BONTOC, Mountain Province – Three Cordillera lawmakers continue to find ways on how to further protect the rights of indigenous cultural communities and indigenous peoples (ICCs-IPs) affected by renewable energy investments in their ancestral lands following the filing of a bill that will uphold the aforesaid IP rights and compel power companies to provide the IP with the optimum benefits from the utilization of the resources in their domain.
House Bill (HB) 7741 authored by Rep. Maximo Y. Dalog, Jr., Kalinga Rep. Allen Jesse C. Mangaoang and Ifugao Rep. Solomon Chungalao also seeks to amend certain provisions of Republic Act (RA) 9513 otherwise known as the Renewable Energy Act of 2008.
Under the proposed amendments, to ensure the continuous supply of water in hydro power investments, the concerned generation company shall pay an ecological fee equal to one-half percent of the gross receipts of the renewable energy resource developer from the sale of renewable energy produced and such other income incidental to and arising from the renewable energy generation, transmission, and sale of electricity sold per year to be used exclusively for the maintenance and preservation of the watershed which supplies water to the plant. Said ecological fee shall be given directly to the local government units where the watershed is located.
Further, the proponents suggested that no re-application of any renewable energy developer shall be accepted without the free and prior informed consent of the ICCs-IPs concerned and a certificate of pre-condition issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) upon verification by the energy department that a contract area or a pre-determined is within or covers an ancestral land or domain. The FPIC shall first be secured by the renewable energy company before the issuance of the service contract by the energy department.
The authors stated that the bill seeks to protect, recognize and implement the rights of IPs or ICCs affected by renewable energy investments in their ancestral lands or domains to ensure that the host communities will be able to receive the optimum benefits from the utilization of the available resources in their domain.
Despite the enactment of Republic Act (RA) 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) that granted ICCs-IPs rights over their ancestral lands or domains, the Cordillera lawmakers pointed out that such rights remain to be ignored to date as evidenced in the implementation of the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 where the FPICX comes only after the issuance of the renewable energy contracts have been awarded by the energy department.
According to them, the same leaves little room for the affected ICCs-IPs to choose which corporation to do the project should they consent or worst, they are deprived of the opportunity to develop the project should they reject the proponent.
Moreover, the lawmakers underscored the communities near watershed areas where ICCs-IPs are mostly located are not even recognized or considered in the definition of host communities in hydro power projects in the implementing and regulations of the electric Power Industry Reform Act of 2001.
The Cordillera solons asserted that a careful study of the memorandums of agreement (MOAs) that have been forged between renewable energy developers and ICCs-IPs specifically on hydro electric power projects would reveal that the agreements on royalty payments vary from as little as a quarter of a centavo per kilowatt-hour P0.0025/kwh to as high as more than eleven centavos per kilowatt-hour P0.1142/kwh.
The congressman stipulated that to prevent any confusion and abuse by the renewable energy companies, it is also imperative that a minimum royalty payment equivalent to three-fourths percent of the gross receipts of the renewable energy resource developer which will be defined under the law.
The royalty payment shall form part of the trust fund for the socio-economic well-being of the ICCs-IPs.
In 1997, the IPRA was passed primarily to correct historical injustices that were committed by the national government to the IPs. It was labelled as a radical policy reform as it introduced provisions that recognize ICC-IP rights like rights to their ancestral lands or domain, the right to participate and be consulted in matters that affect them and the priority right in the harvesting, extraction, development or exploitation of any natural resource within their ancestral domains. By HENT