Clashing over a vital Davao City river

durian beat

By ROGER M. BALANZA

When the 16th Davao City Council sits down to tackle business next month, one of the major issues it would handle would be the Davao City Watershed Code.

The Aboitiz-owned Hedcor Inc. and the Davao City Water District plan to construct separate projects in Tamugan River which would violate a vital provision in the Code that specifically outlaws development aggression in the river declared by the code as conservation area.

hydropower

As the vice mayor, Sara Duterte had made it known she is prone to allow the DCWD surface water development project and is not sold to the Hedcor hydropower plant. Of late, she has been treading the center road, but as the newly-elected mayor she had strongly hinted that she would not allow both projects to avoid a precedence that could lead to more developmental aggressions introduced into the conservation areas.

In a recent statement that could be a disaster for Hedcor and DCWD, Sara Duterte said she would veto any ordinance introducing amendments to the code that would allow the projects.

What makes the issue about Tamugan River exciting is that Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who would be sitting as presiding officer of the 16th City Council as the vice mayor-elect, has already issued a statement that he wants both Hedcor and DCWD to be happy. Mayor Duterte is playing a balancing act between the city’s water needs and doomsday projection of a looming critical power crisis.

He had in fact gathered officials of both utility firms to the negotiation table to come to terms with each other, ending up with DCWD agreeing to allow the Hedcor project for as long as it would not threaten the viability of its gravity-powered surface water development project.

Do we see a clash point between Rody and Sara?

-oOo-

We are very interested in the final outcome of the Hedcor and DCWD projects and how city councilors would treat the Watershed Code in view of the conflicting positions of the mayor and the vice mayor.

Our interest involves our personal relationship with the code which author then chair of the environment committee Councilor Arnolfo Ricardo Cabling and I, as his private consultant, hammered out in four long agonizing months before seeing its final draft.

I am very proud about this landmark legislation being part of its soul and which came into being as Cabling and I–inspired by my own advocacy for environmental protection—conspired together into what I then called as a productive collaboration between media and legislator to produce a legislation that would be remembered forever.

What makes me doubly proud about the Davao City Watershed Protection, Conservation and Management Ordinance is that the city government did not spend much for it. The Watershed Code  saw the day based on research, depended less on  the cumbersome, expensive and time-consuming public hearings, did not spend for expenses of the so-called technical working group or a scientific study by private groups that eats up substantial fund.

All it needed was dedication and the mission to contribute something to the protection of the watershed areas by two heads burning candles for four months to see the landmark legislation through completion.  The draft ordinance was also approved in toto by City Legal Officer Melchor Quitain—who is now a councilor and member of the 16th City Council which would be faced with the question of whether or not to amend the Watershed Code—indicating the seriousness with which we prepared the ordinance.

On the issue of the Tamugan River, our personal opinion is that water should be over and above power.

Cabling and I worked on the premise that the watershed areas should be protected for the water that it would provide to the Dabawenyos.

Studies show that the Dumoy water reservoir where we draw out our water needs could not last 50 years and it is imperative that DCWD find an alternative source which happened to be—only—Tamugan River.

We find sense in Mayor Sara Duterte’s statement that Tamugan River as a source of alternative power to stave off an impending power crisis is an overly-hyped argument. The fact is Hedcor can have its hydropower plants all over Mindanao—and even the moon—without touching Tamugan River, which is the only river that DCWD can tap for the future Dabawenyos.

-oOo-

For critics of Cabling, I provide this one bullet: he has not yet paid me the substantial amount he promised to me for breaking my head over the Watershed Code proposal for four long months. Hehehe.

But I forgive him for that, my effort having been acknowledged by Mayor Duterte who appointed me as a regular member of the Watershed Management Council, the policy making and implementing body embedded in the Watershed Code, upon instance of then city administrator Wendel Avisado, who appreciated my role in the crafting of the landmark ordinance.

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