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The Chico River Pump Irrigation Project (CRPIP) was among the top stories of 2019. Northern Dispatch (Nordis) covered the controversies and protests surrounding the China-funded flagship project under the Build, Build, Build program of the Duterte administration.

Located in Pinukpuk, Kalinga, the government eyes the P4.37 billion facility to service 8,700 hectares and 4,350 individual farmers, mostly in Cagayan province. The project made headlines for the loop-sided provisions in the loan agreement. Besides the high-interest rate compared to other multilateral financing institutions, the arrangement also provides for arbitration in Chinese court in case of a dispute. The Philippine government likewise used patrimonial assets as collateral for the loan. The contract also stipulated to purchase the equipment for the facility from China. The lender also determined the contractor, bypassing the country’s procurement law, and awarding the job to China CAMC Engineering Co., Ltd (CAMCE).

The National Irrigation Administration Region 2 (NIA-2), the proponent of the project, made multiple violations of the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) process. Foremost was its failure to present the complete details of the contract governing the project, which violated the principle of transparency and full disclosure. Construction of the facility also commenced in the absence of the Certification Precondition, a requirement before projects can start in indigenous peoples’ lands. The breach prompted the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to request suspension of activities in the project site. After NIA ignored the request and continued the construction in limited sections of the structure, NCIP did not take further action. Despite the numerous violations, the NCIP en banc issued the Certification Precondition.

Months after the construction commenced, the authorities discovered multiple violations of labor laws. The Department of Labor and Employment-Cordillera Administrative Region (DOLE-CAR) confirmed that Chinese nationals working in the site lack alien working permits. CAMCE also failed to secure a special license from the Philippine Contractors Accreditation Board before starting the project. The company’s construction safety plan, a requirement under the Occupational Health and Safety Standards laws, was also absent. Meanwhile, NIA belatedly admitted that there were 66 highly skilled engineers and workers from China necessary for the tunneling and construction of the pump house.

Progressive groups were at the forefront of exposing the Duterte government’s preferential treatment of China. Attorney Neri Colmenares of Makabayang Koalisyon ng Mamamayan (Makabayan) questioned the constitutionality of the deal. Along with other Makabayan solons and people’s organizations, they challenged the agreement before the Supreme Court.

On the ground, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) exposed the violations of indigenous people’s rights, NCIP’s lackluster response, and blatant disregard of the FPIC guidelines by NIA-2, CAMCE, and NCIP. It condemned the NCIP en banc for hastily issuing the CP despite the procedural breaches committed, noting that it was a bad precedent. The organization’s site visit revealed to the public the presence of Chinese workers. It prompted the labor office to conduct the probe. CPA also raised the sustainability of the facility concerning other extractive and dam projects. The group also noted that the proponent did not consider the impact of climate change on the water discharge of the Chico River.

The reportage on the CRPIP proved that ensuring the right to self-determination does not lie with the NCIP nor the guidelines it created, but the collective assertion and action of indigenous peoples and communities. # nordis.net

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