Task force: Baguio City gov’t doesn’t have papers to show it owns lots: Folks hit Tuba execs over stand on Asin power plants

>> Sunday, December 16, 2007

TUBA, Benguet – Indignant residents assailed town officials here for their “wimpy stand” over the controversial power plants they claimed encroached on their ancestral lands which the Baguio City government was using without their consent.

This, as the residents’ 30-day ultimatum for the city government of Baguio to vacate the Asin Hydroelectric Plants here lapsed on Dec. 12.

The Tadiangan-Nangalisan Hydro Ancestral Landowners Association, composing at least 50 members, earlier demanded among others, that the Baguio government pay for use of their lots.

“Since the city government is not addressing the issue with dispatch, our group (TNHLA) is set to file a case with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to make the city government cease and desist from using the power plants until it would pay for the use of our lands,” said TNHLA president Roger Sinot.

During a public hearing at the municipal session hall, here Wednesday, Mayor Florencio Bentrez berated TNHALA members saying they should not have barricaded the area where the power plants were located and shut down water valves making the city government incur losses in the process.

Bentrez angrily told the TNHLA during the hearing: “Apay no dakayo met ngay iti pasardenegen da iti business na? Baka kuna yo pay nga nacorrupt ak. (What if somebody stopped your business? You might even say I was corrupted.)”

This got the ire of TNHLA members who said Bentrez and town councilors were biased in their appraisal of the issue which was payment for the use of their lots by the city government.

Blas Dalus was the only Tuba councilor of the stand that the city government should cease and desist from operating the plants as the latter couldn’t prove ownership of the lots where these were located.

Bentrez and majority of town councilors told TNHLA members they would wait first for the decision of the city government which they would affirm in settling the controversy.

Except for Dalus, councilors who reportedly relied on the stand of the Baguio government to settle the issue were: Adora Paus, Cris Akia, Veronica Apil, Dick Belting, Zaldy Guileng, Pedro Esteban, Clarita Sal-ongan and Jerome Palaoag.

“The action of the mayor and majority of the Tuba council was unfair,” TNHLA president Roger Sinot told the Northern Philippine Times. “We went to the public hearing to be heard but instead were berated by the mayor (Bentrez). I wonder whose side the mayor (Bentrez) is on. He should have considered that we are his constituents and we want justice. We want the Baguio City government to pay for the use of our lands. If the city government wants to do business with the use of the hydros, it should pay the people for the use of their lands where the hydros located. We were not even saying Bentrez was corrupt. He was the one who insinuated it.”

The three power plants had reportedly been set up by the Americans in the 1930s and had since been under the control of the Baguio government.

TNHLA members said “occupation” of their lands was unjust and they were now intent on making the city government realize it didn’t own the lots where the plants were located or traversed.

This, as a task force created by Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan headed by provincial board member Nardo B. Cayat had found out the Baguio City government didn’t have legal papers to prove it owned the lots where the power plants were located.

During the public hearing, Baguio councilor Antonio Tabora said he would raise the matter with the city council.

Baguio City Administrator Peter Fianza who was present during the hearing earlier wrote the TNHLA his office could not provide the association with a response on the issue as concerned city government offices didn’t give it immediate attention.

Sinot said they had been asking the city government in letters to come up with a response but these were “seemingly being ignored. This made TNHLA members shut down valves leading to Plant 1 early this month which supplied water to the power plants.”

Baguio officials said the city lost income of P144,000 when the plants were shut down. The Benguet Electric Coop. is buying power from the city for the use of the Asin plants.

But according to city employees holding sensitive positions, as to the people who were getting the payment for the use of the plants, reporters could try to uncover it as the payments were not registered in ledgers of the city treasurer’s office.

There are three plants composing the power system. Plant I currently produces 700 kwh per hour or P3,000 per hour in terms of monetary equivalent.

Fianza as chief of the technical working group, was tasked by the city government’s Asin management committee to address various landowners’ claims in the area and prepare recommendations on operating the hydros.

The TNHLA had also demanded that the city vacate the area including “improvements that traversed [TNHALA] members’ properties” within 30 days from receipt by the city of their Nov. 3 resolution.

Fianza earlier said there were remedies under the law the TNHALA may take to assert their claims but they shouldn’t have shut down the plants.

He added the TNHALA was moving towards legal battle to assert its claims over the lands.
Sinot said they had to take legal action as their demands were not being met. Among others, these included free irrigation for their farms and fishponds, rentals retroactive for at least 10 years, scholarships for deserving children, free streetlights in barangays where hydros are located and computers for elementary schools near the plants. – Alfred Dizon


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