By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — The National Irrigation Administration Cordillera Administrative Region (NIA-CAR) will minimize its construction work in the Alfonso Lista Pump Irrigation Project (ALPIP) in response to the request of the regional National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP-CAR) to suspend its activities pending the issuance of the Certification Precondition for the project.
NCIP-CAR Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) focal person Rocky Ngalob confirmed in a phone interview that NIA-CAR transmitted a letter to their office dated June 20 stating they will limit operations in the construction site. He disclosed that the letter also contained a request from the NIA for the approved Work and Financial Plan for the conduct of the FPIC.
“They indicated that they are ready to coordinate for the limiting of their work and we are mandated to monitor this. Meron din namang visitorial powers of the NCIP so will look if we have to use this to ensure their compliance,” he added.
Ngalob explained that under the law, no office should issue a permit for any project to proceed in ancestral lands without completing the FPIC process, stressing that this is absolute and applies to both private and government agencies.
“This is the wisdom of Section 59 of Indigenous Peoples Rights Act that underscores the importance of the Certification Precondition in all undertakings within indigenous peoples’ lands,” he noted.
The NCIP officer admitted that they will proceed with the FPIC process while NIA will continue its restricted construction activities for the facility.
“Nandoon na sila eh, so we just hope that they will not work on anything massive while we undergo the process,”
However, he stressed that this should not be the practice and must not be repeated whatever the circumstances are.
NIA-CAR Acting Chief Engr. Samuel Bahiwag said that NIA conceptualized the project as early as 2010 and started implementing in 2012. He admitted that they were aware that it lacks FPIC when they started its construction.
The chief engineer acknowledged that as a “standard and normal process”, NIA should have ensured that all the requirements are in place before starting its implementation. He explained that during that time, they have already set their yearly program of work for the project and have to push through in consideration of their timeline.
“If we were to stop now, it will cause unnecessary delay of the project denying the beneficiaries of possible benefits from the completion of the facility,” he said.
Northern Dispatch also asked the office of the NIA regional manager twice for further explanation but failed to get any.
Atty. Manja Bayang of Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education) disagrees with the way NCIP is responding to the matter, calling it “impunity to the max and the lack of rule of law.”
“The decision of NCIP is wrong. There should be total stoppage of work. This shows that NCIP is actually afraid to assert its mandate,” she said.
Bayang pointed out that the uselessness of NCIP is becoming more apparent by accommodating NIA despite its blatant violations of the FPIC process.
“Ken diay NCIP, no mabypass da pay met haan lang ga ti umili, makita lattan no anya ti priorities ti gobierno, ti panangisayangkat ti proyekto by whatever means (When they bypass NCIP, not only the people, this shows the government priorities, that is to implement projects by whatever means),” she said.
Tebteba and the Cordillera Peoples Alliance have previously assailed NIA for undermining the FPIC process for the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project. The two groups also chided NCIP for failing to enforce their own guidelines when NIA Region 2 started its construction of the CRPIP in September 2018 without completing the FPIC process. #