HEAVY rains this July, coupled with threats of COVID-19 infections make distant communities more difficult to reach, thereby making the fight against the pandemic and the government’s vaccination program more challenging.
PAGASA said that July is when the rain falls for more than 20 days with the most rainfall experienced in the NCR including its surrounding provinces. Despite the rains, the average heat index in the lowlands is at a sweltering 39.9°C (103.8°F). People are advised to take precautions as heat exhaustion and heat cramps are expected.
Certainly, many have experienced riding on a bus where all seats are occupied and passengers are sweaty because the air condition system is struggling to balance the lowland heat while the sky is generous in pouring gallons of rain.
Amid dry spells in lowland regions in Asia, parts of Europe, North and South America, wet season is continuing in July, with a larger portion of the Philippines experiencing significant rainfall, especially in the afternoon.
Also, heatstroke may occur with lengthy activity and exposure to direct sunshine that increases heat index by up to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. That is why even while regions are experiencing rains, there are reports of deaths due to heatstroke, meaning, the body cannot disperse the excessive heat and body temperature has reached hyperthermia levels.
The heat index is the estimated temperature of how hot the weather feels when the moisture in the air is factored in, in consideration of natural factors like wind, a person’s body mass, height, shape, and activity that influence one’s impression of the weather. Thermal conditions above 37.5°C (99.5°F) to 38.3°C (100.9°F) are life-threatening.
Amid uncooperative weather and threats from Covid-19 variants of concern, newspaper columnist Ramon Tulfo asks the question: “Which comes first, the interests of millions of households and establishments in Luzon that would suffer from power outages as a result of the closure of the plants, or the welfare of a handful of mountain people?
His side jab is in relation to the three hydroelectric plants that were shut down last week by the LGU of Bakun, Benguet following a cease-and-desist order (CDO) issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) against Hedcor that is running the plants.
This is in the midst of reports that power consumers in Luzon are presently suffering from power shortages that are maliciously being attached to the Bakun hydro issue. But I bet my non-existent monthly pay, there will always be blackouts, brownouts, power outages and shortages even when the three Bakun hydroelectric plants are contributing power to the Luzon grid.
Btw, my sympathies were with Mr. Tulfo when celebrities Raymart Santiago and Claudine Barreto and company ganged up on him at the NAIA in 2012. Despite claims of being a martial arts expert, I took his side because he was alone and belittled. But that changed today after he called the Bakun IPs as a “handful of mountain people”.
In most press releases that were sent to newspapers all over, there is insinuation that the IP organization and Bakun LGU are liable for the stoppage of the operation of the three hydroelectric plants, especially during this pandemic.
It is a fantastic argument. The company and DOE cannot pass on to Bakun and its people their failure to produce power. Much less, the health department cannot blame the “handful of mountain people” in Bakun if vaccinees do not get jabbed because of a sudden power outage.
Hedcor says it recognizes the concerns of the Bakun IPs and it is open to a “tongtongan” (dialogue), but is it? For issuing a cease and desist order (CDO) to the Hedcor management of the three Bakun hydroelectric plants for violating the rights of the LGU and the IPs, the NCIP is sued in court.
And even with a case filed against it, NCIP officials claimed they continued to facilitate communication lines and rekindle negotiations between Hedcor and the Bakun IP organization. However, the situation has become bitter to a point where both sides need to cool off.
Now, how can “tongtongan” proceed if Hedcor resorts to filing cases in court against people and agencies who should be considered their allies in resolving issues between them and a “handful of mountain people?”
The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) requires that project developers may acquire permits and licenses only after receipt of a Certificate Precondition (CP) from the NCIP manifesting consent from a “handful of mountain people” in a community hosting the project.
Thus, the CDO may be lifted only after Hedcor secures a CP after holding the free prior informed consent (FPIC) with the IPs of Bakun as required under the IPRA of 1997.
Then Mr. Tulfo asks, “Which government agency is higher in stature: DOE or NCIP?” A simple answer that my simpleton brain produced is “no one is higher than the other.” The DOE sees to it that Mr. Tulfo, you and I get our electric power supply, while the NCIP sees to it that IPs in the country are not marginalized and their rights protected.
The three hydroelectric plants operated by Hedcor have a combined capacity of 11.9 megawatts (MW). Hedcor operates 21 other hydropower plants supplying 258 MW of renewable energy. This is the basic information that we know so far.
The profit-oriented company that operates the hydroelectric plants that exploit the natural resources, particularly the rivers of Benguet, are not telling Bakun LGU and the “handful of mountain people” how much they earn from the hydroelectric plants.
There is no transparency in their operation. They are not honest to the host community or the “handful of mountain people” that they talk to. Our turn to ask Mr. Tulfo a question: “Should Hedcor in Bakun pack up and leave?”