By ROCKY NGALOB
It has been long being perceived by the different corporations, either foreign or domestic, the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process, as a hindrance to development. Instead of treating FPIC as a right of Indigenous Peoples (IPs) that need recognition and respect, they have reduced the process into a mere checklist or additional layer of burden.
The IPs right to FPIC, despite the prevailing laws and administrative orders, were placed at the guillotine more than once. One notably when the law recognizing FPIC, Indigenous Peoples Right Act (IPRA), was challenged for its constitutionality in the Supreme Court. It is in this instance where the highest magistrates were divided into a deadlock. The 7 – 7 deadlock voting of the Supreme Court caused the magistrates to reconstitute their arguments only to meet at a second deadlock, was the first of its kind, and may not be repeated again.
Now, even with the victories, it had won, corporations, including the government itself, continue to devise schemes to elude the FPIC. They go far as using bribery, coercion, stealth, force, and intimidation to secure FPIC.
The Congress, which is predominantly run by legislators who themselves are engaged in mining and energy project ventures, just recently legislated laws which aimed to streamline the FPIC process. The Executive Branch also issued a similar directive: These laws are:
- Republic Act No. 11234 otherwise known as “An Act Establishing the Energy Virtual One-Stop Shop for the Purpose of Streamlining the Permitting Process of Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution Projects” or EVOSS;
- Republic Act No. 11032 or the Ease of Doing Business law or EODB; and
- Executive Order 30 Series of 2018 entitled “Creating the Energy Investment Coordinating Council in Order to Streamline the Regulatory Procedures Affecting Energy Projects” or EICC.
Aside from streamlining the FPIC process, the government created these laws to stifle the voice of the IPs carved on the landmark legislation IPRA. The enactment of these legislations partially severed the arms of IPRA, which protects the IPs’ rights of self-determination. In fact, through EVOS, EODB, and EICC, IPs have practically handed their rights over their Ancestral Domains to the government.
With EVOSS and EODB, IPs are now time-bound to give their consent whether or not they accept or reject a particular project to enter their Ancestral Domain. In EVOSS law, which covers energy projects, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) is compelled to act on proposed energy projects within 105 days prescribed period. As to the EODB, NCIP is mandated to work on applications outside proposed energy projects within the 20 days time frame.
The setting of timeframes for the FPIC process puts pressure on the concerned IPs in their customary decision-making process. This imposition practically erodes the very spirit of their right of self-determination over their ancestral land.
Legislators who crafted the EVOSS AND EODB viewed the customary decision-making process of the IPs as something that needs to be cut short while shamelessly undermining the very sanctity of it.
On the EICC, on the other hand, was crafted to practically giving power to the government to determine energy projects of national significance by issuing certification to that effect. An energy company, given such certification, enjoys the “presumption of prior approvals.” This Certification given by the Government will serve as the entrance ticket of energy companies in entering Ancestral Domains.
This legislation, along with most of our legislators and those seated in power, overlooked and unashamedly ignored the history of IP struggles, particularly here in the Cordillera. The actors may have changed through the years, but the situation still remains. Decades after the death of Ama Macliing Dulag and other Cordilleran martyrs, it is still the government, not the IPs, that calls the shots on projects to be situated over ancestral lands.
It has long been opined that it is the IPs who has the say over their Ancestral Land. It is for this reason that the right for FPIC was bestowed to them. It should be borne in mind that IPs’ assertion to FPIC is the same as asserting sovereignty over the rightful ancestral domains. Domains that they have warded against our colonizers. It is a shameless act from our government and an insult to the IPs not to recognize this IP sovereignty when other nations outside our boarders acknowledge and strive to replicate the same.
IP Ancestral Domains presupposes IP customary governance governing such territory. This has been the practice before, and the same was sustained through the centuries of subjugation. It is because of this system that we, the generation today, enjoy taking our selfies with scenic views of mountain ranges, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and rice terraces as our backgrounds. Let’s not hope to see the day that our grandchildren will only be enjoying these scenic views only through browsing at our selfies. # nordis.net