Ifugao tribe snaps at short-circuited consultations for dam project

By: Arthur L. Allad-iw, InterAksyon.com - http://www.interaksyon.com/article/113989/ifugao-tribe-snaps-at-short-circuited-consultations-for-dam-project
Date of publication: 
11 July, 2015

LAMUT, Ifugao – For more than an hour from the poblacion of this town, we traversed rugged and slippery roads, where a driver’s miscalculation could mean a fatal fall onto the ravines.

It was back-breaking travel for city-based journalist with friends from the National Union of Peoples Lawyers, but our consolation was the beauty of the landscape, the rolling hills, the floating clouds of various shapes, and rivers that surged in between mountains.

Finally we reached our destination – the rich agricultural village of Barangay Dulao, Lagawe of this province.

But juxtaposed against the natural beauty was an eye opener: We learned how social services are denied to people in the remote areas.

Directly from the villagers, who are indigenous Ayangan, we learned worse things: How the process of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), mandated by the Indigenous People’s Rights Act, is not being applied by the very government agency mandated to ensure its observance, and also by the project proponent of a large dam that would directly affect their ancestral land.

The majority of the residents in the village are descendants of those displaced from the construction of the Magat dam. They decided to transfer to the area, which is still a part of the ancestral domain of their Ayangan ancestors.

But, what troubled them most was the thought that the experience of their ancestors being displaced by construction of the dam might be repeated a second time around.

They narrated in public forums how the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) provincial office and the project proponent, SN Aboitiz Power Group (SNAP), allegedly violated the prescribed FPIC processes.

Local residents claimed that the proponent conducted a feasibility study without anyone from the villagers, including the officials, being informed earlier or invited to take part. “Nagdrill da pay en (They already conducted drillings),” an elder shared.

They added that a member of the SNAP staff who served as its community relations officer called elders from the nearby town of Kiangan to perform a traditional ritual in the drilling area.

The Dulao folk did not only consider the ritual as an insult, but, more, an act that undermined their indigenous system because a ritual was carried out within their ancestral territory without their prior knowledge.

Lawyer Kissack Gabaen, chairperson of the NUPL Baguio-Benguet chapter, reiterated that an FPIC is required before any project could be conducted in an indigenous community.

“Even before the feasibility study, such preliminary activities as drillings should be carried out only after the FPIC was given the green light by the affected community,” he said, pointing relevant provisions of the IPRA.

The new project of SN Aboitiz Power Group (SNAP) in Ifugao, or SNAP Ifugao, is an integrated hydropower complex, comprised of three facilities designed to produce 350 MW of electricity.

The facilities include the 100 MW Alimit Plant, the 240 MW pumped storage facility and the 10 MW Olilicon plant.

Under this project, water from the Ibulao River is to be diverted via a tunnel to be established at Barangay Bimpal, Lamut to merge with the flow of Magat River. See photo by the author below:

The directly affected barangays in Lagawe are Tupaya, Dulao, Buyabuyan, Banga, Olilicon, and Apinuan, while in Lamut are barangays Hapid and Dimpal.

As the project would impact on the way of life and ancestral domain of the Ayangan, those living within the domain must be consulted too, Gabaen stressed.

The lapses in the FPIC process were shared by the residents in Hapid. In the first community assembly, the provincial NCIP, with the presence of the representatives of the proponent, failed to explain the project, including the technicalities. Instead, they “appointed” a representative of the indigenous people’s organization in the area.

The purpose of the first and second community assemblies was for the people to be informed of the project, after the FPIC team has delineated the area as populated by indigenous peoples and after a certification of non-overlap was issued by the NCIP, said Bernie Daytec, an NUPL paralegal.

Daytec pointed out that all information, including the technical aspects of the project, should be properly disclosed: “It should be free of manipulation, fear, violence or intimidation; it must be done in the prior sense, because FPIC has to be carried out before the project; and, the affected people or residents – whether directly or not – should know all the relevant information about the project.”

Aside from the statutory requirement by the IPRA for an FPIC, the constitutional right to information by the affected population should be observed, for, otherwise, there will be a violation of their basic human right to be informed.

While FPIC lapses and the shortcomings in the observance of the right to be informed were a reality on the ground, there is already a Certificate of Registration for SNAP Ifugao, signed by Department of Energy (DoE) Secretary Petilla. The SNAP Aboitiz contract provides for a term of 25 years effective July 24, 2014 and renewable for another 25 years.

Villagers and people’s organizations are calling for transparency in the consultation and observance of the FPIC processes, even as vocal leaders who are critical of the project are said to be subject to acts of vilification – a clear move to silence any opposition, claimed the Ifugao Peasant Movement.