61st Courier Anniversary Issue
Beautiful Baguio: Relax, enjoy, and have fun
Being a minority across time
Exotic and mystical Abra
Home of the Isnag Tribe
Benguet has it all
Ifugao, home to bountiful heritage
The Pride of Kalinga
The land called Mountain Province
Benguet farmers'
woes over vegetable prices
Festivals for peace and progress
in Mountain Province
Kalinga: A roadmap to progress
A Napulawan experience
Displaced binga folks:
Pesky footnote in Napoco's legacy?
A peek into Cordillera’s last nature frontier
A taste of Abra
Atty. Federico Muñoz Mandapat Sr.:
A story of a war and sports hero
61st Anniversary Cartoon
Displaced Binga folks: Pesky footnote in Napocor’s legacy?
by: Jimmy Laking

The face was familiar but the story was not. When he left the session hall of the provincial board of Benguet two hours later on March 3, 2008, Prof. Eufronio Lampitao Pungayan had unveiled a 50-year issue that has not been seriously deliberated by the august body (or touched with a 10-foot pole by a succession of politicians) since the pro-vince of Benguet took shape on June 18, 1966.

His story: the National Power Corporation has not relocated a single family affected by the putting up of the dam nor has it compensated the people of Binga for pro-perties affected. He also showed black and white photos of what used to be Binga when the dam was non-existent and of the community when the NPC began putting up buildings over what used to be flourishing farmlands and rice fields.

Pungayan should know. He was five when the Binga Dam took shape in 1955. He used to race horses with his cou-sins over the green valley that the dam eventually submerged.

His grandfather, Pedro Lampitao, owned most of what used to be Binga and presided over a self-sustaining and flourishing community decked with well-irrigated fields, fishponds, and robust fruit trees and livestock.

From a water source high up the mountain, Lampitao carved by hand a four-kilometer water ditch or kolokol that brought irrigation to the place.

Forced to the edges with the dam’s emergence, Lampitao’s descendants clung to what was left of their homeland. Over an array of rice fields that was inherited by his mother, Pungayan in his young years saw rows of school building rose. As the road was blasted, his parents fled their house when a boulder landed on the rooftop, smashing GI-sheets and timber alike. A cousin, Bolanio, was swept by the rampaging waters of the Ambuklao Dam and was fished off dead downstream in June 1955.

There was no relocation. Whatever remuneration or benefits the Binga folks stood to receive in exchange fizzled out or was lost in the interim as the dam and a new community of Tagalog-speaking settlers took over the landscape.

In his dying moments, Lampitao realized he was not going to be buried in Binga but further upstream in the village of his kinsmen in Bila, Bokod away from the reach of another dam, Ambuklao. It must have been a heart-rending moment.

In 1974, the clan’s chieftain, Picad Lampitao was prevailed upon by plant manager Leoncio Marzan to allow the piping of the clan’s traditional water source from the Camodinga Creek with a promise that it was temporary. The water source remained in NPC’s hands to this day, to add insult to injury.

There is no existing NPC document to show if the Binga folks have been compensated in exchange of leaving their homes and giving up their lands. But a memorandum signed by Marzan in 1982 showed that the possibility of payment and relocation were discussed. The memorandum indicated a meeting was held on February 21,1982 in the town of Bokod with the following in attendance: Board member Bantas Suanding, Association of Barangay Councils president Basanio Tello, mayor Alberto Cuilan, vice mayor Jose Solano, Pedrito Ruiz of the Ministry of Agrarian Reform, Nazarino Pagtalan, and Pedro Gardingan of the Presidential Assistance on National Minorities, with Marzan himself and Ambrosio Nolasco representing the NPC.

The memo indicated unsettled claims for damages to private properties in both Ambuklao and Binga and pointed to long-standing resettlement problems.

Most illuminating still, it showed that the fair market value of land in both dam sites was then P2 per square meter “but the displaced families were prevailed upon to sell their lots at only P0.25 per square meter because Ramon Ravanzo (then NPC general manager) and auditor Estrella promised to resettle them in a place where a schoolhouse, chapel, and hospital would be constructed and running potable water would be provided.”

The memo also revealed that:

a.) Private lands were allowed to be reforested because of the promise that owners thereof would be resettled.

b.) Choice lots for resettlement in Conwap Valley (Nueva Vizcaya) have been occupied.

c.) That president Gabriel Itchon (of NPC) once asked the NPC to solve the resettlement problem and that the problem had been endorsed to Malacañang.

Appearing before the provincial board of Benguet on March 17, 2008, Ambuklao plant manager Rene Rivera and legal counsel Fritz Somyden revealed that while they believed there was a relocation program, they had no documents to prove this. The board gave them a month to
produce the documents.

Interestingly, it was not a Filipino but an American who admitted indirectly of a government mishandling of the Ambuklao and Binga dam relocation issues. In an article entitled, A Candid Assessment by an American IPP, Patrick Mcallister, president of San Roque Power Corporation, adverted to difficulties the corporation faced in the early years of the construction of the San Roque.

He had this to say: “The land issues were extremely difficult to resolve. Even today, there are still major issues to be resolved so that payments can be made to the claimants. Many expo cases remain unresolved simply due to the lengthy court process.”

Attempts to resolve these issues have not produced the desired results. Land surveys have not been done in years and the issue of owners and tenant farmers presented challenges to the payment of the claimants. The San Roque Multi-Purpose Project (SRMP) found itself caught in the middle of problems resulting from the mishandling of the social aspects of the upstream Ambuklao and Binga Hydroelectric Projects in the 1950s and '60s.

Perhaps because of the Binga and Ambuklao fiascos, the municipality of Itogon and the province of Benguet insisted on a series of what they referred to as conditionalities before giving the go-signal to San Roque Dam. The SRMP, it was reported, also saw to it that relocation of affected residents in Itogon and in Pangasinan were addressed.

Much earlier, the government also took pains to address relocation programs affecting residents of the Magat (Ifugao), Pantanbangan (Nueva Vizcaya), and Angat dams (Bulacan) over a 30-year span.

What makes the affected Ambuklao and Binga people different, that more than 50 years since these dams were constructed, there was no honest-to-goodness relocation effort or compensation to speak of?  
As of last count:

1.) SN Aboitiz, which purchased the Ambuklao-Binga dam facility from the NPC at $325 million, insisted that what it purchased covered only the power facilities and that the matter of land claims and damages remained with the NPC.

2.) The sangguniang panlalawigan is scheduled to visit Palawan to investigate what happened to some 12 families from Ambuklao (out of 37) who were supposed to have been relocated in that province.

3.) The Lampitao clan is pressing for the return of its remaining lands and water source as well as compensation for its properties and unpaid claims.

The meeting begins.

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