By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — Cordillera indigenous peoples (IPs) called for the abolition of the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) saying that the agency betrayed their interests in a protest action in front of the NCIP regional office on October 20.
IP leaders from the six provinces of the region assailed NCIP officials for their failure to protect the rights and uphold the interest IPs. They also accused NCIP officials of selling out IP territories to large mining and energy corporations by manipulating the free prior and informed consent (FPIC) process to favor energy and mining companies. They stressed that these energy and mining projects are detrimental to the environs of their ancestral territories.
The protest action at the NCIP regional office was part of a whole day protest of Cordillera IPs against militarization and violation of IP rights.
Nora Chulipa, the acting regional director of NCIP Cordillera, said she cannot comment on the issues being raised by the protesters as she has just assumed office.
Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) Chairperson Windel Bolinget pointed out that IPs nurture and protect their territories from destructive projects because they believe that they are the stewards of the land for the future generations. He explained that it is innate in IP culture to defend their land and preserve their natural resources so that the next generation will have enough resources to live on for the continuity of their race.
“It is our culture to protect our land for our children and children’s children because we believe that land is life. A true Igorot (the Cordillera IPs) will not sell his birthright and will not hesitate to defend his ancestral homeland in whatever form he can from destructive corporate greed,” Bolinget said.
Bolinget assailed the NCIP for not lifting a finger against the continuing extrajudicial killing of IPs in the country. He said that justice has not yet been served for the killings of IP leaders that include Marcus Bangit, Albert Teredano, and William Bugatti who was killed last March in Ifugao.
“IP leaders who have been extrajudicially killed were killed defending their territories against destructive mining, logging and energy projects and the NCIP has not done anything to stop these killings. The NCIP, at the very least should have issued a statement condemning these senseless killings,” he reiterated.
Nestor Peralta, spokesperson of the Ifugao Peasant Movement (IPM) who hails from Tinoc, said NCIP officials are not listening to the opposition of Tinoc communities to the hydro power plant project of the Quadriver Corporation. He accused NCIP officials of manipulating the FPIC process disregarding community protests. He said affected communities have voiced out their opposition but NCIP officials and local government officials of Tinoc are instead forcing the people to sign the memorandum of agreement (MOA).
There are at least six hydropower projects awarded by the Department of Energy to Sta. Clara, Quadriver and Philnew Hyrdo Corporation in Ifugao. All these hydro projects are projected to generate a total of 31.5 MW.
In 2008, Quadriver, Sta Clara, NCIP and the Tinoc local government started to conduct activities and visits to the host barangays. In November 2012, the MOA for Barangay Eheb was signed while Tukucan MOA was signed in July 2013.
In August 2014, the indigenous people of Tukucan and Eheb withdrew their signature to the MOA and all other agreements in support to the Quadriver hydro project through a letter of retraction submitted to the NCIP. Eheb submitted their letter of MOA retraction in August of 2013.
Peralta said the FPIC process and MOA signing pushed through after NCIP officials and local government employees disregarded the people’s protests. “Amid the people’s protests, NCIP officials are still pushing for the continuation of the project. They (NCIP officials) are fellow IPs but instead of protecting out interests they are selling us to destructive corporations,” he said.
In Benguet, the people of Kapangan shared a similar experience. They have been filing petitions as far as the NCIP national office questioning the issuance of a certificate precondition to the Cordillera Hydroelectric Corporation (Coheco) for a 50 MW hydro power project in their town.
Tranquilino Baniwas of Kapangan shared that they have been filing petitions too and talking to NCIP officials and went as far as the agency’s central office to register their opposition to the hydro project but it was to no avail.
An elder from Conner, Apayao said the NCIP failed to protect their forests from corporate logging and rivers from black sand mining despite the people’s opposition to these projects. He said that these projects took over agricultural land and adversely affected the sources of irrigation of Apayao folks.
“Our children in the NCIP, we sent you to school in the hope that you might serve your people better, use what your educational attainments to serve the interest of your fellow Cordillerans,” he said.
David Aggulin, an elder from Kalinga, accused NCIP officials of campaigning for destructive projects. He said that during the FPIC process, NCIP officials only talk about the good effects of energy and mining projects but do not present the negative effects on the environment.
“Instead of protecting the IPS, the NCIP served as a bridge for the entry of these destructive projects,” he said.
Aggulin also stressed that the NCIP and companies should respect the decision of IP communities. “When we say No to the entry of the project, then you should respect our decision and stop processing the applications,” he said.
Timpuyog ti Umili ti Lacub Bantayan Ekolohiya ken Kinabaknang (TULBEK) Secretary General Esteban Ferraren also accused the NCIP of railroading the FPIC process in favor of the Golden Lake Mining Company who wants to operate in Lacub. He said they have filed a petition to the NCIP against the entry of Golden Lake and have been requesting for a genuine FPIC process but the agency just dismissed their petition.
“We have been very vocal with our opposition but the NCIP did not listen to the people’s opposition and went on with a bogus referendum to favor the company,” he said.
Ferraren added that the people opposing the entry of Golden Lake are even subjected to threat harassment and intimidation by soldiers of the 41st Infantry Battalion.
In Mountain Province, Sabangan folk affected by the 14 megawatt hydro power project of Hedcor-Sabangan along the Chico River in Barangay Napua and Namatec of Sabangan town also claimed that there were violations to the FPIC process for the said project. Barangay Gayang also of Sabangan and the Napua Sabangan United Tour Guides Association have filed petitions to the NCIP calling for a stop to the project but the construction of the power plant is about to be concluded in the first quarter of next year.
On the same day, representatives of IPs from Betwagan, Sadanga filed a petition against another proposed hydro power project of Hedcor along the Chico River that falls within their territory. # nordis.net