KIBUNGAN, Benguet – Alarmed indigenous peoples (IP) leaders in this town warned officials of the Cordillera office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP-CAR) that they will not hesitate to file the appropriate charges against them once they insist to push through with the scheduled negotiations for the memorandum of agreement of the proposed 500-megawatt pump storage hydro power plant in barangay Badeo despite the pendency of legal issues before the regional and central offices of the agency.
Sources, who requested anonymity, claimed the action of the NCIP-Car to schedule initial negotiations for the agreement between the proponent, Coheco Badeo Corporation, and the purported IP representatives without the legal issues in the regional and central offices of the agency is tantamount to grave abuse of authority and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service thereby depriving the aggrieved parties of the chance to seek redress for their grievances against the abuses done against them in the previous conduct of the controversial free and prior informed consent (FPIC) process.
“We were surprised to learn from our colleagues that the schedule of the initial negotiations for the memorandum of agreement for the ambitious project will be on March 21, 2018 We cannot understand why the NCIP-CAR is rushing the conduct of negotiations when there are still sensitive legal issues that it has not been able to resolve. We smell something fishy about the matter and we will continue the fight against the project that will eventually damage our ancestral domain and the state of our environment,” one of the sources stressed.
Pending before the NCIP central office is a petition by the concerned IPs for the nullification of the FPIC results that allegedly favoured the project despite protests on the alleged intervention of the NCIP FPIC team members in the conduct of the consensus building activity that showed that IPs were in favour of the hydro plant when the opposition was evident while another petition is pending before the NCIP-CAR regional office seeking for the conduct of another FPIC for the company’s water rights application upon the endorsement of the National Water Resources Board (NWRB).
According to the sources, the decision of the NCIP-CAR to conduct the negotiations for the agreement between the company and the IPs is a blatant defiance of the existing legal processes and a direct affront to the practice of customary laws by the IPs themselves when the only role of agency officials is to simply look on whether or not the IPs were able to adhere to the customary laws.
The sources expressed doubt on why the NCIP-CAR officials cannot wait for the final resolution of the pending legal questions before scheduling the start of the negotiation process for the memorandum of agreement so that the process can move on smoothly without undue interruptions from the series of cases that will be filed against them in the future.
The concerned IP leaders already sought the legal advise of some prominent lawyers in Baguio and Benguet on how to put a stop on the seemingly half-baked decision of the NCIP-CAR officials to proceed with the MOA negotiations without awaiting the final resolution of the legal issues that were raised against the project.