RDC urged: Stop water, hydro rights given to firms in Cordillera

>> Sunday, October 15, 2017

By Ramon Dacawi 

BAGUIO CITY -- At the rate the National Water Resources Board (NWRB) and the Department of Energy (DOE) are issuing “water rights” and hydroelectric dam construction permits to outside companies, nothing would be left to jumpstart autonomy or self-rule in the Cordillera that is supposed to be the watershed cradle of Northern Luzon.
Alarmed over this continuing depletion of the region’s resource base, the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) has asked the Regional Development Council (RDC) to ask the NWRB and the DOE to issue a moratorium on the issuance of permits for hydroelectric projects and water rights in the Cordillera without prior knowledge and consent of the RDC and the would-be host communities, municipalities and provinces”.
In a resolution it adopted last Sept. 26, the Beneco board warned that “ the proliferation of water rights and hydroelectric power development permits in the Cordillera has (resulted in) the depletion of resources that the region, on its own, can eventually tap and develop for its own growth”.
The directors led by cooperative president Rocky Aliping pointed out that “the proliferation of water rights and hydro-electric plant development by and for giant and even foreign-led companies continues to be an irritant between them and residents of host communities who are often the last to know that their water resources have become subject of water rights of outsiders out to develop them into hydroelectric facilities”.
The board warned that the “debilitating impact of these would be deeply felt should the region succeed in its quest for autonomy or self-rule as there would be mo more water resources it can develop to spur its own progress as these habe been assigned to private companies.
Beneco argued that “the idea and viability for the region to own hydroelectric plants for its own development through grant support has already been shown in Ifugao Province where the G-7 Countries commissioned Japan as a member in developing the Ambangal Mini-hydro in Kiangan town and then turning this over to the municipal government, with the condition that part of the income generated from its operation shall be used for the restoration and protection of the rice terraces in Kiangan, Mayoyao, Banaue and Hungduan towns where the most extensive rice terraces are found”.
“Likewise,” the resolution said, “the Japan International Cooperative Agency has financed and is now constructing a bigger hydroelectric dam in Ifugao which shall be turned over to the province once completed”.
Beneco pointed out that “the potential of the region in obtaining support through fund grants to develop hydroelectric plants would dramatically improve should the Cordillera become an autonomous region, with hydroelectricity development becoming a crucial; driver in the region’s development and providing substance to autonomy”.
“Curiously,” Beneco observed, “the “informed prior rights” consultations with the host communities are only after the permit to develop and the water rights have been issued in a “cart-before-the-horse” scenario.”
The board said the FPIC (free, prior and informed consent should precede the issuance of water rights and permit to develop hydros in the Cordilllera.
Only recently, one private hydro developer, Hedcor Kabayan, went to court, accusing Beneco of interfering with or influencing the on-going Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) the corporation is conducting for its hydropower project in Kabayan., Benguet.
Hedcor Kabayan, part of the Hydroelectric Development Ccorp. Now developing dams in various parts of the Cordillera, earlier filed the case for injunction and damages,  accusing Beneco of allegedly influencing the FPIC and “violating the exclusive rights of Hedcor as renewable energy developer or Kabayan II hydropower generation project.
Judge Jennifer Humiding of the Regional Trial Court, however, dismissed the case, noting the Kabayan people had all the right to seek information from Beneco on matters affecting their interest.      
While pushing for a moratorium, the Beneco board said water rights and hydroelectric development permits can still be issued to the communities who have been host to these resources since time immemorial , to electric cooperatives and those covered by fund support to the local government units or to the electric cooperatives.
Likewise, the Beneco asked the NWRB and the DOE to first obtain the endorsement of the would-be host region, province and community before approving applications for water rights and energy development in the Cordillera.
The board also asked the NWRB and the DOE to provide the region, the host province, host municipality information on previous water rights and energy development permits issued by these agencies and to cancel permits if these are opposed by the would-be host communities and local government units.
Copies of the resolution will be provided the local governments in the Cordillera and electric cooperatives in the country.


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