LAWYERS representing community folks in Kabugao, Apayao in multiple cases filed against employees of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and local officials may be filing more cases in the coming weeks against the same persons.
Since the start of February, the collaboration of lawyers said they have been receiving reports that their clients were being threatened and harassed by the same accused persons in two criminal and administrative cases filed last December and January.
“We cannot disclose the nitty-gritty yet but we received at least 20 complaints of threats and harassment, and we have evidence to back them,” said lawyer Ryan James Solano, spokesman of the group.
The collaboration of law offices includes RA Cortes Law; Molintas and Partners Law; Donaal and Partners Law; Lidua, Daping and Partners Law; BMW Law; Comafay Law; and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).
The prior cases were filed before the Office of the Ombudsman and the Provincial Prosecutor for estafa, falsification of documents, and use of falsified documents as well as for acts penalized by the Ombudsman Act and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
Charged in these cases were NCIP Cordillera employees which include Acting Regional Director Atty. Atanacio Addog, Engr. Benito Bangao, Engr. Kenny Pulog, Fritzie D. Depdepen, Karla Dazzle Marie Mallillin, Agnes Gabuat, Atty. Geoffry Calderon, Genaro Failoga, Jezryl Inopia, and Carter Ayabo.
Also named accused were Apayao Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative John Anthony Amid and Kabugao Vice – Mayor Fabulous Tucjang.
“After receiving their subpoenas, some of these unscrupulous persons had the nerve to go to our clients and threaten them with counter charges and speak ill,” said Solano of RA Cortes Law.
Being public officials, the cases being prepared this time will be filed before the Department of Interior and Local Government, and the Office of the Ombudsman, aside from possible criminal charges.
“We challenge these despicable people to walk the talk and file the case, if any. We are more than willing to face them in the proper forum,” he said.
The initial complaints filed earlier stemmed from a December 2019 community resolution naming several persons as “representatives” in negotiating with Pan Pacific Renewable Power Philippines Corporation (Pan Pacific) over its proposed 150-megawatt Gened-1 Hydroelectric Power Project (HEPP).
Pan Pacific, a hydropower firm, intends to build two mega dam facilities along the Apayao River, affecting the ancestral domain of the Isnag.
Many of the complainants claimed their signatures were forged as they did not sign any resolution to that effect, while others claimed they were deceived into signing the document as a receipt for government aid.
Several others who had signatures were also long dead. Some community elders even executed an affidavit denying having signed documents that agreed to the construction of the dam.
The NCIP Regional Review Team, which reviewed the Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process conducted, also noticed the evidently falsified signatures, repeated signatories, and dubious signatures.
It also observed irregularities such as holding FPIC activities outside the ancestral domain, and failure to observe consensus-building processes, among others.
However, the formal review and opposition of the community were brushed aside by the then-NCIP Regional Director Marlon Bosantog.
The questioned resolution was then used to usher in the processing of the FPIC which led to the issuance of the Certification Precondition (CP), now also a subject of complaint at the NCIP Commission En Banc.
Interestingly, Bosantog and accused Addog and Calderon, were declared “Persona Non Grata” through two Kabugao community resolutions in 2021.
The group of lawyers also received information that the government officials charged in the cases filed purportedly asked Pan Pacific for P3 million to bankroll their legal fees.
Additionally, Solano said the persons charged even boasted that the cases filed will eventually be dismissed because they are well-backed by politicians and many lawyers, according to the communities
“That is a huge insult to the justice system and an arrogant display of disregard to the rule of law,” he said.
On top of the cases being prepared, the collaboration of lawyers is expected to file seven separate more cases before the Ombudsman and the Provincial Prosecutor.
The lawyers also asked the Regional State Prosecutor to order the entire Apayao Provincial Prosecutor’s Office to inhibit from handling the case.
Proposed to be built right at the heart of Apayao’s capital town of Kabugao, Gened-1 and the 250-MW Gened-2 HEPP threaten to submerge the Kabugao and Tawit ancestral domains.
Both are projects of San Miguel Corp. (SMC)-controlled Pan, one of the eight Philippine conglomerates and corporations that benefited from the $3-billion loan agreement the Duterte administration entered with China in 2016.
According to a June 2021 FPIC report, the Gened-1 dam, if it pushes through, will submerge communities in the barangays or villages of Bulu, Magabta, Poblacion, and Waga in Kabugao town, and Lt. Balag in Pudtol town. At least five other Kabugao villages will also be directly affected.
Aside from displacing hundreds of village folks, Gened-1 will destroy the Isnag burial grounds and their traditional fishing grounds and farms, according to the complainants. It will also severely alter the biodiversity of Apayao, dubbed the “last nature frontier of the Cordillera.”
Apayao is listed as a “key biodiversity area” by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The province’s pristine biodiversity was brought to the spotlight in 2011 when sightings of Philippine eagles were confirmed in the forests of Kabugao, Calanasan, and Pudtol. –