KABAYAN, Benguet – Concerned land owners and influential indigenous peoples (IP) leaders in the different barangays here challenged officials of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to uphold their rights over their domain in the conduct of the free and prior informed consent (FPIC) process for the 45-megawatt Nalatang hydro project of the Hydroelectric Development Corporation (HEDCOR) Inc. instead of staying neutral on the matter.
While it is true that the NCIP is the lead agency in the conduct of the FPIC process, the sources, who requested anonymity for security reasons, claimed the first step that should be undertaken by the agency is to inform and educate the IPs on their rights over their ancestral domain so that they will be aware of what will be the extent of their leverage in demanding equitable share from the exploitation, utilization and development of the resources within their domain.
The affected land owners pointed out the NCIP must also be transparent on the processes that will be undertaken by the agency and the proponents in the conduct of the FPIC process so that the IPs and observers will be fully aware of their rights for them to be able to strengthen their bargaining point for them to be able to get equitable share from the development of the resources in their domain.
“We call on the NCIP to stop the conduct of the preliminary activities for the FPIC process and first resolve the legal issues surrounding the water rights obtained by HEDCOR from the Philippine National Oil Company which was the one that was able to secure the service contract for the hydro project,”the source stressed.
At the same time, the sources also called on concerned government agencies and even the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to help the IPs in the municipality so that they will be able to be guaranteed the upliftment of their rights for them to be able to bargain for the supposed equitable share from the development of the resources within their domain for the benefit of their children and their children’s children.
The IP leaders challenged the NCIP FPIC team not to show their bias in favour of the proponents for the hydro project but instead they should be the ones to uphold the preservation and protection of their rights over their domain because they are mandated by law to make sure that IPs and indigenous cultural communities (ICC) will not be left behind and forgotten in the entry of developers in their domain to develop the available resources for socio-economic activities in the countryside.
According to the sources, the hydro proponents had been hiring relatives of influential IP leaders and promising them lot rentals to make sure of their full support once their proposal will be subjected to votation by the IPs, thus, there is already divisiveness among them which could only be resolved if the FPIC process will not push through while the IPs are settling their internal intramurals for them to be able to have a unified stand for or against the project in the future.
The sources asserted the divide and rule tactics being employed by the HEDCOR Inc. does not speak well of the support that they will get from the IPs since disheartened and dissatisfied IPs will always exert extraordinary means to make sure that the environmentally critical project will not push through. By HENT