as well as its purpose, capacity and operations, is urgent not just to ensure the accountability of those who are responsible for the devastation and loss of lives, homes and livelihoods, but also to enact measures that can prevent the reoccurrence of catastrophic flooding.

While we do not discount the fact that climate change and the volume of rain poured during Typhoon Pepeng have contributed to the calamity, we still hold accountable the persons who insisted on the construction and operation of the San Roque Dam.

Reduced Capacity for Water Storage?

PAG-ASA’s website stated that the San Roque Dam water level increased from 281 to 284 meters above sea level (masl) on October 4 and 5. It was at 289.1masl – 0.9 meters away from its 290 masl critical level from October 6 to 9.

Two hundred meters high and spanning 1.13 kilometers, San Roque Dam has a storage capacity of 850 million cubic meters. Ideally, it should be able to hold the volume of rain water poured during Typhoon Pepeng if not for the heavy siltation along the Agno River which is estimated at an uncontrollable 6.35 million cubic meters per year. Further siltation of the river due to persisting mining activities in Itogon and Tuba, Benguet has yet to be taken into account. If the reservoir water storage has been reduced due to silt deposition, as stated in the study of sedimentation along the Agno River and as experienced with the Ambuclao and Binga Dams, then this is one of the main reasons the dam gates were opened last October 9, releasing about 5,000 cubic meters of water per second at the height of the storm.

The heavy siltation would mean that a high water level would always be needed by the San Roque Dam for its turbines to produce energy. The decreased capacity for water storage would also mean that torrential rains would result in flooding at the scale experienced during Typhoon Pepeng or even worse. The probable maximum flood rate is placed at 12,800 cubic meters per second. This will inundate at least 1, 250 square kilometers of Pangasinan and Central Luzon, and will affect more than
a million people.

More Concerns

Trauma and anxiety caused by the devastating flood could not be easily addressed or calmed due to the fact that the San Roque Dam stands within the Philippine fault zone. It is close to where the San Manuel and San Jose faults converge before meeting with the Digdig Fault, which is only 26 kilometers away from the damsite. A major earthquake could very well result in a breach of the dam structure and flood the entire Agno drainage area, which includes more than half of Pangasinan, a portion of Tarlac, and a portion of Nueva Ecija.

Studies also show that earthquakes can be triggered by the volume of water and other materials held by the dam. Reservoir-Induced Seismicity (RIS) is a probability with large dams such as San Roque, which is the largest earthcore, rockfill dam in Asia. The weight of the reservoir’s content may put enough pressure on the ground and near the reservoir to cause a fault movement.

The Ramos administration considered the San Roque Multipurpose Dam a flagship project of the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) in 1996 to address the energy crisis in the 1990s. Since his administration to that of President Arroyo, the government has claimed that it the dam would generate cheap energy, improve water quality, provide irrigation to the agricultural fields in
Pangasinan and serve as flood control.

None of these has been achieved by the dam.

The energy production of the dam is at 85 megawatts – far from its potential 345 megawatts. We, the citizens, pay the fixed amount of PHP 806,852,000.16 permonth for its capacity fee and operating fee, aside from the energy fee that it charges. We pay this amount even during times when the dam does not produce electricity. These are the conditions in the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) signed by the government on our behalf, without our consent, drowning us further
indebt.

Who Should Be Held Accountable?

It is not enough that Alexander Palada of the National Power Corporation was relieved in response to the calls against the San Roque Dam’s operations after the typhoon. Equally responsible is the San Roque Power Corporation (SRPC). The project was funded through Official Development Aid by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC). All of these companies and institutions, and Philippine government officials, such as former President Ramos and current President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, are responsible for the dam and should be held accountable for the devastation it caused. It is not mere mismanagement which caused the flooding but the very existence and operations of the San Roque Dam itself.

We Reiterate Our Call: Decommission the Dam and Rescind the PPA Now!

From its start in 1996 to its completion in 2002, we protested the damming of the Agno River for the third time. We cited its environmental impact and its social and economic costs. Residents along the Agno River, some of whom were displaced by the Ambuclao and Binga dams, were persistent in opposing the dam because of their experience. The flooding during Typhoon Pepeng should be a wake-up call for the government to decommission the San Roque Dam which is now also the position of the mayors of Pangasinan. The government should also rescind the disadvantageous PPA.

The Arroyo government, if it is sincere in protecting the people’s lives, properties, livelihood and environment should not wait for another storm or another wave of devastation before it acts. It should
heed what we have stated in our years of protests , the Agno River should be allowed to flow free.#

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