A continuing tale of a people’s defense of land, life and honor

Lakbayan 2016
FILE PHOTO: Amianan Salakniban (Defend the North) march to Chevron Oct 13, 2016 (Photo by M. Salamat / Bulatlat)

By ALMA SINUMLAG
Northern Dispatch

The Kalinga people, undeniably, has been instrumental in halting World Bank-funded Chico dam projects during Martial Law.

History tells that the Kalinga tribes united with the Mountain Province tribes and succeeded in stopping the Chico dam project that threatened to inundate and destroy their rice fields and communities.

But the threats of destruction from hydropower projects continue to plague the province up to now. These projects even overlap with geothermal power projects and mining applications.

Threats of hydroelectric power projects

The Naneng tribe in Dupag, Tabuk City, the provincial capital was alarmed when a Minanga tribe suddenly came into the picture claiming to be initiating the dam project along the sabangan (meeting point) of the Tanudan River and Chico River.

Leaders of the Malbong and Naneng tribes asserted that Minanga was already subsumed long ago into the Naneng tribe.

This project, the Upper Tabuk Hydroelectric Power Project (UTHPP), is implemented by the DPJ Engineers and Consultants. The Naneng tribe said that DPJ knows that the majority of the affected communities are opposed to a dam project considering that Dupag people were the ones who dismantled the camps of the NPC during the Chico River Dams project protests.

But in the pursuit of the 10-megawatt hydro project, they formed the Minanga ICC with the certification from the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) to justify that it was a project initiated by the said cultural group.

The leaders of the Naneng tribe stressed that Minanga today refers to a sitio (subvillage) of Dupag village and is not a tribe.

Leticia Bula-at, a woman leader, said that the newly formed Minanga tribe cannot decide the fate of Dupag and all those affected by the project. Their protest reached up to Congress and today the project proponents are silent.

The UTHPP, however, is still in the list of awarded hydro power projects with the Department of Energy.

Aside from the UTHPP, major rivers of Kalinga are covered by hydro projects. Pasil River is applied for by PNOC-Renewables Corp with two hydros with a capacity of 22MW and 20MW. The Saltan River in Balbalan is also applied for by the same company with a 24-MW hydro project. A 4.32MW mini hydro project of Pan Pacific Renewable Power Phils is eyed along the Chico line in Bugnay, Tinglayan.

Geothermal

In the NCIP records, Chevron’s geothermal application covers more or less 26,000 hectares of land spanning nine ancestral domains in Tinglayan, Lubuagan and Pasil towns of Kalinga. The US-based giant corporation is hell-bent to set up a geothermal power facility in Mt. Binulauan, located in the tri-boundary of the three municipalities. It stands 7,641 feet and is classified by the Philvolcs as an active volcano with fumarole fields and hot springs on its slopes. One fumarole field, called Suku-u’, is located in Dananao village in Tinglayan town, while the other two, the Bu-ot and Bum-bag fumarole fields, are in Balatoc village in Pasil town. Its hot springs are in Tulgao, Tinglayan called by locals as A-attungan, Western Uma and Lubuagan’s Sun-ot.

Chevron, from its exploration activities, estimated Binulauan’s geothermal capacity between 120MW to 200MW. The company even announced its timetable of setting up the facility by 2017. Despite a number of documented opposition from various tribes affected, it has flaunted that it has secured a100-percent consent from the indigenous peoples in the area.

In a research conducted in Uma in Lubuagan; Tulgao and Dananao in Tinglayan, Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center (Cwearc) found out that Chevron violated numerous collective rights of the indigenous peoples. It has employed various tactics, including bribery, to divide the tribes and secure the required free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

In Uma, Lubuagan, the division among the community is highly observable. Elders are co-opted and have already given their consent to the company without considering those who are opposed to the project. In Tulgao and Dananao, interviews made among the members of the tribes revealed that Chevron conducted meetings not only inside their communities but in several hotels in Tabuk City with chosen attendees receiving per diems every meeting. It was in these hotels that some of the memorandum of agreements (MOA) were drafted and signed.

In the consultations inside the communities facilitated by the NCIP, information divulged to the people are insufficient. The company claims that the project would bring development in the province of Kalinga. It has used the government’s neglect of social services to lure the communities to accept the project. It promised scholarships, roads, path ways and other services. The absence of such basic services was used to cripple the united resistance of communities.

It is not, however, unusual for a company like Chevron to violate the rights of Kalinga people. They did it in Mountain Province, Benguet and Ifugao. They did it in various countries around the globe. In fact, Global Exchange, an international human rights organization, labeled Chevron as the number two most wanted corporate human rights violator in 2012. Chevron was also listed as number two in the report for damaging the ecosystem in Ecuador, and repressing protest to oil extraction in Brazil. Its pollution and neglect in the Northern Amazon, human rights abuses in its oil project site in Burma, Thailand and many other cases in North America were not even included yet in the Global Exchange report.

