July 24, 2024

Twenty-six years after the passage of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), cause-oriented groups and individuals in the Cordillera think it is time to amend some provisions of the law specifically the free, prior, and informed consent process (FPIC).
In development projects mostly initiated by mega companies, members of indigenous cultural communities in Bokod, Benguet; Cabugao, Apayao; and Ifugao who shared their experiences said the FPIC has become a venue for bargaining between a proponent company and the community, instead of the former giving, without conditions, what the community wants.
In a forum last March 28, members of ICCs who attended a forum organized by Baguio-based law firms said proponent companies that earn billions give them a mere pittance in royalties.
Leopoldo Lamsis, an elder of the Shakilan ni Ikulos, an indigenous peoples organization in the ancestral domain of Bokod, said they asked SN Aboitiz Power-Benguet for higher royalty fees of nine centavos per kilowatt hour from the one-centavo per kilowatt hour that the company used to give them but this was reduced to only about three centavos per kilowatt hour. He said they issued a certificate of non-consent (CNC) but the company appealed.
Lamsis said a CNC should not be appealable for this undermines community consensus and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples should not be an instrument in dealing with these appeals.
In the case of the proposed Guined Dam project in Apayao, community elder Ramos Bongai said there was disinformation about the project, which made some members of their community give their consent to the proposal.
In Ifugao, Tony Tanguid said proponent companies manipulate the FPIC by “importing” supposed community members and make them sign a certificate of consent.
Ibaloy lawyer and Baguio Councilor Jose Molintas said the experiences shared by the different ICCs are proof that changes should be done to strengthen the FPIC process.
Citing the San Roque, Ambuklao, and Binga dam projects, Molintas said the problem with the FPIC is that when ICCs give their consent to one project, other companies explore more areas to develop thereby exposing ancestral domains to development.
“The danger with the FPIC is if you allow one, they keep on coming back,” Molintas said.
He said before any form of development is introduced in ancestral domains, the NCIP should first help ICCs formulate their ancestral domains sustainable development and protection plan (ADSDPP) where the community will determine the kind of development they want in their domain.
Molintas said an ADSDPP gives ICCs control over how to manage natural resources within their ancestral domain at the same time allows development but limited to what was agreed by the community.
“Kung sino lang ang may gusto ng dam, sila lang ang dapat lapitan ng mga developers or companies. That way, we empower indigenous peoples,” Molintas said.
Lawyer James Solano, one of those representing indigenous peoples who filed complaints against officials of the NCIP and elected officials in Apayao concerning the Guined Dam project, said the FPIC process is flawed.
He said proponent companies should not be initiating an FPIC but the communities to be affected by proposed projects.
Molintas added, hiring or appointment of NCIP commissioners also has to be reviewed. He said there is no genuine representation when some of them become mouthpieces of government, instead of IPs.
“It was okay in the beginning because the commissioners truly represented the sentiment if IPs. Now they are influenced by programs of the government such as the Elcac (End Local Communist Armed Conflict),” Molintas said, referring to IPs being red-tagged for mere opposition to a developmental project.
“When we say ‘no’, they claim we are being influenced,” Molintas said, referring to IPs who have been labeled as involved with communism when they oppose projects that they feel will compromise their ancestral domain.
Molintas said the Office of the President should come up with a more democratic process in the appointment of commissioner. “We want better people from the community – from the grassroots,” the councilor said while alluding to a commissioner who allegedly did not want to use Igorot as collective term for IPs of the Cordillera because of their supposed links to communists.
He also called on the congressmen of the six provinces of the Cordillera and Baguio who are pushing for an autonomous region to first address payment of royalties to ICCs.
He said genuine autonomy should first recognize the sacrifices that IPs had to endure in order to achieve the growth experienced in the region now and that is through proper compensation for atrocities committed to their forefathers, centuries ago. – Rimaliza A. Opiña