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NIA won’t suspend work on Chico project

WATER FOR NORTHERN FARMS Rice farms in the provinces of Kalinga and Cagayan are expected to benefit from the Chico River pump irrigation project. Representatives of indigenous peoples groups, however, say the project has failed to secure consent of local tribes. —PHOTO COURTESY OF CORDILLERA PEOPLES ALLIANCE

BAGUIO CITY—Instead of suspending work at the China-financed Chico River pump irrigation project officials of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) said they would limit construction activities at the site in Kalinga province.

The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) wrote the NIA on May 3, asking it to suspend the P4.373-billion project following reports of earthmoving activities there.

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But NIA Senior Deputy Administrator Abraham Bagasin said that although the agency was “willing to cooperate” with the NCIP in resolving issues raised on the project, suspending work at the site would cause the government “great damage.”

In a letter received by NCIP officials in the Cordillera on Thursday, Bagasin said the agency would limit ongoing construction activities to “substantially satisfy” the NCIP request.

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The NIA would ask the contractor, China CAMC Engineering Co., to limit work in the pumphouse area, he said, adding that only maintenance and subsidiary activities necessary to prevent damage due to rains would be allowed.

Compromising situation

This way, Bagasin noted, the agency and the contractor “would not be placed in a compromising situation.”

Chinese workers have begun building 143 kilometers of diversion tunnels and lateral canals that would channel water from Chico River to 7,500 hectares of rice farms in Tuao and Piat towns in Cagayan province and 1,170 ha in Pinukpuk town in Kalinga province.

Bagasin asked the NCIP to immediately issue the needed certification precondition (CP) since the agency, he said, had already complied with the requirements.

Now only the court “can stop the project,” NIA Administrator Ricardo Visaya said earlier.

No consent

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The NIA proceeded without the CP, the document which would indicate that the project had received the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples in Kalinga whose lands had been bought for the project.

Gaspar Cayat, NCIP commissioner for Cagayan Valley and Cordillera, said that while the project is under the “Build, Build, Build” program of the Duterte administration, indigenous peoples must be consulted and their consent on projects affecting them must be obtained.

Although the main beneficiaries are in Cagayan Valley, the source of water for the irrigation project comes from Chico River in upstream Kalinga, Cayat said. Kalinga residents also use the water to irrigate their farms.

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TAGS: Cagayan, Chico River, Irrigation, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, NCIP, NIA, Pinukpuk
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