Water War: Ayalas Pit Themselves against Calamba Villagers

One of the Philippines’ mega-rich families – the Ayalas – are finding themselves locked in a war over water in Calamba City. Calamba residents their water source could be contaminated and worse, depleted because of a world-class golf course the Ayalas are building.

By DENNIS ESPADA
Bulatlat.com

CALAMBA CITY – Residents of this city, which is some 54 kms south of Manila, are finding themselves locked in a struggle with one of the country’s wealthiest families – the Ayalas. Reason: One of the Ayalas’ enterprises – the Ayala Greenfield Development Corporation (AGDC) – is building a world-class 18-hole golf course which, villagers of seven barangays here fear, would result in water contamination and a grave water shortage.

Noli Capulong, the deputy regional coordinator of the progressive party-list Bayan Muna (People First) in Southern Tagalog, warned over the weekend that with the large volume of water that the Ayala golf course is expected to consume every day, the underground aquifer located in Barangay (village) Bucal “could be depleted at a fast rate.”

Local leaders of the affected barangays have started a petition-signing in opposition to the golf course of the AGDC’s Ayala Greenfield Estates, saying the project will not only deplete but also contaminate their water. The water is used by 200,000 households.

An affiliate of the Ayala Land, Inc., AGDC is pursuing real estate projects on a 500-hectare land found in Barangays Maunong and Puting Lupa near the famous Mount Makiling. Projects in the pipeline include an exclusive subdivision, a clubhouse and a nature park.

The all-weather golf course is said to be designed by a world-renowned architect, Robert Trent Jones Jr.

To fast track the golf course construction, the AGDC had asked the Calamba Water District (CWD) to allow them to tap the Bucal Springs for its water source. Bucal is also frequented by local and foreign tourists.

Secret agreement

The Ayalas got what they wanted. On June 15, 2000, through their company AGDC, the Ayalas signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with Martin Tancangco, CWD general manager. The secret MoA gave AGDC the right to use a maximum of 300 liters of water per second at the rate of P1 for every cubic meter. The rate was several times lower than what household consumers are charged by CWD: P13 for every cubic meter of water.

It was only recently that Bayan Muna-ST got hold of a copy of the secret MoA. Another copy was also obtained by Bulatlat.

A recent study noted that an 18-hole golf course normally consumes 800,000 gallons of water a day.

Capulong said that after carefully reading the MoA, “we cannot help but feel alarmed and disturbed.” The four-year old MoA, he added, contains onerous provisions that “could prove to be very detrimental to the health and safety of the city’s water consumers.”

Delfin Declaro, Bucal’s barangay chairman, agreed: ” The MoA is one-sided. How can anyone say that the project is for the development of the majority if it only favors big businessmen?”

Bermuda grass

Golf courses also feature artificially-developed Bermuda grass. A study conducted in 1998 by the ecological research group Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC) revealed that the imported grass need intensive chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, soil-improving agents, under-strata hardening agents, coagulants and artificial coloring agents to maintain its greenery.

The use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals could endanger the aquifer, the villagers also said.

Capulong said that the water to be used by the AGDC would mean the installation of infrastructures and pump lines which in turn would deprive the community of adequate water supply.

However, a source from the Makati Development Corporation, one of AGDC’s contractors, dismissed Bayan Muna’s warning, saying that AGDC’s operation has complied with international quality and safety standards. Complaints coming from the public are being addressed by the company, he also said.

Last September, the Calamba city council’s environment committee tackled the issue but reportedly missed the whole point about the imminent threat posed by the Ayala project to the water source. This prompted Bayan Muna-ST to urge Mayor Jun Chipeco to declare Barangay Bucal as a protected watershed.

Bayan Muna’s call fell on deaf ears, however.

“Our position is that the water district (CWD) should be a community-based, not a corporate-based agency,” Capulong said. Water, he said, “should be publicly-owned and controlled and there should be enough transparency in its operation and management.

“Water is life and it belongs to the people and nature,” the Bayan Muna leader said. ()

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