By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) reiterated on Friday, May 10 that issuing the Certificate of Precondition for the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project (CRPIP) after its proponent violated the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) guidelines will set a “dangerous and catastrophic precedent.”
“It will be an open season for companies to violate indigenous peoples’ rights given that the very government violates the process and gets away with it,” said CPA chair Windel Bolinget.
According to him, the discussions during the Regional Development Council joint committee meeting are “mere formality” for the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) “to save face and fix the problem.”
He said it is already “moot and academic” to talk about the compliance of the National Irrigation Administration because “in the end, NCIP will still issue the Certification Precondition regardless of the grave violations committed.”
His group was the first to sound the alarm on FPIC process violation. He said the failure of NCIP to enforce its own guidelines sends a clear message to all other proponents of development aggression that they can proceed even without completing the process.
Contrary to the statement made by NIA chief Ricardo Visaya that his office complied with all the requirements for the CRPIP, the NCIP said the irrigation agency violated the FPIC guidelines.
Members of the Committee on Indigenous Peoples Concerns and Infrastructure Development Committee of the Cordillera Regional Development Council attended the May 7 meeting to tackle the issues regarding the project backed the NCIP.
NCIP regional director Atty. Roland Calde explained that the Memorandum of Agreement and the resolution of consent signed by the community is not the end of the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) process. He stressed that NCIP has yet to review the MOA and the proceedings if it has complied with the provisions of the law before issuing the Certification Precondition.
The Commission en banc issues the document for a project to attest that it complied with the requirements provided in the guidelines and received the FPIC of the community. The certification is required for the issuance of permits from other government offices and before any project can proceed in indigenous peoples’ domains.
The joint committee resolved that NIA should suspend their activities. They informed NIA representatives to wait for the issuance of the Certification Precondition before resuming the earthmoving and construction activities in the Pinukpuk and Magaogao domains.
While urging the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) to suspend its activities on the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project “until the issuance of the [Certification Precondition]”, the NCIP also gave its assurance to “give the much priority needed for the issuance of the document.”
Prior to this, NCIP Cordillera sent a letter to NIA on May 3 with the same request. The letter and the committee resolution came 8 months after the project started and less than two weeks before the en banc decides on the Certification Precondition for the project.
Even NCIP commissioner Gaspar Cayat expressed that he, together with other officials from NCIP central office attended the meeting because they want “to finish the requirement as much as possible and the soonest possible time.”
The newly appointed commissioner for CAR and region 1 admitted that during the first meeting he attended, the commission tackled the matter and “trying to fast track action” on the Certification Precondition.
In an earlier interview, Calde also admitted that had the project been a private undertaking, his office would have not allowed it to proceed given that the FPIC process was still ongoing. However, he also said that they are looking for a “win-win solution” on the matter.
“We understand the side of the government [that] there is actually a time table including the allocation of the funds,” the NCIP-CAR chief added.
Taking the issue lightly
Atty. Jennifer Corpuz of Tebtebba commented during the RDC-CAR deliberation that the body “seems to be putting too little weight on the CP.” She pointed out that it is “very difficult for communities to decide on things when the project is already underway.”
“The reason why FPIC comes before everything else because we want to avoid unduly affecting the decision making of the community,” she explained.
She also reminded the NCIP to include in their report that the “[environmental compliance certificate (ECC)] was issued late in the game.” According to her, during the crafting of the FPIC guidelines, the environmental impact statement (EIS) was identified as “one of the important document for the community decision-making process.”
Corpuz said that because of this, “there might some environmental impact that was not foreseen by the community during the process.”
NIA Region technical staff Federico Ordinario said they gave the notice to proceed to the contractor, China CAMC Engineering Co., Ltd., in September last year. In their report to the committee, the representative of the irrigation agency disclosed that as of April 30 they have accomplished about 24 percent of the project.
The P4.3 billion project is the first among the China-funded undertaking under the Build, Build, Build program of the Duterte government. It is expected to be completed in three years and irrigate 8,700 hectares in the provinces of Cagayan and Kalinga. # nordis.net / Photo screenshot from NIA Region 2 AVP on CRPIP