Power play over Asin power plants

>> Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Alfred P. Dizon

TUBA, Benguet – Extraction of electricity from the Asin hydro-power plants in this municipality may take longer than sooner. It is still beset by problems like land ownership making the developer hesitant in pursuing the project.
Indigenous owners of lands where the plants sit and traverse want payment for use of their lands. They said this had been withheld from them for so long.  
The Baguio City government said earlier it owns the plants and the lands, but according to the Tuba municipal government, the Baguio local government unit doesn’t own any lot in Tuba.     
The Baguio Regional Trial Court also ruled earlier under Judge Pamintuan that lots where the plants stood were owned by indigenous folks of the area. But the RTC ruled the power plants and other facilities like turbines were owned by the city government.
Descendants of indigenous land owners where the plants were constructed and traverse said the US colonial government a century ago installed the plants and pipes over their property without permission and consultation with their forebears.
The Baguio City government says when the American left, the US turned over the facilities to the city government. Researchers who checked US archives however have found out there is no document to prove the US turned over the plants to the Baguio government.
Tuba officials aver if ever the plants were indeed turned over, it should have been to the Tuba government where the power plants are located – not Baguio City government – again, they reiterate, which doesn’t own any lot in the municipality.
This time, Tuba folks say they want justice and history to be put in its proper perspective in regard to ownership and operation of the power plants and if ever the city government will operate the plants, they have to pay rent to them.
Do date, Tuba officials have not yet issued a statement that the Baguio City government should turn over the plants to them.  
Following Judge Pamintuan’s ruling, the city government agreed to pay affected land owners P2.7 million in accumulated rentals. 
Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan said the city government is just waiting for the “legitimate list of landowners who deserve to be compensated.”
The landowners are members of Tadiangan Nangalisan Hydro Ancestral Land Association headed then by Roger D. Sinot as president who stepped down from his post after he was selected as indigenous peoples mandatory representative in the Baguio City council.
Sinot has not yet assumed his position as IPMR in the city council but that is another story which we will tackle in another column. Suffice to say, the regional director of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples should have issued certificate of affirmation for Sinot to sit as IPMR.
But then, he didn’t until now and it is reportedly related to issues in Asin. Sinot reportedly knows some strange happenings related to the waters that flow and the Pandora’s Box could explode once Sinot sits as IPMR in the council, reason why some gods at city hall reportedly don’t want him to assume the position.
So back. It was the TNLHA under Sinot who had fought hard for the city government to recognize their rights over areas where the power plants stood and traversed.
But following the agreement that the city government will pay members of the TNLHA P2.7 million in rentals, another shadowy group reportedly formed by those who wanted to take over and run the plants insisted they should be included or should be the ones who should be paid.   
Despite this, the city government  reportedly bid out operation of the power plants.  Kaltimex Energy Philippines won “right” to repair, refurbish and make money out of these. Now, officials of the power firm are having second thoughts in pursuing the project considering problems like those on how the money would be split.
Should operators for example pay taxes to Baguio or Tuba? This is aside from “mobilization funds,” according to sources.
Affected landowners earlier made an agreement with the city government for the latter to pay rental for use of their properties which the plants traversed. But until now, they are complaining not a single cent was paid to them by the city government.     
A few years back, members of the TNLHA, closed gate valves of the plants saying they were abused enough and the city government had to pay them overdue fees and taxes for use of the plants if they wanted operations to resume.
Despite this, the city government pushed re-operation of the plants and tried to reopen the valves but this was met with stiff opposition which nearly resulted to violence between government officials, workers and landowners.
Operation of the power plants stopped after that and for these to come to life again, landowners want the city government to pay them first.
Even with this, Domogan urged Kaltimex  management to “fulfill its contractual obligations with the local government to pursue rehabilitation and upgrading of the hydropower plants for the city to maximize economic gains from operation of the renewable energy plants,” according to a report from Dexter See of the mayor’s office.
According to the report, Domogan talked with Tuba Mayor Ignacio Rivera to thresh out issues and concerns of indigenous peoples and municipal government that need to be addressed regarding operation of the power plants.
“We are scheduling a meeting with Kaltimex officials to inform them of the city government’s position that the company must immediately start fulfilling its contractual obligations under the confirmed contract so that the power plants will operate after their rehabilitation,” Domogan was quoted as saying.
The city legal office bared application for water rights of another hydro developer over the Asin River was denied by the National Water Resources Board that is why, according to Domogan, one of the issues raised by Kaltimex has been addressed.
The city mayor said the local government is willing to extend assistance to the winning contractor but it must also start complying with its contractual obligations with the city.
Kaltimex earlier said it will rehabilitate and upgrade the plants, provided the city government assist in resolution of legal claims over these to guarantee peaceful turnover to the company before it starts complying with contractual obligations.
Under the agreement signed between the local government and Kaltimex in 2014, the company was mandated to pay to the city government P18 million upon confirmation of contract as its performance bond representing three percent of total cost of power plants’ rehabilitation.
The city council confirmed the contract between the local government and Kaltimex only last month after two years and that is another point of contention.
But even with this, officials of the power firm nowadays are mum on their next moves. What are credentials of this firm and who are its secretive officials? 

This, as the waters flow down Asin River in lost income and it may take some time before the hydro power plants will operate. And by that time, Sinot may already be sitting as indigenous peoples mandatory representative in the city council. 


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