IT’s all systems go for the construction of a P13.37-billion dam project in Tarlac province to irrigate more than 34,000 hectares of agricultural lands generating at least 43.5 megawatts (MW) electricity, according to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).
Rocardo Visaya, NIA administrator, said this is the Tarlac Balog-Balog Multipurpose (TBBMP) dam, the groundbreaking for which was led by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., who represented President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday.
Tarlac Rep. Victor Yap (Second District) said the project, which was first brought out as a dream by the late Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. in 1963 and touted as one of the country’s biggest locally funded dams, is expected to be completed within the term of Duterte that ends in 2022.
“The province [waited]for many years, for big-ticket projects, such as this [TBBMP], to answer its need for better rice production. The TBBMP will surely improve the lives of our farmers and boost our rice production,” Yap added.
NIA officials said the mega dam is expected to increase rice production within Tarlac province by 177.5 percent from 126,480 metric tons (MT) to 350,980 MT that will benefit at least 23,000 farmers.
The mega dam, which is 105.5 meters high with three cascading sections each at 25 meters in height and a crest length of 1.4 kilometers, has a storage capacity of 560 million cubic meters and occupies 28,076 hectares as watershed.
During the incumbency of then-President Corazon Aquino, the high rise dam was about to be pushed through but was shelved because of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 that caused massive mudflows in many parts of Tarlac.
The project was “relaunched” during the term of then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd but only the irrigation canals and appurtenant project components were funded in 2015 because of insufficient funds.
Visaya said that although Tarlac province is next to Nueva Ecija in terms of rice production in Region 3, only 29 percent of its total 114,530 hectares agricultural land area are irrigated compared to Nueva Ecija’s and Bulacan’s more than 70 percent.
“Thus, we are correcting this inequity on irrigation infrastructure,” he added.
According to the NIA, the main dam, which has a budget allocation of P7.9 billion as a start, is set to be constructed under the Duterte administration.
The dam construction was awarded to the joint venture of the Quezon City-based ITP Construction and the Chinese firm Guangxi Hydro-Electric Construction Bureau Ltd. for only P5.86 billion.
“The President promised to uplift the Filipino farmers’ lives and increase agricultural production, that is why the TBBMP dam was prioritized,” Visaya said.
He added that politics is set aside when it comes to the welfare of poor Filipinos, be they from Tarlac or elsewhere.
Tarlac is the home province of the Aquinos who campaigned against Duterte’s 2016 presidential bid.
“Part of the TBBMP is the construction of 308 kilometers of irrigation service roads, relocation housing for the 970 families to be displaced complete with barangay (village) health and daycare centers, livelihood programs, among others”, Visaya said.
Once completed, he added, the project will provide year-round irrigation to approximately 34,410 hectares of farmlands in the municipalities of Paniqui, Pura, Ramos, Victoria, Gerona, San Jose, La Paz, Capas, Concepcion and Tarlac City.
The dam is also expected to mitigate flooding in low-lying areas and provide inland fish production among affected families.
LEANDER C. DOMINGO