By ALMA B. SINUMLAG
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — In the defense of their ancestral domain, Indigenous Peoples in Kapangan, Benguet specifically along the Amburayan River applied for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the proponent company of a hydro electric power project.
Residents of barangays Boklaoan, Taba-ao, Bileng-belis, Cuba, Pudong, Sagubo, Gadang and barangays Sapdaa and Sasaba within the municipality of Santol in the province of La Union where the Amburayan river flows are the petitioners and members of the Amburayan Ancestral Land Owners Association (AALOA). They fear that the hydro project will dry up the river, the main source of their livelihood.
“Coheco’s water permit application was intended for its run-of-river hydro electric power project to divert the flow of water from the river.” The water will be diverted through underground tunnels passing the territories of barangays Cuba, Pudong, Sagubo and Gadang, AALOA petition reads.
Their petition added that the huge underground tunnel which will be used to divert the water from the river will disturb the waterlevel and underground waterways of the mountains where it will pass. This may result to the dropping of the water level that can lead to the drying up of the river.
“This will eventually decrease their economic, social and cultural activities which may lead to forced migrations of the IPs directly affected because of the scarcity of agricultural produce and source of food,” the petition added.
“The Amburayan River is where many of the petitioners’ catch fish and collect gold for their everyday sustenance, and obtain water for their rice fields and animals since time immemorial,” the petition further reads.
Several months ago, AALOA filed a protest before the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) relative to the water permit application of the Cordillera Hydro Electric Power Corporation (Coheco) and was docketed as Water Use Conflict.
Moreover, on June this year, residents affected by the underground tunneling trooped to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) to express their firm opposition to the project, stressing that they want development but that development should be sustainable.
Their protest was however dismissed by the NWRB on the ground that it was filed out of time. According to the board’s order, the protest should have been filed on or before 30 days after the last posting of notices in the projects sites.
However, in AALOA’s petition for review with application for a TRO and/or preliminary injunction before the Court of Appeals, it was stated that their protest was not really filed out of time because there was no notice posted in several barangays that are affected like barangay Cuba where the weir and intake is located.
The petition stressed that whether or not the protest was filed out of time, it should have been “admitted and resolved in the interest of substantive justice which should prevail over technicalities.”
Further, AALOA stands firm in its position that fraud was committed by the company. Contrary to what Coheco claims that the diversion point is located at Barangay Balakbak, AALOA’s petition said that it is actually located at barangay Taba-ao that was not even included in the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process.
The petition added that through the coordinates stated in the water permit application of Coheco, AALOA with the help of a geodetic engineer were able to find out where the said diversion was exactly located.
It also can be recalled that on July 25 this year, Coheco filed its compliance to the NWRB and attached to it are “unauthenticated maps, unsigned by duly authorized engineers for such purpose; and certifications that the diversion point is located at barangay Balakbak as issued by the municipal Mayor of Kapangan and barangay captians of Cuba and Balakbak without any technical basis.”
The petition moreover stated that those certifications and maps were made simply just to favor Coheco. “This strengthens the suspicion of many that they are leaning in favor of Coheco,” the petition further reads.
Suppressing the peoples’ economic progress
It is further explained in the petition that the affected IPs already decided to utilize the river within their ancestral domains for hydro power production as an additional source of income for them. Also, AALOA has projects like using the Amburayan River for irrigation to boost their agricultural production.
“In line with this, the petitioner has an approved water permit for irrigation purposes,” it further stated.
With the water permit of Coheco, those benefits according to the petition will be “put to oblivion”.
On the other hand, Atty. Cruzaldo Bacduyan, president of AALOA was informed that last week, engineers of Coheco were seen surveying their ancestral domain. This he said was despite not being issued a certification precondition from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), and also the commission manifested that there was no consensus achieved during the referendum held in relation to the project.
“This is highly anomalous,” he said hoping that concerned government agencies will look into this issue. # nordis.net