March 27, 2023

Indigenous peoples from barangays Lenneng and Poblacion of Kabugao, Apayao recently filed over 300 counts of cases before the Office of the Ombudsman and the Provincial Prosecutor against officials of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and two local government officials.

Facing corruption cases and falsification of documents, among other charges, are NCIP-Cordillera Acting Regional Director Atanacio Addog, Apayao NCIP Provincial Officer Agnes Gabuat, Apayao NCIP Provincial Legal Officer Geoffrey Calderon, Kabugao NCIP Acting Head Jezryl Inopia, and the NCIP FPIC team.

Also accused are Kabugao Vice Mayor Fabulous Tucjang, Municipal Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative John Anthony Amid, and several individuals.

Isnags from Barangay Poblacion filed on Jan. 25 before the Ombudsman in Quezon City, 54 counts each of estafa, falsification of documents, and use of falsified documents, as well as for acts penalized by the Ombudsman Act and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

A separate case for the same charges was filed on Jan. 19 before the Apayao Provincial Prosecutor’s Office.

Complainants from Barangay Lenneng filed 104 counts for the same charge also before the Provincial Prosecutor on Jan. 6. The villagers filed the same charges before the Ombudsman on Dec. 28, 2022.

The complaints stemmed from a December 2019 community resolution naming several persons as “representatives” in negotiating with Pan Pacific Renewable Power Philippines Corporation (Pan Pacific) over its proposed 150-megawatt Gened-1 Hydroelectric Power Project.

Pan Pacific, a hydropower firm, intends to build two mega-dam facilities along the Apayao River, affecting the ancestral domain of the Isnag.

Some complainants said they did not sign any resolution and their signatures were forged, while others claimed they were deceived into signing the document as a receipt for government aid.

The complainants said some who had their signatures were long dead. Some community elders even executed an affidavit denying having signed documents which agreed to the construction of the dam.

The NCIP Regional Review Team, which reviewed the Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process conducted, indicated in its observation the evidently falsified signatures, repeated signatories, and dubious signatures, among others.

It also observed irregularities such as holding FPIC activities outside the ancestral domain, and failure to observe consensus-building processes, among others.

However, the formal review and opposition of the community were not considered by the then-NCIP Regional Director Marlon Bosantog.

Instead, the questioned resolution was used to usher in the processing of the FPIC which led to the issuance of the certification precondition, now also a subject of complaint at the NCIP commission en banc.

Earlier, Bosantog, Addog, and Calderon, all lawyers, were declared persona non grata through two community resolutions of the Kabugao ancestral domain in 2021.

The cases are primarily handled by the Rene Cortes Law Office in cooperation with Jose Molintas Law, Christopher Donaal and Partners Law, Nelson Lidua Law, BMW Law, and the Free Legal Assistance Group.

Ryan James Solano of Cortes Law said the four cases filed by the two barangays are just the preliminary fire as there are seven more barangays who will be filing.

The nine barangays are listed as the directly affected barangays by the construction of the proposed giant 150-megawatt dam.

“We cannot just close our eyes to these injustices, more so that it is done by the people in the agency which is supposed to protect indigenous peoples,” said Solano, who is an Ibaloy from Baguio City.

Kurdel Paroy, also of Cortes Law, said they asked the Regional State Prosecutor to order the entire Apayao Provincial Prosecutor’s Office to inhibit from handling the case.  

“The initial cases are not even a question whether the dam should be built or not, it is merely a question whether the community resolution was duly acquired,” said Paroy.

Proposed right at the heart of Apayao’s capital town of Kabugao, Gened-1 and the 250-MW Gened-2 HEPP threaten to submerge the Kabugao and Tawit ancestral domains.

Both are projects of San Miguel Corp. (SMC)-controlled Pan, one of the eight Philippine conglomerates and corporations that benefited from the $3-billion loan agreement the Duterte administration entered with China in 2016. – Ofelia C. Empian