Baguio City is the only local government in the country that owns renewable energy plants. These are the three Asin mini-hydropower plants ceded to the city when the American colonial government, through the Philippine Commission, granted the city its Charter on September 1, 1909. While the City Government owns the power plants, these are within the jurisdiction of Tuba, Benguet that serves as the host community of the city-owned power plants. The power plants were constructed as early sources of power for city residents in this city designed by American architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham for 25,000 inhabitants only.
In 1981, the City Government had the power plants managed by the Aboitiz-owned Davao Lights which allegedly sub-contracted the same to the Hydro-electric Development Corporation (HEDCOR), one of its sister companies involved in the development of renewable sources of energy. Under the agreement, the local government had a share of the energy produced which it used to operate the city’s streetlights.
In 2006, the local government took over from HEDCOR the management and operation of the three mini-hydropower plants after the end of the 25-year deal. While the city was operating the plants, several land owners in the area, together with their cohorts, allegedly diverted the flow of the water of the Asin river away from the hydropower plants causing the plants to temporarily stop operations. Because of this untoward incident, the city filed several civil cases against the land owners who allegedly conspired in the water diversion depriving the city of energy supply and income.
Mediation by cooler heads resulted to the resumption of operations while the local government tried to deal with the concerns of the land owners, Ironically, the land owners filed a civil case against the city alleged for the non-payment of rentals for the use of their lands for the lines used in the operations of the hydropower plants. The city government filed a counter claim for damages caused by the unjust diversion of water away from the hydropower plants.
Sometime in 2010, the city struck a deal with the concerned land owners for the withdrawal of the case filed by the claimants and the subsequent withdrawal of the counter claim by the local government. However, the compromise agreement provides that the affected land owners must seek the approval of the City Council for the waiving of the damages contained in the claim.
Incidentally, the supposed effectivity of the compromise agreement was overtaken by actions of the land owners which undermined the integrity of the agreement. Some of the land owners made representations with the members of the City Council that cast doubts on their sincerity to settle the case. Thus, the case dragged up to the present because the land owners were not able to secure the waiver of damages from the City Council. It was learned that the P2.7 million supposed payment of the local government is intact with the coffers of the city and that it could be immediately released to them once the waiver of damages is secured by the land owners from the City Council. The City Government has a total claim of P2.09 million worth of damages caused by the stoppage of the operation of the power plants. If no waiver will be secured by the land owners, they will only be receiving more than P600,000 as accumulated rentals of their lands for the operation of the power plants from 2007 to 2012. The operation of the Asin power plants stopped in October 2012 because of the absence of the certificate of compliance from the energy department and due to issues raised the Benguet Electric Cooperative.
We believe everyone will continue be at the losing end of the deal if the Asin mini-hydropower plants will remain non-operational. Concerned parties must be willing to walk the extra mile to resolve issues bogging down the resumption of operations. The waiver of damages by the courts must be secured to allow the land owners to be properly compensated. Once this is done, the parties could again get together and renegotiate matters towards a mutually beneficial agreement.
On the part of the land owners, the use of their lands will immediately benefit them, but the greater good is the contribution their sacrifice will make for generations to come, including their descendants. It augurs well for their lineages’ prestige to open the doors for possible negotiations that will eventually result to the resumption of operation of the power plants. Aside from guaranteed added income for them, the use of their lands will serve the wider public through time. Thinking seven generations forward, their descendants may be using the energy generated thereat for development initiatives they will undertake in the future. These land owners are lucky to be here in such a time to make a significant historical contribution to the development of the city, and a lasting legacy not only to their children but all residents of Baguio, now and in the future.