Chico Once More: Legacy of Resistance in the Cordillera

By JITEN YUMNAM
www.nordis.net

FIRST OF TWO PARTS

(The author had years ago contributed articles to Nordis about his observations and lessons he came by on cultural exchange trips he made with others to communities in the Cordillera. This time he was part of an International Solidarity Mission (ISM) with indigenous peoples communities. He belongs to the Meitei people of Manipur, India. He is an environmentalist and human rights defender, involved in protecting Manipur’s environment, land, resources and the human rights of its indigenous peoples. He is the Secretary of the Center for Research and Advocacy – Manipur, a writer-researcher and regularly contributes articles to the Imphal Free Press, E-Pao.Net and other publications. He travels around the world to learn and speak on indigenous peoples’ issues. He also produces documentary films.)

SHARING. Jiten Yumnam, (far right), listens attentively to stories narrated by the Huhlucan community during the International Solidarity Mission in Ifugao. Photo courtesy of Ifugao Peasant Movement

“When you run, gold gathers on your feet”

Traversing the rugged, pothole filled, steep and slippery mountainous roads towards Camandag Barangay in Ifugao in mid July 2018 revealed mesmerizing landscapes of the Cordillera in North Philippines, fringed by lush forest green, mystic bluish mountains and lofty clouds.

The mountainous landscape and biodiversity is akin to the terrains of Manipur, North East of India. The Cordillera with 1.7 million people is blessed with opulent biodiversity and natural resources. Tribes like Bontoc, Kankanaeys collectively known as the Igorot people, were able to maintain their distinct cultures despite Spanish colonization, due to their affinity with the land.

“When you run in the Cordilleras, gold dust gathers on your feet”, an Igorot elder exclaimed, during an interaction in Camandag village, signifying the abundance of the land. Indeed, most of gold and copper in the Philippines is extracted from the region.

SHARING. Jiten Yumnam (far right), listens attentively to stories narrated by the Huhlucan community during the International Solidarity Mission in Ifugao. (Photo courtesy of Ifugao Peasant Movement)

“Welcome to the Philippines, Province of China”

The Cordillera region for long has been exposed to the neoliberal policies of the Philippines, leading to intrusion of multinational companies and increased financing from international financial institutions (IFIs) like Asian Development Bank, World Bank and countries like Japan and China, targeting its land and resources. Of late, the overwhelming financing from China in the Philippines including the Cordilleras impelled considerable debate.

Indeed, the Philippine government signed three loan agreements on economic and infrastructure cooperation with China during the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in November 2017. The loan agreements cover the $234.92-million New Centennial Water Source, Kaliwa Dam project and the $72.49 million for the Chico River irrigation project in the Cordillera.

On 12 July, 2018, banners welcoming visitors to the Philippines as a “Province of China” were seen hanging on footbridges in Metro Manila on the second anniversary of The Hague’s ruling on 12 July 2016 invalidating China’s claim to South China Sea. The incident exposed how Philippines is increasingly being influenced economically and militarily by China and becoming more subservient to the domination of neoliberal forces for its economic and political survival.

“Build, Build, Build”

The Philippines including the Cordillera region is subjected to massive infrastructure projects as Government reinforces its neoliberal development processes. The Philippine and Chinese Governments have signed the P3.135 billion loan agreement for the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project, the first flagship infrastructure project to be financed by China under the “Build, Build, Build” program. The National Irrigation Administration and China CAMC Engineering Co. Ltd. announced the signing of the P4.37 billion Chico River Pump Irrigation Project in March 2018. The World Bank initially planned to fund the project, but abandoned it due to massive protest by the Igorot people, who revered the Chico River, as “river of life” The project will displace at least 100,000 people and submerge their land.

The “Build, Build, Build” vision of the Philippines Government led to aggressive push for infrastructure projects, extractive industries, hydro power and other energy projects, targeting the indigenous peoples’ land and resources. Cordillera possesses 25% of watershed areas of the Philippines and new hydro electric projects are extensively planned over almost all Rivers in Ifugao, Kalinga, Apayao and other nearby provinces.

