MANILA, Philippines — The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has welcomed a decision by the country’s lawmakers to halt construction of a controversial dam project, which it says would adversely affect Indigenous people and the environment.

The Chinese-funded $254 million Kaliwa Dam project in Quezon province, south of the capital Manila, has been mired in controversy, reported.

Environmentalists claim it would involve the destruction of a 740-acre forest that is home to 126 plant and wildlife species.

Philippine bishops also had expressed concern in 2020 that the dam would force Indigenous groups like the Dumagat-Remontados from their ancestral lands.

Lawmakers halted construction June 9 pending an investigation into alleged corruption in securing government permits.

“The Kaliwa mega-dam project is against inclusive development. We are happy to learn of this decision by our lawmakers,” the bishops’ Commission on Social Action, Justice and Peace said in a June 10 statement.

Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo of Kidapawan, commission chairman, likewise said the common good must be prioritized over business interests.

“Indigenous people, the community and the environment should not be sacrificed on the altar of development aggression that would only benefit the interests of big business,” he told reporters.

He said lawmakers and the government had a duty to protect marginalized citizens including Indigenous communities.

“The state must look upon Indigenous people as the guardians of the country’s remaining biodiversity with the right to protect their ancestral lands,” Bagaforo said.

President Rodrigo Duterte has pushed for the project, calling it the “last resort” to stabilize Manila’s water supply.

In a recent interview, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, called for a “proper review” of the project.

While the Earth is reeling from global warming, here we are still doing business-as-usual projects when international studies have shown big dams are not advisable because they are not reliable and are built at an exaggerated economic cost,” he told Radio Veritas.