KABAYAN, Benguet – Corporate war is pitting families against each other just to be able to exploit indigenous peoples resources. Concerned landowners and influential indigenous peoples (IPs) leaders from various parts of this town urged the Aboitiz-owned Hydroelectric Development Corporation (HEDCOR) and the Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) to temporarily abandon their interests over the development of the 45-megawatt Nalatang hydropower plant to allow them to settle their differences so they can work out appropriate equitable sharing arrangements for the development of the resources within their ancestral domain.
The sources, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal and security reasons, revealed the entry of the two companies intending to exploit, develop and utilize the rich resources in their domain created gaps among members of families comprising various clans due to these companies’ ‘divide and rule tactics’ that serve their respective interests.
“We are not totally against the development of the resources within our domain but we should be allowed to discuss the matter among themselves without interference from outside forces like what is currently happening wherein HEDCOR and BENECO officers are trying to win the hearts of the IPs through various forms of inducements made to the directly and indirectly affected IPs,” one of the sources stressed.
HEDCOR was able to obtain a service contract for the possible development of the Nalatang hydro source while BENECO is allegedly trying to win over the community for them to retract their support to the former and seek their endorsement as the developer the hydro source.
According to the sources, indigenous peoples in the area must not be belittled because they are aware of their rights and they want to exercise their rights over their domain to the fullest by getting just equitable share from the development and utilization of their resources to sustain their sources of livelihood for generations.
They claimed the Agno River has a sentimental value for the IPs because it was where they were born and nurtured by their ancestors, thus, they will not allow developers to simply take away the value of the river system that was passed on to them by their ancestors.
Some of the landowners admitted money is now circulating among influential members of families and clans in the different barangays that is why many of them are induced to take sides. They see this as detrimental to the preservation and protection of their domain, thus, they want the developers to get out and allow the indigenous communities to organize themselves for them to have a stronger voice in lobbying for their own interests.
It must be recalled that the inducements in seeking the consent of indigenous peoples for projects in their domain are violations of the principles of free and prior informed consent that must be sought before any project is implemented in any indigenous peoples’ ancestral domain.
Further, the land owners also questioned the sudden emergence of the Unjun ni Kasikuran shi Kabayan (UNKASKA), a supposedly registered indigenous peoples organization (IPO) which allegedly displaced the Shakilan, the original IPO in the Bokod and Kabayan areas. They called for the conduct of an in-depth investigation on the sudden displacement of the original IPO which is supposed to be the one to represent them in the conduct of the required processes for the development of their resources.
Sources appealed to sincere non-government organizations and regional line agencies to help the embattled IPs by providing them with the appropriate advice on how to determine a just equitable benefit-sharing in the development of their resources.