The Philippines’ Renewable Energy Act of 2008, the first comprehensive legislation on renewable energy in Southeast Asia, likewise aims to increase the country’s power generation for renewable energy by three times, approximately 16,200 MW by 2030 . At least nine dams are planned over the Chico River and several of its tributaries in Kalinga. The Department of Energy (DOE) has been fast tracking approval of renewable energies, primarily hydro electric projects. In Camandag, villagers’ rejected the plan for a hydro electric project in their village, fearing it will submerge their land, forest and livelihood sources.

Developer SN Aboitiz Power-Ifugao is preparing to construct the 390 MW Alimit hydropower project in Cordillera. The SNAP Group, a joint venture of Norway’s SN Power and Aboitiz Power Corp., applied with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in March 2014 to complete the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) process stipulated under the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA), 1997. The Aguinaldo, Lagawe, Lamut and Mayoyao communities will be affected by the dam.

The DoE is also planning to construct the 11 MW Tinoc II Mini Hydroelectric Power Plant project at the Tinoc River in Ifugao with the Quad River Energy Corporation, a joint venture of AC Energy Holdings Inc. and Sta. Clara Power Corporation as project proponent. In Kalinga, the DoE has approved the Renewable Energy Service Contracts (RESCs) of 15-megawatt Upper Tabuk Hydro Power Project in Sitio Saranggani of Barangay Dupag proposed over the Tanudan River. The Kalinga Hydropower, Inc. (KHI), which is the project proponent of Tanudan dam misinformed affected communities and undermined their traditional decision-making processes while also causing social division.

Geothermal Energy development is another focus of the corporate bodies and the Government of Philippines to exploit the hot springs in Cordillera. In 2010, US based Chevron entered into a joint venture with APC Group Inc., a subsidiary of SM Group, and Guidance Management Corp., to explore, develop and operate the Kalinga geothermal prospect covering 25,682 hectares. APC, that invested $300 million to set up a 100 MW geothermal plant, targets to generate 300 MW in the long run .

In Kalinga, Chevron has failed to get the consent of Dananao and the Uma tribes. Two others, one to be put up in Mainit, Mountain Province and in Daclan, Bokod in Benguet cover approximately 76,000 hectares. In Chevron’s Kalinga project, the NCIP ignored community objections to the project, while causing social divisions and conflict. Air and chemical pollution, drying of hot springs and geysers in the surrounding area, toxic waste water entering clean aquifers due to lowering of water table, violent explosions, accidents killing workers are others concerns with such plants. Terrible noise caused during the drilling and operation of geothermal plants, often reaches above the pain threshold of 120 decibels.

Mining of minerals has long been a controversy in Cordillera with affected communities resisting corporate mining operations. Mining companies, including Philex Mining Corp, Lepanto Mines, Benguet Corporation mined copper, silver and gold in several provinces of Cordillera. Policies on mining and other extractives, plantations, and other exploitation of land and natural resources continue to trample on indigenous peoples’ rights and encroaching upon their ancestral domains. Mining destroys and contaminate indigenous peoples land and territories. Militarization and human rights violations goes along with operation of mining, setting up geothermal energy plants and in constructing dams in CAR.

There is clear cut violation of Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, 1995 in pursuit of such aggressive development. The non-recognition and violation of Indigenous peoples’ collective rights to their ancestral domain is perpetrated through regalia doctrine, forestry code, Philippines Mining Act etc. The non-recognition of IPs socio political system, manipulation of FPIC under IPRA law, institutionalized discrimination through religious, media and educational institutions also facilitated violation of IP rights.

The aggressive nature, the massive infrastructure focus, the involvement of multinational companies, the financing by IFIs in the Cordillera and militarization is much similar to the intense push for oil exploration, mining, plans to build multiple dams all over the Rivers of Manipur. The Barak River and Manipur River system are now subjected to plans to build around fifteen dams, including the 1500 MW Tipaimukh dam, the 190 MW Pabram Dam, the 66 MW Loktak Downstream Project, the 50 MW Irang dam etc. The Jubilant Energy Private Ltd, the Oil India Limited is conducting forceful surveys to drill oil and gas. Massive infrastructure projects like Trans Asian Railway and Roads are also pursued, to facilitate dam building, mining, oil exploration etc. in Manipur as part of India’s Act East Policy.# nordis.net

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