By Mar Supnad
SAN JOSE, Tarlac – The Tarlac Balog-balog Multi Purpose (TBBMP) dam -for the last 54 years, an unrealized dream of Tarlac farmers, may see the light and be completed during the Duterte regime.
This was the prevailing thought and feeling here Tuesday when the ground breaking of the project was made, with Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., who represented President Rodrigo Duterte and National Irrigation Administration (NIA) administrator Ricardo Visaya, presiding.
First brought out as a “dream” by the late Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino in 1963, the TBBMP, touted as one of the country’s the biggest locally funded dam, will finally be completed within the term of Duterte.
Once completed, 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 TBBMP, which is primarily located in this town, has a total project cost of P13.37 Billion and is designed to irrigate more than 34,000 hectares of agricultural lands in Tarlac Province and will also produce 43.5 Megawatts of electricity.
The high rise dam was about to be pushed through during the incumbency of the late President Corazon (Cory) Aquino but was shelved due to the eruption of the Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 which caused massive mudflows in many parts of Tarlac.
It was re-launched during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, but “due to insufficient funds”, only the “irrigation canals and appurtenant project components” were funded in 2015.
“Though Tarlac province ranks second to Nueva Ecija in terms of rice production in Region 3, only 29% of its total 114,530 hectares of agricultural lands are irrigated, compared to more than 70% of Nueva Ecija and Bulacan; hence, we are correcting this “inequity on irrigation infrastructure”, said Visaya.
Slated to be constructed by the Duterte administration is the main dam which has a budget allocation of P7.9 Billion.
The once controversial bidding of the dam construction that triggered the resignation of former NIA administrator Peter Laviña, however, was awarded to the joint venture of the Quezon City-based ITP Construction and the Chinese firm Guangxi Hydro-Electric Construction Bureau Lmtd. for only P5.86 Billion.
“The President promised to uplift the Filipino farmers’ lives and increase agri-production, that is why the TBBMP dam was prioritized. Politics is set aside when it comes to the welfare of the poor people, whether they be from Tarlac or elsewhere,” said the former general Visaya.
Tarlac is the home province of the Aquinos who campaigned against Duterte’s 2016 presidential bid.
The mega dam, which has a storage capacity of 560 million cubic meters, is set to increase rice production within Tarlac by 177.5 percent from 126,480 metric tons to 350,980 metric tons, which will support at least 23,000 farmers and the rice per capita consumption of Tarlaqueños.
The mega dam is 105.5 meters high with 3 cascading sections, each at 25 meters in height and a crest length of 1.4 kilometers.
It has a storage capacity of 560 million cubic meters “which can mitigate flooding in low-lying areas and provide inland fish production within the affected families” and will occupy 28,076 hectares as watershed.
“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 health and day care centers, and livelihood programs,”added Visaya.