Panay tribe leaders hit efforts to discredit them
ILOILO CITY—Tribal leaders of Panay Island’s largest indigenous people’s (IP) group have decried efforts to discredit IP leaders and members opposing a controversial P11.2-billion mega dam project in Iloilo province.
Four elders of the Tumandok or the Panay-Bukidnon IP group, in a press conference here on Thursday, also refuted pronouncements of other tribal leaders that majority of their group are supporting the Jalaur River Multi-Purpose Project II (JRMP II).
“We personally oppose the project but we will respect the decision of the majority of our people. As it stands now, there is no collective support for the project because this has not been decided in any assembly of residents in the affected barangays,” said Eladio Legario, a tribal elder in Barangays Garangan, Masaroy and Agcalaga in Calinog town in Iloilo, about 53 kilometers north of Iloilo City.
The three hinterland barangays are among the nine villages that will be directly affected or submerged with the construction of the mega dam. Eight other barangays will be indirectly affected.
The villages that will be directly affected have 581 families or 2,905 persons, 1,743 hectares of farm lands and 489 lots covered by a certificate of ancestral domain title, according to estimates of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).
The JRMP II, set to be completed by 2016, involves the construction of three dams (Jalaur reservoir, afterbay and catch dams), a 6.6-megawatt hydro power plant and an 81-kilometer high-line canal in Calinog in Iloilo. It is aimed at developing irrigation systems, generating hydroelectric power and providing domestic and industrial water supply.
It is funded by a $203-million loan from the South Korean government through its Export-Import Bank’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund with a counterpart fund from the Philippine government amounting to P2.2 billion.
The project would generate thousands of jobs and boost agricultural productivity, the NIA and other proponents have said.
But the JRMP II has become controversial due to opposition from environmental and other groups that have warned of environmental and safety hazards if the project is implemented.
The project has split the IP community residing in the affected areas.
Leopoldo Caballero, tribal chieftain for Garangan, Masaroy and Agcalaga, has voiced support for the project claiming that majority of their tribe want the dam to be constructed. His two other brothers and fellow tribal leaders, Romulo and Rodolfo, are also supporting the project.
But Legario said the stand of the Caballero brothers did not reflect that of the majority of the tribe’s members.
“We came here to prove that there is no consensus to support the project even among tribal leaders,” he said.
He said they also wanted to dispute allegations that those opposing the project are “fake” IPs who are not from the affected area.
Legario said he was opposing the project because his land covering about 16 ha would be affected.
Liberato Castor, a tribal elder from Masaroy, said that while tribe members had been employed in the project, they considered this short-term.
“What will happen when the dam is completed and our lands have already been covered by the dam?” he said.
The NIA has assured the affected communities that they would be relocated and provided with housing and livelihood.
Gerardo Corsiga, NIA Western Visayas manager, said the agency was finalizing the detailed engineering plan for the construction of the mega dam.
The NIA aims to finalize the plan by October to start procurement proceedings within the year.
“If there are no legal impediments, we hope to proceed with the actual construction by March next year,” Corsiga told the Inquirer.
Corsiga said they also aimed to secure a free and prior informed consent (FPIC) for the construction stage of the project within the year.
The FPIC is a requirement under the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997 (Republic Act No. 8371) for projects and activities that will affect IP communities. It is a certification from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples that the project is supported by the affected IP communities.
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