‘Exclude ancestral lands from default assets in China loan deal’
BAGUIO CITY — Ancestral lands used for the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project must be spared from assets that could be confiscated under a China loan deal in case the country defaults in payment, members of the Cordillera Regional Development Council (RDC) said on Friday.
They met to address the implications on Kalinga communal lands of the P3.6-billion loan which the government took from the China Eximbank to finance the controversial irrigation project.
The project would draw water from the Chico River to 7,500 hectares of farms in Tuao and Piat towns in Cagayan province. Only 1,170 ha of farms in Pinukpuk town, Kalinga province, are entitled to the same service despite the fact that the river’s headwaters lie in the Cordillera.
Irrigation tunnels are being put up along riverside villages in Pinukpuk by a Chinese contractor. A certificate precondition, which stipulates that ancestral domain owners have allowed the government to proceed with the project on communal property, was granted to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) on May 23.
But the project’s loan agreement had been challenged in the Supreme Court for allegedly onerous terms that would allow China to take any Philippine asset in case the government defaults in payment.
The lawsuit, filed by lawyer Neri Colmenares and members of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives, said:
“A dangerous component of the [Eximbank loan agreement] is a vaguely worded provision that does not recognize our sovereign rights and could allow China to take control of our patrimonial properties should we fail to pay the loan.
“It provides that any dispute such as a delay or default in payment shall be resolved by the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission and shall be governed by the laws of China.”
Using Colmenares’ argument, China could seize any asset, including the Chico pump facility in ancestral lands in Pinukpuk, according to Baguio-based lawyer Cheryl Daytec-Yangot, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Justice.
“Ancestral domains are collectively owned by indigenous peoples and are nontransferable,” Yangot told a meeting of the RDC committees on indigenous peoples and infrastructure.
She said the government’s counterargument is that the terms are no different from what a bank normally sets for potential creditors, “who may take it or leave it.” She said the government has guaranteed that it could not renege on the loan.
Details about the loan and its implication on the domain were not presented to Kalinga residents when the irrigation project was first discussed with them so NIA could obtain their free, informed and prior consent, said lawyer Roland Calde, Cordillera director of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.
“Issues about the loan only surfaced after Colmenares filed the case in the Supreme Court,” said Calde, who chaired the meeting. —VINCENT CABREZA
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