Firm ordered to return lands to Bakun indigenous peoples

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BAGUIO CITY – “You are hereby ordered to return to the Indigenous Peoples Community of Bakun the parcels of land occupied by your operations, as being the true and incontestable owners thereof, immediately and without delay” declared the letter from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples–Cordillera Administrative Region (NCIP–CAR), Regional Director Atty. Marlon Bosantog, sent to the Board of Directors of Hedcor Inc.

The order from the NCIP sprouted from the failure of negotiations between Hedcor Inc. and the host indigenous community for the proposed renewal, upgrading and continuance of operation for the existing three power plants of Hedcor Inc. situated within the Ancestral Domain (AD) of Bakun namely; Lon-oy Hydropower plant, Labay Hydropower plant and FL Singit Hydropower plant. This failure of negotiations culminated for the issuance of the Community Resolution on Non-Consent from the IP host community of Bakun Ancestral Domain.

It can be recalled that Hedcor underwent the Free Prior and Informed Process (FPIC) process for them to secure the supposed affirmation of the host indigenous community. However, failing to meet the demands of the host indigenous community, the duly recognized indigenous peoples organization, Bakun Indigenous Tribes Organization (BITO), issued their 1st Resolution of Non-Consent against to Hedcor Inc. in July 19, 2019. Hedcor Inc. then sought for the reconsideration and renegotiation followed thereafter.

Hedcor Inc. unable secure its business permit and renew its 25-year Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), was ordered by the town mayor, who happens to be an indigenous person of Bakun himself, to stop operations in July 2020. A case was then filed by Hedcor Inc. against the town IP mayor along with some IP officials. This aggrieved, apart from other issues, most of the IPs in Bakun which prompted them to issue, through BITO, a Community Resolution in August 2020, requesting NCIP to defer the processing of the CP application of Hedcor Inc.

Still feeling injured by the acts of Hedcor Inc. against their tribe mates and discerning that the terms and conditions of the MOA between them and Hedcor Inc. are disadvantageous to their community, BITO followed their request for deferral with another Community Resolution in March 2021, this time, retracting their signatures and revocation the MOA which they signed between them and Hedcor Inc.

Dominga Gaspar, one of the IP elder, during the validation activities of NCIP underscored that the case filed against their officials is akin to paniyew or inayan (taboo) – “maga met lawa si inyat da (they have done nothing wrong). Naey tako abe ay manmiti-miting yan nan kompanya et mangalgalansiya (We keep on meeting about the company’s operation with the company is reaping the benefit continuously utilizing the natural resources in our Ancestral Domain)

She also disclosed that company has been asking for a signature campaign showing the support of the community to the continued operation of the three Hydropower plants but the said signature campaign was devised to confuse and cause division among the IPs. She added that the same was also used to threaten the host community if they opt not to sign.

The indigenous peoples of Bakun felt also that they were deceived by Hedcor Inc. Bakun indigenous elders/leaders Juan Aglayen and Benitez Acbayaan affirmed that during the conduct of negotiations between the domain and the company, the latter requested the community, not to ask too much “basiten yo ti dawat yo (demand small) and “haan yo unay padagsenen ti proposal (do not ask too much) to give room for the company to negotiate with the municipal and barangay governments. However thereafter, Hedcor Inc. shut the doors for negotiations with the respective local governments claiming that the host IP community already consented to the renewal, upgrading and continuance of the operations thus no more negotiations.

Jose Dokipen, another Elder/Leader said that it was February 1991 that the company went to Bakun earnestly courting the community until a MOA was forged between the company and the local government for the construction and operation of their facilities. He stated that, “After 25 years, there is now misunderstanding among us in the community because of the company”. He said that every time the LGU expresses its proposal, the company will say it is unfavorable for them. He said, that if the company does not want to pay, then it is better to stop its operation. “Matago kami dedan uray maga di Hedcor (We will survive even without Hedcor)”, said Dokipen during the NCIP validation.

BITO’s Community Resolution for the retraction followed up with a Resolution of Non-Consent and Resolution asking the NCIP to issue Cease and Desist Order on April 21, 2021.

Other government agencies particular Department of Energy (DOE), National Water Resources Board (NWRB), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and others were made aware of the rejection of IP host community of Bakun against Hedcor Inc. This because under Section 59 of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act or IPRA, it stated that, “All departments and other governmental agencies shall henceforth be strictly enjoined from issuing, renewing, or granting any concession, license or lease, or entering into any production-sharing agreement, without prior certification from the NCIP […]. […] No certification shall be issued by the NCIP without the free and prior informed and written consent of ICCs/IPs concerned: …That no department, government agency or government-owned or -controlled corporation may issue new concession, license, lease, or production sharing agreement while there is a pending application for a CADT: …That the ICCs/IPs shall have the right to stop or suspend, in accordance with this Act, any project that has not satisfied the requirement of this consultation process.” By Rocky Ngalob

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