NCIP exec orders hydropower plants out of tribal lands in Benguet | Inquirer News

NCIP exec orders hydropower plants out of tribal lands in Benguet

Operator fails to get consent of indigenous communities in Bakun town and must leave
By: - Correspondent / @kquitasolINQ
/ 04:35 AM May 17, 2021

RIVER POWER The Lower Labay Hydropower plant in Barangay Poblacion is the first of the three plants that Hedcor Inc. built in Bakun town, Benguet. It currently harnesses the power of the Bakun River and has a capacity of 2.4 megawatts. —PHOTO FROM THE  HEDCOR INC. WEBSITE

BAGUIO CITY, Benguet, Philippines — An official of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) had asked the company operating three hydropower plants in Benguet province to withdraw its facilities from the lands of tribal communities hosting these facilities.

Marlon Bosantog, director of the NCIP in Cordillera, said Hedcor Inc. must immediately return to the indigenous people (IP) communities of Bakun town the parcels of land occupied by its company.


In his May 4 order, Bosantog cited the resolution of nonconsent issued by Bakun Indigenous Tribes Organizations (Bito) and town elders last month that would prevent Hedcor from continuously operating its hydropower plants in Bakun.


Hedcor has been operating the Labay and Lon-oy hydroelectric power plant (HEPP) in Barangay Poblacion and the Ferdinand L. Singit HEPP that straddles the villages of Poblacion and Sinacbat since 1991. The plants have a combined capacity of about 12 megawatts.

According to Bosantog, Hedcor has “no more legal justification” to continue with its operations in the town for lack of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from the IP community in the town, which is required by law for any company to operate inside any ancestral domain.

On April 21, Bito and the Bakun council of elders also submitted a resolution urging the NCIP to issue a cease-and-desist order to stop Hedcor’s operations within their domain.

“Hedcor Inc. has no authority to operate in our ancestral domain [for] having failed to obtain our consent and permit for their continued operation,” the IPs said in the resolution.

Causing confusion?

Noreen Marie Vicencio, Hedcor vice president for corporate services, has written NCIP chair Allen Capuyan, saying Bosantog’s order was “causing confusion and potentially causing chaos on the ground.”

In her May 5 letter to Capuyan, Vicencio said stopping Hedcor’s operation would “[create] an opening for insurgents and other lawless elements to interfere.” She did not elaborate.


She also claimed that Bosantog’s order would disrupt the peace and order in these communities.

Vicencio asserted the company has signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with Bito in October 2019 for the continued operation of the three hydropower plants, which, she said, was part of the FPIC process under the supervision of the NCIP.

But the IP communities also issued in April a resolution revoking the MOA with Hedcor.


Hedcor also accused the NCIP of delaying the issuance of its certification of precondition (CP).

The company applied for the CP in 2018 when its contract with the Department of Energy (DOE) ended.

The NCIP requires an FPIC and a resolution of consent from the community before it issues a CP, a requirement under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act for companies operating on indigenous peoples’ land.

The NCIP in Cordillera completed all preparatory activities for the CP in 2018. But In July 2019, the Bakun IPs issued their first resolution of nonconsent, which it later withdrew after negotiations with Hedcor. It led to the signing of the MOA.


But in August last year, the Bakun IPs submitted a resolution asking the NCIP to defer its processing of the CP since some elders had refused to sign documents needed to complete the FPIC process.

The Bakun elders found some provisions in the MOA “disadvantageous” to the communities and also accused Hedcor of using the MOA to pressure local officials to yield to its demands.

Bakun Councilor Mark Bayawan, who heads the town council’s committees on environment and agriculture, said in an interview last month that Hedcor insisted on its unacceptable share offer.

He said local officials initially wanted a share of 25 centavos per kilowatt-hour but lowered it to 12 centavos after several consultations.

“The company’s starting bid was 1 centavo. They increased it later to 1.25 centavos. They should at least meet us halfway,” he said.

Bayawan said Hedcor’s plants produced an average of 55 million kWh a year.

He said that based on their computation, the 12-centavo per kWh share would amount to P5 million a year, the same amount Hedcor was paying to the municipal government before its contract with the DOE lapsed.

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But based on the current Hedcor offer, the town would only get an annual share of P500,000, which the Bakun communities rejected. INQ


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