With the notoriety of Chevron as a human rights violator, the people of Kalinga cannot afford to give rights such company to take control over Mt. Binulauan. Binulauan is a common term for the tribes in Kalinga which means gold or precious. This mountain is precious not only for the tribes in the three municipalities but to the whole of Kalinga.

Binulauan is the watershed which supplies numerous creeks flowing down to Pasil and Bonog rivers, which unite with the mighty Chico River giving life to the rice paddies along the river banks downstream up to Tabuk, considered the rice granary of Kalinga. The Tulgao and Dananao tribes expressed their strong opposition, especially when they learned that geothermal facility needs large volumes of water in order to harness more steam from underneath the earth.

Mining

Another burning issue in Kalinga today is mining specially in Pasil where the Batong Buhay Mines once operated but was stopped by communities because of its adverse effects to downstream communities. The renewed interest of mining companies in Pasil and other areas in the province started in 2005 with Makilala Mining Company and Cordillera Exploration Incorporated (CEXCI). Since then, it has sparked tension among the communities. Tribal war was even triggered due to boundary dispute.

For some time, the issue was silent until recently, when Makilala expressed interest to pursue the project. It covers the ancestral domains of the Colayo, Guina-ang and Balatoc tribes. Exploration activities are ongoing in Balatoc while FPIC is still being sought from the two other tribes.

Recently, the FPIC processes within the ancestral domain of Guina-ang were questioned and found fraudulent. The Guina-ang Indigenous Peoples Organization (GIPO) came out with a manifesto rejecting the mining project because it is in conflict with the tribe’s other source of livelihood, small scale mining. Also, a case has been filed against the NCIP Kalinga because of the irregularities in the FPIC process.

GIPO said the NCIP manipulated the FPIC process. In their manifesto, GIPO asked that the Resolution of Consent be declared void because it was signed without the people’s clear understanding of the project.

GIPO also questioned the formation of the council of elders facilitated by the NCIP. One tribe member said a council representing all the villages belonging to Guina-ang tribe namely Guinaang, Pugong, Malucsad, Galang, Bagtayan and Dangtalan was already in place even prior to the entry of a mining application. The GIPO said the NCIP created a new set of council of elders to manipulate the consent.

In Tawang, Balbalan, CEXCI’s mining operations was met with rage by the people because CEXCI came to the community like thieves. The company already started its mining operations even without the conduct of an FPIC process. Tawang people then called for the immediate pull out of the company from their land.

Tabuk valley is the rice granary of Kalinga. Residents from the upland villages of Kalinga always go down to Tabuk during a rice crisis. Geographically, Tabuk is a valley shaped like a basin. With the applied projects, however, Gloria Pisipis of Innabuyog-Kalinga said the province’s basin will soon become a toilet bowl of corporations.

Pispis noted during an interview that people cannot discount the role of the tribes in the lowland Kalinga in stopping the Batong Buhay Mines in the 1980s. Their rice fields were the first to be affected by the silt and chemicals that flowed through Pasil River down to the Chico River. The protest in the lowland was stronger than that in the upland before and that can happen again. She posed a challenge to all i-Kalinga to stand with them in saving the rice granary.

Militarization

Kalinga province has remained militarized since the Chico dam struggle. At present, the 503rd Infantry Brigade with its 50th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army is wreaking havoc in Kalinga communities. The soldiers occupied civilian homes, church and school in Western Uma, Lubuagan, Kalinga. Reports from a recent solidarity mission showed that fear has engulfed the community due to unabated threats, harassment, and intimidation committed against the people. Women and children are harassed psychologically and verbally.

In Tanglag, the community was able to push the elements of the 50th IBPA out of their village after a month of military occupation.

In the villages of Pinukpuk and Balbalan, military abuses ranging from intimidation to illegal arrests continue.

All over the province, the recruitment for Civilian Auxiliary Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) is massive with the promise of higher pay.

Lessons from the Chico Dam struggle shows that fascism is the tool of government and corporations to quell peoples resistance when deception did not work. During the Marcos dictatorship, they co-opted and corrupted some of the locals to divide them and weaken their will. Today, their tactic did not change.

Corporations and the government pose as saviours, capitalizing on the effects of government neglect and poverty. When people still resist the projects, they persecute them politically by tagging them as members or supporters of communist revolutionaries. Military presence in the villages affected by geothermal, hydro power, dams and mines heightened since the last quarter of 2015 to this day.

History however reminds i-Kalinga of the shining courage and bravery of our forebears. They were never cowed by state deception and fascism. The list of heroes and martyrs in the struggle for ancestral land rights and self-determination is endless. With the continuing and escalating threats against our land of birth, there nothing is more honorable than to live out the courage and commitment of our forebears.

And so the challenge to Kalinga tribes remains, to defend their territories from destructive projects amid continuing militarization, government neglect and deceptive measures to destroy their unity.
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