AT the end of a two- year negotiation, Itogon’s indigenous communities are set to receive greater benefits from SN Aboitiz Power (SNAP) Benguet, the company operating the 140 megawatt (MW) Binga hydroelectric power plant after a signing of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on February 28.
But Bokod indigenous community elders are urging the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to not issue a certification precondition for the continued operation of the Binga Dam, as the Bokod community has been excluded from the negotiations and thus has not provided free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).
The NCIP Commission en banc issues a certification precondition as proof that a project’s proponent has complied with the process for free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), and received the affected IP community’s approval.
The MOA was signed without the consent, involvement, and despite protest from the Bokod elders, as the Itogon community excluded Bokod over an ongoing territory dispute.
Norberto Pacio, one of the Itogon Indigenous Peoples’ Organization leaders, said that the final process was the negotiation on February 28, but Bokod lawyer and vice mayor Erik Donn Ignacio sought for the NCIP to postpone the signing of the MOA, asserting that Bokod cannot be “unilaterally excluded” from the MOA as Binga Dam straddles both Bokod and Itogon.
According to Pacio, Bokod was excluded from the document to avoid confusion, claiming that including Bokod could lead to the community surrendering claims in the area. The signed MOA was only between Itogon’s communities and SNAP-Benguet.
While Ignacio acknowledged that the Bokod community agreed to have Itogon negotiate on their behalf, he added that the agreement did not include signing on Bokod’s behalf.
NCIP-Cordillera Director Atanacio Addog affirmed that Binga dam falls within the two ancestral domains in a letter responding to Ignacio’s requests in the end of February, saying that Bokod is entitled to a separate and independent negotiation with SNAP-Benguet “unless there is an agreement by both ADs (ancestral domains) authorizing one AD to negotiate for the other.”.
NCIP-Benguet FPIC team member Rocky Jake Ngalob clarified that the MOA is not yet ready to be enacted, as the NCIP will then evaluate the MOA prior to signing by the NCIP chair.
Under the negotiated terms, SNAP Benguet is to provide the Itogon indigenous community some P10.3 million annually, equivalent to 3.10 centavos per kilowatt-hour (kWh), as well as additional 1.65 centavos per kWh from the annual production of the plant, and an annual special fund of P1 million for partnership projects promoting indigenous culture in addition to the existing benefits provided by the company since 2008, which now amount to P3.8 million.
Bokod’s IP communities have previously issued opposition to the continued operation of the Ambuklao Dam over what it considered a pittance of benefits compared to the facility’s production and profits, but SNAP Benguet has expressed its intent to renegotiate terms to get the community’s consent.
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