By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — The experience of the Butbut tribe of Ngibat village in Tinglayan town of Kalinga province has taught them that a people united can protect their village from destruction and sustainably manage their local resources.
The Butbut tribe is among the staunch oppositors to the proposed Chico River mega dams in the mid 70s to the 80s. The Butbut people are largely found in Tinglayan town of Kalinga province. Ngibat village is among the Butbut Tribe’s territories. It is also among the villages of Kalinga and Mountain Province that were to be submerged by a mega dam project in that period.
The Chico mega dams were a World Bank funded project of the then Ferdinand Marcos Sr. administration. The plan was to build a series of four mega dams along the Chico River that threatened to submerge villages, rice fields and pasturelands of the Bontoc and Kalinga indigenous peoples. The Bontoc and Kalinga indigenous peoples bravely defended their territories and blocked government’s efforts to push through with the mega dams even at a time when the country was under Martial Law.
Hundreds of Bontoc and Kalinga people were killed, arrested and imprisoned but they prevailed. Their strong united opposition foiled the Chico River mega dams.
The Butbut tribe along with others who opposed the Chico dam project have been accused of being anti-development. But in 1994, the Ngibat micro hydro was inaugurated. It was the first community managed micro hydro in the Cordillera region, operated by the Ngibat Farmer’s Association.
Luis Edpis, a local from Ngibat said that the Ngibat micro hydro was partly inspired by a water-powered rice pounder earlier developed by the neighboring Butbut community in Buscalan villge and Montanosa Research and Development Center (MRDC) a non-government organization. MRDC started to work with the Butbut tribe in 1981, devoting the next five years to experimentation and adoption of innovations on traditional knowledge in agriculture and blacksmithing.
Edpis was a staff of the MRDC then. “We were part of the project from the conceptualization, planning until construction, we worked closely with the village folk,” he said.
Edpis said that the capacity of the micro hydro started with 5 kilowatts. But years later it was increased to 12 kilowatts.
At first, the micro hydro powered a rice mill and domestic lighting for some 20 households. Later it energized a sugar cane mill and power tools for the village blacksmith. The number of houses lighted increased through the years until all more than 50 households were serviced in 2010.
Isabel Gannak of the Ngibat Farmer’s Association said that the rice mill cut the milling expenses of Ngibat farmers by half. In the late 1990s when commercial millers charged P15 per can (18 kilos) at the town center, the Ngibat farmers pay P7 for the maintenance of their own rice mill.
Today the Ngibat farmers pay P23 per can for milling when commercial millers charge P50.
Gannak added that the sugar cane crusher was not used for sugar granule production due to the lack of know how. They used the cane juice produced for basi (sugar cane wine). At that time, about 23 households were engaged in small scale basi production and could raise as much as P3,000 per year for every household fermenting 2.5 to 3 cans (18 liters/) of basi.
Ngibat folk also enjoyed the benefits of electricity except for intermittent brownouts in the summer months. In the early years they paid a monthly electric bill of P20 for a 40 KW bulb in a month. A few years later it increased to P22. By 2005 four households had acquired TVs and VCD players but NFA did not charge any additional fees for such household appliances including radios.
Adjacent villages of Tulgao, Basao and Dananao among others also benefited from the Ngibat ricemill.
Forest conservation is innate in the indigenous people’s culture. It is worth noting that the remaining forest covers in the country and even in the world remain within indigenous peoples’ territories.
Edpis said that the main watershed of Surong River is a forest communally owned by the Butbut tribe with the Tulgao and Dananao tribes. He said that the Nbibat tribe early on called for an inter-tribal forum to inform them of their intention to harness the waters of Surong River. As early as then, the tribes already reaffirmed their commitment to safeguard their communal forest.
The micro hydro harnesses water from the Surong River, some 2.5 kilometers away from the village. They agreed to prohibit uma (slash and burn farming) and logging in the area of the river’s headwaters. This stems from their experience in the 1970s when there was water shortage due to swidden or slash and burn farming and illegal logging.
According to Edpis, since setting up of the micro hydro, the people in the villages of Tulgao and Butbut Proper have stopped farming near the water shed areas.
The Ngibat Farmers Association also institutionalized agro-forestry activities that include tree planting.
Today the micro hydro facility continues to operate under NFA’s supervision, but some of its functions have degraded due to irreplaceable damaged parts. Only the rice mill operation has remained uninterrupted, benefiting all the 40 households now in Ngibat village. All its other electrically run functions have stopped except blacksmithing that can be done mechanically.
In 2010 the micro hydro’s dynamo, the component that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy, was destroyed and has not been replaced since. The dynamo had earlier suffered damages twice before finally giving up.
The electric fee collections of the farmers’ association were not enough to purchase a new dynamo. The Ngibat folk hoped local officials would extend financial assistance but they did not.
Although the residents preferred the cheap electricity provided by the micro hydro, with the hope to replace the dynamo growing dimmer left them no choice but to get household connections with the Kalinga Electric Cooperative. By 2014 most were using electric power from Kalinga Electric Cooperative (Kaelco) where they pay as high as P500 a month a far cry from the P23 fee they used to pay.
“The micro hydro was at least managed by the community and the fee collection went back to the community just the same unlike Kaelco which takes money away even from the poorer ones as well as resources from the community,” Badinnay Bador, a Ngibat woman village leader said.
Bador added that they seldom experienced brown outs with the community managed micro hydro unlike with Kaelco now. “We only experience brownouts with the micro hydro when there are technical problems but these were immediately addressed then,” she said.
Village folk concluded during a community meeting that the current state of the micro hydro is partly attributed to a weakening organization and policy implementation. Some of the leaders failed to perform their duties and responsibilities. This has largely affected the management of the micro hydro.
The farmers association started with fixing up the rice mill operations. Gannak said they are now strictly following milling and fee collection schedules. She said that only those assigned to man and operate the rice mill are allowed to do so to ensure proper correct handling ang proper management.
The Ngibat folk recognize that the micro hydro spurred the economic development of their village. They are thus hoping for a reinvigorated Ngibat Farmers Association leadership and membership to address the present set backs and be able to even increase the capacity of their micro hydro. But they also hope to get financial assistance and technical support.
There is no giving up for the Ngibat folk. Their shining history of resistance and indigenous communal practices taught them that a united and organized people can hurdle any difficulty. # nordis.net