Encounter of the third kind

A third dam in their vicinity threatens the livelihoods of the Ibaloi tribals of northern Philippines

By Sudha Madh
Published: Friday 31 January 1997

the Ibaloi tribals of northern Philippines are resisting a mega dam yet again. The San Roque multipurpose dam is projected to be one of the biggest in Southeast Asia, having a capacity of 345 mw. The dam, to be built on the lower Agno river at San Roque will destroy thousands of rice fields and displace families by the hundreds. Its reservoir extends 10,000 ha into Ibaloi hunting grounds and pasture areas. The watershed shall envelop Dalupirip -- a racing ground -- regarded as the last bastion of Ibaloi culture. The Ibaloi are traditionally known for their equestrian skills and were once an affluent people who held horse-racing festivals in the Binga and Dalupirip valleys.

But this is not the first time that the Ibaloi are being called upon to pay the price for development. In the early '50s, President Ramon Magsaysay was escorted on horseback to meet Don Mariano Fianza, the tribal chief who controlled the Itogon territory, along the Agno river. The President was there to persuade Fianza to permit the construction of the Binga dam. The former vowed that the Binga would be the last dam on the Agno river and that those displaced by it would be justly compensated.

However, after the death of Magsaysay in 1957, not only was the Binga and another dam, the Ambuklao constructed, but almost no compensation was paid. The bitter experiences of the past have made the Ibaloi wary of any further negotiation with the authorities. When the current President Fidel Ramos and other senior officials approached the tribals with a package of incentives, they were reminded of unkept promises of the past. For Ramos, the San Roque dam is the cornerstone of his grandiose plans to transform the country into a 'dragon economy' by the end of the century. His scheme is called Philippines 2000.
The Ibaloi's opposition to the dam goes beyond nostalgia for the lost splendour of horse-racing traditions and canoe festivals. Apart from the dams that have ravaged the environment, mine wastes clog the region's waterways. The Agno river is heavily silted and unless dredging is done, the dams shall harness silt and destroy more farmland. The San Roque dam conflict echoes the familiar paradox of development that every indigenous community confronts: the exploitation of their resources by outsiders and their own impoverishment. (women's feature service).

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