May 20, 2024

After almost two years of negotiations, indigenous peoples of Itogon, Benguet whose ancestral domain hosts the Binga dam have signed a memorandum of agreement on increased benefits with SN Aboitiz Power-Benguet, Inc. (SNAP-Benguet) facilitated by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples Benguet.
The MOA was signed between representatives of SNAP Benguet and Tinong-dan Indigenous Peoples Organization (Tinpo) and the Itogon Indigenous Peoples Organization (IIPO) on Feb. 28 at the Marian Village in Binga, Itogon.
Under the MOA, SNAP-Benguet will provide the Itogon ancestral domain, which hosts the 140-megawatt Binga hydroelectric power plant, P10.3 million every year starting 2023 or an equivalent of 3.10 centavos per kilowatt hour (c/kWh) total benefits.
The agreed total benefits include 1.65 c/kwh from the plant’s annual production and an annual special fund of P1 million for partnership projects promoting indigenous culture.
This is in addition to the existing benefits provided since 2008, which now amounts to P3.8M.
To boost the special fund for cultural partnership projects, SNAP will provide a stimulus of P5M to cover 2023 to 2025.
SNAP will also voluntarily provide a one-time benefit of P6.1M, equivalent to 1.65c/kWh of its 2021 production, the year when negotiations started.
The IPs also stand to receive an additional P6M, representing 1.65c/kWh of SNAP’s 2022 production and the adjusted value of its 2022 Corporate Social Responsibility fund.
SNAP has agreed under the MOA to escalate the value of the benefits by five percent every five years.
The negotiations for additional benefits began in June 2021 among SNAP-Benguet, Tinpo, and IIPO. The Itogon IP organizations formally accepted SNAP’s offer of additional benefits in December 2022.
SNAP-Benguet will provide the amount directly to the IP community, through its designated IPOs, on an annual basis. This gives the IP community greater control over projects they want to implement.
NCIP Benguet Administrative Officer IV Rocky Ngalob said the MOA signed between Tinpo, IIPO, and SNAP-Benguet still have to be perfected after judicious scrutiny by the NCIP as required under NCIP Administrative Order 3-2012 on the free prior informed consent process guidelines.
“It is unenforceable until the same will be perfected through affixing of signature by the NCIP chair. Issues and concerns emanating from the MOA will still be tackled and evaluated by the different layers of offices from NCIP starting from the regional office, Legal Affairs Office, all the way up to the NCIP commission en banc,” Ngalob said.
Also, the company’s MOA with Itogon does not preclude Bokod from also asserting its rights over the Binga dam operations. As per records, the Binga dam straddles both the ancestral domains of Itogon and Bokod.
Ngalob said Bokod is entitled to a separate FPIC process and due consent as granted to them under law.
“This MOA does not bind Bokod because this is only about the meeting of the minds between Itogon and the company. However, Bokod is entitled to assert its right to a separate FPIC,” he said.
In 2008, SNAP-Benguet took over ownership and operation of Binga hydro, then a government facility, through a successful privatization bid. SNAP undertook consultations with the IP community, capped with an agreement to provide community benefits through a CSR program. Since then, SNAP has provided annual benefits to the IPs.
“On behalf of the management team of SNAP-Benguet, I thank the IP communities of Itogon for their continued trust and support. This MOA signing is a testament to the spirit of partnership that prevails between SNAP and our IP brothers and sisters,” SNAP Group President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Yu said.
Tinpo Chairperson Norberto Pacio thanked the NCIP for facilitating the negotiation process and SNAP Benguet for the support and sponsorship of IP activities of Itogon, while IIPO Chairperson Rosita Bargaso thanked those involved in the process for their patience in helping them achieve their goals.
The company will continue to extend separate voluntary CSR funds to its host local government units including the municipality of Itogon, Barangay Tinongdan and its now adopted host community, Barangay Dalupirip.
SNAP also provides mandatory benefits to energy host communities through the national wealth tax and the 1c/kWh ER 1-94 fund. – Hanna C. Lacsamana