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By BINGO P. DEJARESCO III
Editor In Chief
The Bohol Chronicle

Without any encouragement, the national papers seemed to have picked up the issue of the controversial BHIP-2 Project - an issue that elevated itself to the national media consciousness for sheer magnitude and woeful implications.

Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) columnist Juan L. Mercado, in his June 28, 2007 column, suggested the BHIP-2 project could be facing serious technical problems that could lead to the project becoming a "white elephant."

Mercado opined that the "economic viability" ("excessive per NEDA) and the "legal" (violates ODA rules on pre-clearance by ICC of over-runs) are secondary worries.

The Inquirer columnist said that the viability of the Bayongan Dam (System Two) is dependent on the efficient of System One (located in Pilar) and the Malinao Dam (Pilar).

Since the Bayongan watershed is one of the smaller of Bohol's 22 watersheds, it was necessary that excess water from the Malinao Dam had to flow through a connecting channel to the Bayongan Dam, Mercado stated.

Malinao Dam does not have that kind of water level as water shortages have been encountered lately, perhaps partly due to what environmental experts is the "cumulative effect of global warming."

In an interview over Station DYRD, Governor Rico Aumentado, who can rightfully claim the BHIP-2 as one of his flagship projects, said " Mercado is just an swivel chair columnist. He should come over to Bohol and see the project for himself."

MERCADO QUOTES EXPERTS

But it seems Mercado was merely quoting experts.

He said the (IRRI) Irrigated Rice Research Consortium opined "the usefulness of the Bayongan Dam in San Miguel will greatly depend on the efficient management and operations of System One (located in Pilar to cover 4,960 hectares) and the Malinao Dam in Pilar."

The IRRI scientists further quoted "since the start of the Project of System One in 1998, there was not enough water during the dry season of December to April." Further more recently in 2006, the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research said :" The Malinao Dam only holds 17 days of water' and "without a recharge, Malinao Dam would run dry." Where will Bayongan Dam get its water then?

Was NIA not aware of this design flaw when BHIP-2 was evaluated? "Then why was the project allowed to take off the ground in the first place?" some observers asked.

According to Mercado, NEDA head Romulo Neri as early as 2005 , in a Bohol Research Consortium workshop averred that "the dam is not economically viable."

PROJECT DELAYED TWO YEARS

The operation of BHIP-2 was initially targeted for 2005 but the NIA had proposed a two-year extension (2007) alongside a cost over-run of P 1.2-Billion. Without prior ICC and NEDA approval of the over-run, contractor (Korean) Hanjin Industries, nonetheless, continued the project - with an accumulated receivables of P 600-Milllion today.

The DBM (Department of Budget and Management) will not release funds prior to ICC and NEDA endorsement, according to ODA (Office Development Act)rules.

During her recent election campaign visit here, the President Gloria Arroyo was assured that by June 2007, some 500 hectares will be partially irrigated by the project.

As we enter the month of July today, BHIP-2 Project Manager Modesto Membreve texted media yesterday that perhaps by August this year -with a dam water level of 39 meters, some 500 hectares will be partially irrigated out of the 5,300 targeted hectarage under the BHIP-2 Project.

"This is good since even at 90% completion, we can partially irrigate some land.", Membreve reasoned out. Observers, however, noted that the 500 hectares is less than 10% of the entire target hectarage and appears miniscule considering that the project is allegedly (by NIA claims) already 90% completed- clearly a layman's viewpoint.

Membreve further assured that by November 2007, the project will be "fully operational" from its low water level elevation today of only 36.60 meters.

BASIC TECHNICAL PROBLEM?

Quoting further the global Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Mercado reveled that the organization has a declining faith in the efficiency of the present-day irrigation system in effecting optimum food production. FAO says, according to Mercado, that only 36% of the world's food output is accounted for 16% of the time due to irrigation.

FAO cited: rising construction cost, silting, waste and inept management as the main reasons why irrigation is being given a third hard look by scientists -as an efficient adjunct to sound food production.

According to Mercado, in his Bohol visit in May, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap whose DA oversees NIA projects pointedly as to which "of the 59 rivers in Bohol will funnel water into Bayongan?" "He was told that it would be rain fed", an observer said. "And Yap's reaction was unprintable." It is an expected reaction.

Ordinary Juan de la Cruz reaction would have to be: why build an expensive dam and canals (that allegedly dissipates 40% of water content) fed largely by rain when by themselves the rice fields can wait for the rains to come and irrigate them, Nature's way?

It is a highly technical problem that only specialists-scientists can adequately answer. But it has to be answered fast before November 2007, the time the rainy season would have ended.

Would the dam be filled then (by November) with rain water up to 50 water level elevation and thus make it capable of operating fully?

It is an important question to answer since by Membreve's own account three other multi-billion irrigation-dam projects in Ilocos Sur, Cebu and Central Luzon (Bulacan and Pampanga) had over-runs that shot through the roof.

According to NEDA, they too have been stalled by lack of funding endorsements from the top economic planning body of the country.

Is there a technical flaw in these irrigation projects?

--July 1, 2007

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