Controversial Dam Gets Green Light to Flood a Philippine Protected Area

The Kaliwa Dam project will threaten numerous endemic species including the Philippine eagle (Pithecopaga jefferyi), as the Sierra Madre mountain range is one of the last strongholds of this critically-endangered species. Image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

The Kaliwa Dam project will threaten numerous endemic species including the Philippine eagle (Pithecopaga jefferyi), as the Sierra Madre mountain range is one of the last strongholds of this critically-endangered species. Image courtesy of Cornell Lab of Ornithology

In the barangay, or village, of Lumutan, the Dumagat-Remontados tribe speaks of the sacred mountain Putyokan, whose peak offers the most breathtaking view of the southern Sierra Madre mountain range on the Philippine island of Luzon.

It’s home to a herb they call karaklay, which, when boiled down into a dark, bitter liquid, serves as a cure-all for common illnesses. The plant is hugely important in this barangay where the only health center lacks supplies and the nearest hospital is more than three hours away by foot and an hour on a motorcycle. “It cures everything,” said Migueling dela Cruz, a resident of one of the indigenous communities in Lumutan, in deep southern Tagalog, a local language. “Fever, coughs, malaria, diarrhea. You just have to endure the bitterness but it always works.”

Yet this holy mountain and its herbal plants — and the eagles that glide along the ridges at the break of day, and the crevices and rock formations that hide a lake fed by a waterfall — all these will disappear once the Kaliwa Dam project goes through. Part of the New Centennial Water Source meant to pipe 600 million liters (159 million gallons) of water daily to Metro Manila and surrounding urban areas, the reservoir for the dam is expected to submerge 93 hectares (230 acres) of forestland, including 12 sites considered sacred by 11 indigenous communities.

Leilani Chavez reports for Mongabay.

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