Asin’s undesirable taste

>> Sunday, June 12, 2016

March Fianza
            Contrary to its bitter taste, there are some who say that the right amount of salt makes watermelon and pineapple taste sweeter. This is the unexplainable character of salt. To me, that is comparable to the case of the Asin Hydro-Electric Plant.
            On the last day of May, Asin stakeholders met at Tuba to thresh out doable solutions to the deadlock created by the non-payment of rent by the city to the landowners where two-foot wide pipelines leading to turbines were laid.
            For free and for the longest time since the mini-hydros were built, Baguio profited from the resources of Tuba, particularly the Asin area. For the longest time too, landowners prayed that no more repetition of exploitation will come between the two LGUs where one enriches itself out of the resources of another.
In a feasibility study in 2009 by Czechoslovakian hydro-technology experts of the Czech Renewable Energy Alliance, it showed that the Asin Hydro-electric plants were built by the American Electric Company and was turned over to the government of Baguio in 1936. Clearly, what was turned over by the Americans were the facilities, not the lands.
In the early 90s up to December 26, 2006; the city through a management and operating contract with its partners operated the Asin hydro plants. It continued using the lands without compensating the owners. The city up to this writing does not have legal papers to show that it owns the lots where the power plants and the pipe lines were installed.
So that for more than seven decades, the private farmlands were exploited without benefits going to the land owners, not even the electricity that the plants generated. Take note that before the city assumed operations of AHEP in 2007 from the Baguio Water District and Hedcor, respectively; farmer-landowners from Tadiangan and Nangalisan had been seeking mediation from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.
Feeling hopeless, left out and ignored by the city government that did not bother to pay attention to their interests, the farmers on the 26th of December, three hours right after the turn-over of the hydro plants from the Hedcor to the city, diverted the water from the intake pipes to the river. Of course, the hydro plant shut off because there was no water to run the turbines.
Soon, around 50 affected landowners who were not being paid rentals by the city gathered to elect their set of officers and named their organization Tadiangan-Nangalisan Hydro Ancestral Land Association (TNHALA).
Cases of grave coercion, economic sabotage and violation of the water code were filed against the landowners and members of TNHALA, apparently to suppress their right to claim rental fees from the city. The cases were dismissed by the Benguet Prosecutors Office in 2009.
This was not known to many, including the members of a new organization called the Poblacion-Tadiangan-Nangalisan Landowners Association (PTNLA) who were nowhere to be found when the cases were being heard in court. The group is led by its president, a certain Florida de Vera, a name I never came across ever since the city and TNHALA were fighting each other in court.  
The new group even disowned the acts of diverting water from the pipes to the farms by members of TNHALA and the signing of a CA with the city. This made Tuba Mayor Florencio Bentrez, now provincial board member, criticize them.
Understandably, no one wants to get involved when the cases were under litigation, but when talks about millions of compensation came up, people started complaining. To the extent, some even formed a new group, maybe upon the advice of one who is interested to operate AHEP.
By the way, members of the PTNLA have no water to divert from the pipes because in the first place, lands on the Poblacion side are not traversed by pipes.  
In 2007, TNHALA filed a petition for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and preliminary mandatory injunction against the city for the stoppage of its unwanted take-over of the said hydro plants, since these plants are within the Ancestral Domain of Tuba, Benguet.
TNHALA followed this with a case it filed with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples – Legal Department after the land claims were identified by NCIP-Benguet.
On October 27, 2010; Mayor Mauricio Domogan signed with the Asin landowners and affected residents Compromise Agreement (CA) for the compensation of lands affected by the pipelines and other facilities. This ended the court battle.
The CA offered a compensation for rentals amounting to three per cent (3%) of the net surplus from the operation of the hydro plants subject to conditions that the rentals will be retroactive to year 2007, the year the city assumed operations of the power plants after it took over from a management and operating contract from the Baguio Water District and Hedcor, respectively.
The other terms in the CA are, that TNHALA will have representation in the Bids and Awards Committee to witness the bidding process (when the management of the hydro plants’ operations will be bided out); be entitled to privileges and priority projects; have priority in employment in the plants; have scholarship grants for landowners’ heirs; and subsidy in electric bills.
After the signing, the TNHALA withdrew the case it filed before the NCIP. The CA resolved civil case no. 6911-R that was filed by the city government before the Regional Trial Court, Branch 111, with both parties submitting their verified agreement to the court.
What some members of TNAHALA and I cannot figure out is how come the city still insists on collecting damages from them when it is clear that the dismissal of cases filed with the Benguet Prosecutors Office has become part of the CA.
The only conclusion people in Asin can arrive at is that the city does not want to pay their dues. This, even as five members of TNHALA have already died waiting, without seeing the fruit of what they had agreed on with the city.  
Through the years, the pipes that feed water to AHEP’s turbines have been heavily penetrated by roots of plants such that some sections have to be changed completely. In fact, the Czech study reported that some parts of the plant were not working, and that all segments in bad condition, if not the whole plant itself would have to be replaced.
There are observations that power companies are backing off from bidding the Asin Hydros. The main reason was that the returns or profit may not be able to pay back the principal investment. In the first place, these were never meant to be bided out but rather, these were better operated through negotiations.
Maybe even the wealthiest electric company does not want to invest in operating AHEP. As for Goldlink and Kaltimex, I do not know which one of them is financially capable of putting into operation AHEP as not one of them has convinced us that they have the money.
And by the way, prior to biding, repair and eventual operations; requirements such as Certificate of
Conveyance (COC), Environmental Impact Certificate (EIC) after an Environmental Impact Study (EIS), and an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) have to be secured.

The city does not have them but Goldlink and Kaltimex are still interested. Maybe there are things they know that they do not want us to find out.


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