KIBUNGAN, Benguet – Hundreds of villagers are now up in arms against the alleged manipulations done by an official of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) free and prior informed consent (FPIC) team during their previous consultation that did not reflect their overwhelming opposition to the proposed 500-megawatt pump storage hydro project in their barangay.
Instead of recording the consensus of the indigenous peoples (IPs) of sitios Mocgao, Balbalnag, Lebeng and Tableo against the proposed pump storage project, Joseph Onera, a member of the Council of Elders of Badeo and an affected land owner, claimed that lawyer Severino Lumiked, NCIP FPIC team leader, allegedly disregarded the stand of the IPs and reportedly maneuvered for the conduct of consensus among a separate group of selected elders who were mostly barangay officials.
When Punong Barangay Danilo Domez proposed the conduct of votation for the project in the light of the greater number of villagers who already spoke against the project, the IP leader claimed Lumiked overruled the barangay official and insisted that the matter be settled through the consensus of the IPs and not through votation as proposed by the over 100 villagers present during the consensus-building activity.
Worst, Leonero pointed out Lumiked was already insinuating to the IPs and the elders that considering that most of those who spoke were demanding for a suspension of the 500-megawatt project to pave the way for the completion of the 60-megawatt project of the Cordillera Hydroelectric Power Corporation (COHECO) in Cuba, Kapangan, which they earlier endorsed, then it would mean that their vote for the pump storage project of the Coheco Badeo Corporation was in favour of the said project.
When Leonero left the hall for a few minutes to attend to something outside, Lumiked allegedly brainwashed the remaining members of the Council of Elders by saying that considering that most of those who spoke were calling for the delay in the 500-megawatt pump storage project to pave the way for the earlier similar project, then that is tantamount of being in favour of the project, thus, their consensus would be for the project to push through.
“The actuations of Atty. Lumiked directly undermined the purpose of the FPIC which is upholding the primacy of customary laws in the settlement of disputes. At that time that the IPs passed an earlier consensus as part of their customary decision-making practice, that should have been respected. When Punong Barangay Domez called for a supposed vocation, it is part of our customary laws to do so, thus, Atty. Lumiked had no right to overrule the desire of the IPs to vote for or against the project,” Leonero stressed.
He added most of the land owners who will be directly affected by the project also passed a resolution stating their vehement opposition to the proposed 500-megawatt pump storage project because of its serious negative impact to their sources of livelihood, to the source of water for domestic use and to the state of the environment in their villages.
The land owners claimed the tunnelling activities of Coheco Badeo Corporation to pave the way for the put up of their two reservoirs will result to massive earthmoving in their place that will lead to massive soil erosion among others.
Further, the resolution, which was written in Kankana-ey, added once the IPs will give their consent to the project, the company will eventually sell their consent and the company to investors whom they do not know and who will not respect the conditions that they have imposed for the ambitious project, citing that if it was done with COHECO 60, there will be a great possibility that it will be done with Coheco Badeo Corporation because of the huge amount of money involved.
Leonero urged the NCIP FPIC team and the officials of the Coheco Badeo Corporation to respect the decision of most of the IPs who are opposed to the project and not to manipulate the results because they will continue to question the doubtful consensus with the concerned authorities.
He challenged the NCIP FPIC team to re-conduct the consensus-building activity and allow the IPs to vote whether or not they are in favour of the project through their age-old customary practices and to allow independent observers to join them to prevent them allegedly manipulation of the results.