‘Magat Dam is Coming to Town’: Assuring IP’s Rights

That’s the word, and you’re right. Another Magat Dam, but in another name and greater in electric-generating capacity, is being eyed in Ifugao. A 390-megawatt (MW) hydroelectric power plant which will be known as Alimit Hydropower Complex is taking underway by SN Aboitiz Power (SNAP) Group here at the middle of the province covering the municipalities of Aguinaldo, Lagawe, Lamut, and Mayoyao.

Nonetheless, one might wonder and some may not even bother knowing what is this all about—its impacts and effects to the Ifugao province as a cultural community in terms of environmental, cultural, social, economic, and political aspects. But, I guess even if you’re at the middle of reading this article, I still suppose, you wouldn’t care, right? I admit it. I myself didn’t care since it was first conceived many years ago not until I was prompted by an opportunity to be part of it. Well, I say, you should. Less than 10 years from now, you would wish you should have really cared.

Embedded in the Constitution, the State “recognizes and promotes the rights of indigenous cultural communities within the framework of national unity and development.” Thus, Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples (ICCs/IPs) have every right to develop, control, use, manage, and conserve natural resources within their lands and territories. The Ifugaos, being a unique IPs, have the right to benefit and share the profits from the allocation and utilization of the provinces’ natural resources, and the right to negotiate the terms and conditions for its exploration towards ensuring ecological, environmental protection and conservation measures.

Yet, a very big project is soon to be built, with of course the consent of the ICCs/IPs as safeguarded by RA 8371 otherwise known as Indigenous People’s Rights Act, and everyone especially the youth, who will be the ‘people at risks’ in the future, seems really ‘very quiet’ about it. No one seems bold enough to assert our cultural rights and demand benefits due to us, Ifugaos, as the owner of the resources.

Having a potential capacity of 30 MW higher than what the 360 MW Magat power plant can generate, the Alimit Hydropower Complex which consists of three major components—the Alimit HEPP, a concrete gravity dam with 120 MW power plant; the Olilicon HEPP, a run-of-river and a 20 MW power plant; Alimit PSP, a pump storage with 250 underground power plant; and plus the 42 km Alimit-Bayombong Transmission Line—can directly affect communities particularly the barangays of Halag and Itab in Aguinaldo; Banga, Buyabuyan, Olilicon, and Tupaya in Lagawe; Sanafe, Poblacion West and Mabatobato (transmission lines) and Bimpal in Lamut; and Nattum in Aguinaldo.

I cannot help but wonder that while construction comes underway, everything seems so relaxed on the part of SNAP, the government, and the communities as evidenced by no strong assemblies or meetings geared towards deliberating it. I attended one of the community consultations in Lamut, which was likely ‘not a consultation’, where SN Aboitiz has provided a key number of benefits—benefits which are somehow ‘contributory’ with the proposed project. It includes new and improved roads particularly farm to market roads; increased economic activity and development such as local employment, livelihood possibilities, economic development, and increased LGU revenues; availability of renewable energy and watershed protection; and enhanced corporate social responsibility projects such as livelihood, environment, education, and health.

But, what do I mean when I say these are, or almost, just ‘contributory’ benefits? That is because the project cannot be realized without accomplishing these so-called benefits. Mind you, the project site is in an isolated area, and it is just proper to pave new roads. I ask you, if you are the project developer, how would you send your large equipment without roads? And even if indeed after its completion and farm-to-market roads were built, will these assure uplifting directly the economic status of the communities?

Well, speaking of increased economic activity and development, I may as well ask, who will be employed during the years of construction and the coming decades of management? Will the locals be employed? Minority, yes they will. Some of the communities are, in fact, eager seeing the start of its construction in hope of temporary employment. But, after such, what happens in the coming years?

Furthermore, though the project increases revenues for local government units (LGUs) through taxes from its construction and operation, the question arises, how will these revenues reflect back to communities? Considering complications of local politics, I doubt it. Even with increased local revenue, the socio-economic status quo will just remain as it is. It’s like adding oil to already burning house. What am I pointing? The bottom line is, the communities should be assured of clear, specific, and direct benefits from allotted revenues.

I want to point out a similar view raised during the consultation which I think is really something to ponder on. The Ifugaos own the watersheds, but after the project is completed, will this lessen electric bills? That’s the question. Of course, that’s an unanswerable by SNAP as it is only an electric-generating company, but given an increased electric capacity for the National Grid Corporation (NGC), will this greatly impact the Ifugaos? Will the electric bills decrease or at most be ‘free’? Answers, I leave that up to everyone to argue. If, however, electric bills remain the same and even increases in the future, the project would be just as ‘good’ as a form of exploitation. Say in an idiomatic way of ancient trading, I give you clothes and foods, and you give me treasures and gold. That’s quite a ‘bad’ barter for the Ifugaos.

I have neither an argument against what may boost the economic efficiency of the province nor protests against its realization. Neither do I want to rally groups to demand everything beyond what is not supposed to be. I have the only goal in mind of clarifying a concrete assurance of benefits for the communities directly affected. This project will benefit the developers and the government in a unlimited ways aside from spurring economic development, but the question is, as the owner of the resources, what do we, the Ifugao communities, directly get regardless of what can be offered at present? What are we, the youth, left with after years from now? That’s the very question I dare impose everyone to deliberate on it.

Thus, regarding the rights of ICCs/IPs to an intelligent participation in the formulation and implementation of the project, all sectors of the society especially the youth as well as the agricultural communities who are the managers of the resources should be represented in the drafting of project frameworks and consultation assemblies. The government, being the representative of the communities, should likewise work to provide clear, direct, specific, and responsive benefits due to the Ifugaos before Magat Dam may be accepted inside the heart of the province.#

 

(This article was published as Opinion in the January-March 2016 Issue of the Upland Farm, the official student publication of Ifugao State University, Lamut, Ifugao.)

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