The ongoing battle for the development of hydropower projects in Kabayan, Benguet has brought so much confusion and divisiveness among the good people of the municipality. It has become a choice between BENECO, which is not qualified to undertake the project and does not have the ability to do so and Hedcor, which was awarded the project for being qualified.
Hedcor had already obtained the Renewable Energy Service Contracts (RESC) and endorsements from the Department of Energy for its so-called Kabayan 1, 2 and 3 proposed projects. With these documents, Hedcor applied for consultation through the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process pursuant to the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA). On the other hand, BENECO management is offering “better benefits” as they call it should the project be magically turned over to them. It is now using all its resources, the money of the cooperative, therefore the money of BENECO consumers, to influence and advance their interest by tapping “may be for free or for a fee” some traditional politicians and “leaders” who fall victims to their enticement efforts. They even invited outsiders of questionable reputations to brainwash the people of Kabayan.
The argument that BENECO has a better offer is still unproven. Its Man-asok hydro project has not started construction despite the release of the project to them, in their desperate attempt to engage in a hydropower project more than five (5) years ago, and the subsequent approval of its almost half billion pesos loan from DBP in 2014. BENECO may have performed well on its mandate for rural electrification but as to its plan to develop a power plant, its progress illustrates utter uncertainty.
On its financial capabilities, BENECO is allegedly of good standing and therefore loanable because the consumer-members are good payers. It can loan for its hydropower project at the expense of the consumer-members who shall pay more if things will go wrong. BENECO may sound good with its mouthwatering offers but hidden are a lot of anomalies and irregularities in its transactions forcing concerned citizens to file criminal and administrative charges against management personnel concerned.
The result of the consensus-building for the said project only shows that the people of Kabayan are divided over the issue to accept the hydropower project or not. It is not a total rejection of the project or its proponent. With the interference of outsiders which obviously influenced the process, the conduct of the consultation should be declared null and void. This is very critical because whatever happens in the future reflects the soundness of today’s decision. At the end, the people of Kabayan are the ones to suffer from these wrong decisions and actions. It is good for the people who are being used and may be being paid to work because they are making money. However, they will soon be blamed if Kabayan stagnates in its development due to their actions. If indeed they are working for their love of Kabayan, would it not be wise to think twice? Why should you put all your eggs in one basket?
Part of the issue has already been brought to the courts. If it progresses, it could become a legal question that could be decided for years and consequently delaying hydropower developments in the area. For sure, the municipality would be left behind if its leaders and elders would not come up with a win-win solution to address the situation. How about a traditional way of resolving conflicts? Don’t we have it in Kabayan? As a concerned citizen and having roots in Kabayan, I challenge the elder-leaders of Kabayan as well as the municipal and provincial officials concerned to exercise their political will and help resolve this divisive issue that could lead Kabayan at the losing end.
By Grace Bandoy