The Cordillera is considered to be one of the most mineralized regions in the country today. Aside from the mineral deposits, the region is also rich in water resources that have been dammed since the 1950s to supply energy needs for northern Luzon, and also for irrigating the rich farmlands of Region 2. It is the headwater of the rivers, including major rivers, in northern Luzon. The homeland of many indigenous peoples, the Cordillera is still considered a major resources base for minerals, hydropower, and its climate attracts the production of temperate crops, and the indigenous peoples’ cultures deemed a commercial potential. Through the years, various laws were passed by Congress providing opportunities for companies to exploit, develop and utilize these rich resources by virtue of the provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution that the country’s resources belong to the State and that the State is empowered to safeguard this patrimony and develop it for the common good.
Laws related to the development of the country’s rich resources including mining and hydropower, and the share of the largesse by host communities from the exploitation, development, and utilization of the country’s resources are in place. However, it seems the development of host and neighboring communities of mining and hydropower operations still remain stunted primarily because of bureaucratic red tape and allegations of corruption.
Under the Local Government Code of the Philippines, communities hosting mining companies are entitled to 40 percent share from the national wealth taxes being paid by the companies to the national government. The 60 percent accrues to the national treasury. On the other hand, Energy Regulation No. 1, series of 1994 provides that host communities are entitled to a share of one centavo for every kilowatt-hour generated by hydropower companies.
Ironically, local governments hosting the operation of mining and hydro companies have been time again complaining on the difficulty of getting their share from the national government due to the tedious processes required before the release of their share from the national wealth tax, among other taxes. In accessing the one centavo share of host communities from the energy department, host communities must have to submit project proposals and wait for prolonged periods of time before being granted such request. Proposed projects must be related to energy development.
Most local officials are disappointed over the difficulties in securing their share of the national wealth taxes. Instead of contributing to the robust development of host and neighboring villages as defined by them based on their priorities, they are deprived of their self-determined development aspirations, be it social, cultural, political or economic.
In fact, the national government is to blame for the stiff opposition of communities to the development of mining, hydro targetted for power plants among other projects related to the exploitation of the resources in certain areas of the country vis-à-vis issues on ancestral domain invasion and negative environment impacts.
We cannot blame if affected indigenous peoples and indigenous cultural communities use the bad experiences of similarly situated communities to judge companies interested in putting up mining or hydro power plants in their ancestral domain. We have been hearing company officials of prospective developers that they will not repeat the sins of previous developers but such promises have not been enough to convince the affected people in the communities to approve of their proposed projects.
It is high time that concerned government agencies sincerely address the issues of indigenous peoples by making sure that proposed development projects in the ancestral domain of indigenous peoples and indigenous cultural communities comply with international standards of doing their respective trade whether it is mining or hydropower development. It is also high time that government institutes appropriate measures to make sure that benefits legislated for host and neighboring communities are received by the beneficiaries on time and that they have the right to decide on their development priorities. These communities should not be subjected to the indignity of having to almost beg for what is rightfully theirs. This kind of treatments smacks of discrimination as these indigenous host communities are treated as if they have no agency to decide and act on their own accord.
We support the initiative of the present administration to strictly impose the existing regulations governing the implementation of environmentally-critical projects in order to send a clear message to prospective developers that the government really values the importance of preserving and protecting the environment for the benefit of the future generation of Filipinos. Existing laws, rules and regulations must be enforced to the fullest to avoid past errors and resolve unattended issues. The people want sincere government officials who are consistent in implementing appropriate laws governing development projects in various communities in the country. Considering that this administration is just over two months old, let us give the current leadership the benefit of a doubt but be vigilant in monitoring and reporting mal-implementation of laws and projects. On the other hand, the extractive industry developers must demonstrate responsibility and commitment to international standards of operations, including respecting the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous communities as defined in international law, and adopting technologies that minimally impact on people’s lives and the environment. Finally, the government must prioritize people’s welfare over corporate profits.