By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — On May 7, fiery speeches broke the morning chill in front of the National Economic and Development Authority Regional Office here, as a group of indigenous peoples and advocates picketed outside the compound.
The protesters accused the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) of manipulating the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) process for the China-funded Chico River Pump Irrigation Project (CRPIP). They also assailed the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples for allowing the project to proceed without the Certification Precondition (CP).
Inside the NEDA conference hall were officials from the two agencies for the joint meeting of the Committee on Indigenous Peoples Concern and Infrastructure Development Committee of the Regional Development Council Cordillera. They were there to deliberate on how to resolve issues about the CRPIP.
Participating in the events were two i-Kalingas, one is with the protesters, and the other seated among those talking inside NEDA. Here are their thoughts on the P4.3 billion Chico River Pump Irrigation Project funded through a credit agreement with the Chinese government.
Chico under threat
Among the demonstrators was Joan Ngayaan, a native of Tanglag village in Lubuagan, Kalinga, and staff of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance.
Her father, Daniel Ngayaan, was one of the elders who stood against the World Bank-funded Chico River Dams project during the Marcos dictatorship. The older Ngayaan was a victim of enforced disappearance under the Cory Aquino government.
She was nearing her eight-year when the Chico Dam struggle reverberated across the globe.
Joan, now 51 years old, finds herself speaking before a crowd of protesters and in the company of the new generation of Cordilleran activists.
In her speech, she said that it is the responsibility of the government to provide free and efficient irrigation for the farmers. However, she stressed that this does not justify the one-sided loan with China entered by the Duterte government.
“Funds allotted for irrigation services should not burden the people,” she added.
Ngayaan also recalled how her father and elder in the community fought the efforts of the proponents to bribe the community elders and manipulate people to allow the construction of the facility. She said the government answered their pleas and resistance with violence, making many of her people realize the importance of armed resistance.
“Now the Chico River and our lands are again under threat, and like what we did before, we must remain united and fight the threat,” she said.
Cordillera as a resource base
As Joan and her companions held an hour-long program, the discussions inside NEDA proceeded.
In the meeting, Lawrence Bayongan articulated the long-standing practice of the national government of looking at the Cordillera as a resource base to develop other areas.
The city administrator of Tabuk, the capital of Kalinga, expressed dismay on NIA’s disregard for their request to add more service areas in the towns of Pinukpuk and Rizal in the project.
He said that based on the chronology of events and updates provided by NIA and the NCIP, it was clear that whether they agree or not, “the conduct of FPIC is just for pure compliance just to implement the project.”
The city administrator pointed out that NIA took advantage of the communities’ little knowledge of the process and their need for cash.
“That disturbance compensation presented I think was determined by NIA without the participation of these people who are affected by that and [since] these people, because they are hard in life so …they just accept,” Bayongan said.
According to him, CRPIP is the second project that will utilize the water from the river to develop Cagayan Valley, the first being the Upper Chico River Irrigation System intended for Isabela.
“But when the people threatened NIA that they are going to bomb all these lateral canals, then they redesigned the irrigation in such a way that it can also benefit the entire Municipality of Tabuk and some parts of Pinukpuk,” he recalled.
He said those who proposed the project are only concerned about their people. Have NIA informed Kalinga earlier about the project; he said they could have suggested ways for both provinces to reap more significant benefits.
“We should be benefiting from our resources, but with these, we are giving it away,” he concluded.# nordis.net