February 9, 2023

The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples-Cordillera has ordered Hedcor, Inc. to return the land being occupied by its three hydropower plants to the indigenous peoples of Bakun, Benguet.

NCIP-CAR Director Marlon Bosantog, in a letter to the board of directors of Hedcor dated May 3, said his office has earlier received the resolution of non-consent of the Kankana-ey and Bago indigenous cultural communities of Bakun manifesting their denial to the operation of the hydropower plants.

These power plants are the 5.9-megawatt Ferdinand L. Singit hydro, 3.6-MW Lon-oy hydro, and 2.4-MW Lower Labay hydro.   

“You are hereby ordered to return to the indigenous community of Bakun the parcels of land occupied by your operations, as being the true and incontestable owners thereof, immediately and without delay. This likewise serves as final and legal notice for the return of possession of the occupied areas,” the letter stated.

“The ICCs/IPs have collectively expressed their voice and articulated the importance and urgency of their intentions in these documents. As necessary consequence of the issuance of the resolution of non-consent, there is no more legal justification for your company to continue with the operations of these three power plants for lack of the required FPIC (free prior and informed consent), as mandatory requirement by law for any company to operate inside any ancestral domain,” the letter added.

The NCIP-CAR is convinced the documents submitted by the IPs and ICCs are “authentic and express the true intent of the concerned communities.”

Earlier, the concerned IPs has asked NCIP to issue cease and desist order against Hedcor, which Bosantog claimed is a remedy available for the ICCs/IPs in accordance with the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.

Hedcor and the ICCs/IPs reached a deadlock in their negotiations as the company’s 25-year memorandum of agreement with the community expired in 2016.

A new MOA for the FPIC was signed in October 2019. But in March this year, the elders passed a resolution revoking the MOA citing irregularities in their negotiations with Hedcor.

The elders stated the company failed to comply with the agreements made with the Bakun ancestral domain group and did not properly negotiate with the barangay and municipal government units.

The elders were also dismayed when the company filed cases against the municipal government headed by Mayor Billy Raymundo.

Councilor Mark Bayawa, chair of the committee in environment and agriculture, said town officials have asked but failed in their request for a full disclosure of Hedcor’s net sales as a basis for further negotiations.

Raymundo, for his part, said they would rather convert the land occupied by Hedcor into a productive agricultural land.

“The resources are owned by the people of Bakun and we know that we can survive by using the resources to water our gardens and make them productive for the benefit of our people,” Raymundo said. – Ofelia C. Empian