VIGAN CITY (updated 8:11 pm) — A historian and conservation advocate called on the towns of Benguet to ensure sustainable resource utilization, and the people’s interests from hydropower deals entered by local officials.

The call from retired UP Baguio history professor and former member of Conservation International Dr. Rowena Buquiren came after La Trinidad, the capital town of the province, signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Hydroelectric Development Corporation (Hedcor) for the construction of the 20 megawatts Hydroelectric Power Plant (HEPP).

“Benguet towns, please ensure that the rivers and forests are intact, secured and sustainably managed (for future generations of people),” the professor wrote on her Facebook.

She reminded the local officials to ensure that “the laws are followed by Aboitiz” especially the provisions for community benefits.

Buquiren also asked what are and to whose benefit the project will serve. According to her, project proponents and local government units rarely implement the provisions for the Reforestation Watershed Management Health and Environment Fund (RWMHEF) properly.

“I can easily say P600,000/year as payment to the town is small!” she added.

Under Philippine laws, energy corporations are required to provide financial and other economic benefits to the communities where their facilities are situated.

Republic Act No. 7630 or the Department of Energy Act of 1992 mandates that local governments receive “direct benefits” from the energy-generating facility. Section 66 of RA 9136 or Electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001 reaffirmed that communities, where the plants are located, will continue receiving their “financial benefits.”

Energy Regulation 1-94, as amended, laid down the specifics of the financial benefits and process to access the fund. It required energy companies to set aside at least one centavo for every kilowatt-hour of the total electricity sales as financial benefits for the communities.

Utilization of the collected amount for non-urbanized areas is Electrification Fund (50%), Development and Livelihood Fund (25%) and Reforestation, Watershed Management, Health and Environment Enhancement Fund (25%).

Meanwhile, shares for each government unit and group are as follows: for the non-highly urbanized area, the host municipality gets 35 percent while the province receives 30 percent. The barangay, the organized indigenous peoples, and designated resettlement areas also take 20 percent, 5 percent, and 5 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, for the highly urbanized area, the city takes 55 percent and 30 percent for the barangay. The resettlement area also receives 10 percent and 5 percent for the indigenous peoples’ community.

As a campaigner for the implementation of the Payment for Ecosystem/Environmental Services (PES), Buquiren also urged officials, communities, and organizations to study the scheme and apply it in future arrangements and renegotiations on hydropower plant agreements.

“PES is better than that [of the] RA (7630), the communities can negotiate for a higher share, but we are still far from achieving PES negotiations,” she said.

PES is an environmental conservation policy approach that ensures that the recipient of environmental services provides just and appropriate compensation to those who own and manage the resources.  Environmental institutions and advocates currently consider it as a useful tool to secure benefits for communities and funds to conserve their resources.

Hedcor, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Aboitiz Power that specializes in the development of run-of-river hydropower systems. It currently operates five run-of-river hydropower facilities constructed in the 1990s in La Trinidad. Besides the plants in La Trinidad, the company also operates three HEPPs in Bakun, two in Tuba, and one in Itogon. Hedcor is also exploring the possibility of putting up HEPPs in the towns of Bokod, Buguais, Kabayan and Kibungan, all in Benguet. # nordis.net

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