NIA urged to suspend Chico River project amid protest

By KIMBERLIE NGABIT QUITASOL
www.nordis.net

BAGUIO CITY — With the growing protests and issues surrounding the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project (CRPIP), a joint committee of the Regional Development Council Cordillera was forced to urge the proponents to halt the construction operations.

The Committee on Indigenous Peoples Concerns (CIPC) initiated the May 7 joint meeting with the Infrastructure Development Committee to discuss issues related to the China-funded facility.

TROUBLESHOOTING. The joint meeting tackled how to resolve the violations committed by NIA and how to fast-track the issuance of the Certification Precondition for the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project. Photo by Sherwin De Vera

In the meeting, National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) Cordillera Director Roland Calde urged the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) that “if possible there should be a temporary suspension until the issuance of the Certification of Precondition (CP).”

The director disclosed that on May 3, his office sent NIA a letter on the calling their attention for starting “earth-moving and construction” in the absence of the CP.

However, NIA personnel who attended the meeting said they have yet to receive the letter. They also explained that the stoppage order must come from the central office.

Legal affairs director Sumanghal Sagga of the NCIP Central Office backed Calde.

“In order not to aggravate the situation, we have to stop regardless of the situation that there is no instruction yet coming from the central office,” he said.

The lawyer stressed that since the body already informed them, it is incumbent for them to “make the necessary the measure to protect the interest [of indigenous peoples].”

Groups protest

Indigenous peoples’ organizations led by Cordillera Peoples Alliance picketed the NEDA Cordillera office during the meeting. They demanded the suspension of CRPIP activities for violating indigenous peoples rights.

Windel Bolinget, chairperson of CPA said that “even if NCIP issues a Certificate of Precondition to NIA-R02, it is moot and academic since the project construction has already started since June 2018.”

“If NCIP was sincere in implementing the FPIC process, it should have prevented the start of the project construction while the FPIC process was still ongoing,” Bolinget added.

The CPA leader urged the officials gathered in the meeting to heed their demands and come up with an order to suspend the project.

ONEROUS. The protesters also called for the junking of the loan agreement that will only benefit China. Photo by Kimberlie Quitasol/Nordis

Fernando Mangili of the Alliance of Peasants in the Cordillera Homeland said the project is not the answer to the free irrigation needs of farmers.

He said the interest rates and collateral under the China loan do not commensurate the fraction of land covered by the facility.

“It is a sell-out of our patrimony and will burden the entire country,” he said.

The group also decried the lack of an Environment Compliance Certificate (ECC) for the project from the DENR-CAR.

The ECC for the facility came from the DENR Region 2 but the activities with environmental damages and disturbances, such as tree cutting and earth moving activities are in Pinukpuk, Kalinga.

Request denied

Calde, the chair of the CIPC, reminded NIA to provide an official response to the June 18, 2018, joint resolution of the RDC-RPOC Cordillera requesting a temporarily put the project on hold and study the possibility to increase the area to be irrigated in Kalinga. The council passed the joint resolution during a meeting at Lagawe, Ifugao.

Commissioner Gaspar Cayat of the NCIP underscored the need for NIA to “answer the resolution properly” so they can present the official response to the offices, local officials and groups who made the request.

NIA Technical Staff Federico Ordinario said NIA Region 2 forwarded a report on the matter to the office of the NIA administrator dated August 20 last year. He explained the irrigable lands in Rizal are 4-9 meters higher than the operating water level of the facility.

“Since the project is a pumping type and it cost too much to pump water and we are going to repump again the water just to irrigate the area in Rizal that is not economically feasible,” he added.

More issues

Other than the breach in the FPIC process and the request of RDC-CAR for more service area, the joint committee members also inquired on other reported violation of the Chinese contractor.

Calde asked NIA about the Chinese workers and alleged non-provision of safety gears to locally hired labor.

STRIPPED. Earth-moving activities and access road construction have left some parts of the Chico River banks unprotected from erosion. Photo courtesy of CPA.

The irrigation agency said that there are 66 Chinese workers while 347 are local laborers from Kalinga and Cagayan. Representatives from NIA defended the presence of the “highly skilled engineers and workers” from China because “tunneling and construction of the pump house are complicated structures that need specialized skills.”

“As to the safety gears the contractor is providing pero our local employees ay tinatanggal dahil mainit but in the tunnel, we are requiring them,” said NIA.

NEDA Cordillera Assistant Director Dolores Molintas said that during March 19 RDC meeting in Bontoc, issues on the payment of quarry tax and conformity to the provisions of the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) of the Chinese contractor were raised.

According to NIA, China CAMC Engineering Co., Ltd. and the local officials of Kalinga already reached an agreement on the permits and fees for the quarry. The agency requested a copy of the report on the reported ECC violation of the contractor so they may act accordingly. # nordis.net

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