SPECIAL REPORT: Tribal leaders to withhold support for Pulangui V

By Carrell C. Magno and Laurie Ailynne M. Benito
Bangsamoro Center for Just Peace
(via Bukidnon News with permission from VERA Files)

Leaders of indigenous communities in Bukidnon have refused to engage
in any discussion over the planned construction of the Pulangui V
Hydroelectric Project (HEP), until dam proponents submit a cultural
impact assessment that will detail the damage the dam will cause the
tribes.

The dam, which is expected to generate 300 megawatts into the Mindanao
grid, and 1,256 gigawatt hours of cheap renewable energy nationwide,
is touted to provide more than half the projected power shortage in
Mindanao by 2014. Since it is renewable energy, Pulangui V HEP will
generate very cheap power.

Last July, the project got the go signal from the Regional Development
Council of Region 10, which includes Bukidnon. Dam proponents,
however, were told to update their feasibility studies and secure
clearances from concerned government agencies such as the National
Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the Department of Natural
Resources.Although business groups and local government units have hailed the
project as a source of sustainable and cheap energy, indigenous and
civil society leaders say the dam will submerge the burial grounds,
sacred places and hunting grounds of both Maguindanaon and Manobo
tribes, forever erasing their identity as indigenous and cultural
communities.

About 3,300 hectares will go under water once the dam is built. These
are spread out over the towns of Damulog, Kitaotao, Kibawe, and
Dangacagan in Bukidnon and President Roxas in North Cotabato.

“These are not public lands. These are ancestral lands of the Manobos.
It is ours,” said Datu Wilmar Ampuan of the Natabuk Federation, an
alliance of indigenous people’s groups in Mindanao.

Bukidnon Gov. Alex Calingasan, who favors the project, earlier said
the economic benefits outweigh the displacement of the indigenous or
lumad communities. “It (displacement) is being addressed. It can be
talked about,” he had said.

Ondo Asupra, vice chairperson of the Kibawe Tribal Council of Elders,
said his group would refrain from discussions with the dam proponents.
“Hindi pa kami makikisali diyan (We won’t get involved for now),” he
said.

“Naghihintay pa kami ng cultural impact assessment. Saka na tayo
magsungayan (We are still waiting for the cultural impact assessment.
Let’s debate after).”

Other Manobo leaders say the Pulagui V consultations continue to sow
division among the Manobo people and are tearing them apart.

“Now there is Lumad ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B,’” said Datu Roldan Babilon
of the Central Mindanao Indigenous Peoples Negotiating Council,
describing the split in the tribe between those for and against the
proposed project.

The dam is a joint undertaking of Greenergy Development Corp., an
energy company formed in 2008, and the First Bukidnon Cooperative
(Fibeco), one of the province’s two power providers. The project will
harness the potentials of the Pulangui River, the longest river in
Bukidnon and the second largest river system in the country.

One of the major tributaries of the extensive Rio Grande de Mindanao,
Pulangui River is 320 kilometers long, traversing a majority of the
cities and towns of Bukidnon from its source in Barangay Kalabugao,
Impasug-ong, Bukidnon. It is said the name “Pulangui” could have come
from the Manobo term “empamulangi,” which means “center of the
island,” possibly referring to the location of the river within the
island of Mindanao.

Greenergy president Cerael C. Donggay said, “The power that can be
harnessed from this great river through Pulangi V Hydro is a form of
gold for Mindanaoans. It is our golden ticket to social and economic
progress.”

Donggay, the former Mindanao chief of the National Power Corp., added
that the project would be like “digging gold in our own backyard.”

A research released by the Pulangi V Management Team in March 2010
said Pulangi V Hydro will avoid burning 1,882,500 barrels of fuel oil
for power and help save the Philippines P10.95 billion per year. They
say Mindanaoans will no longer be heavily dependent on expensive
imported fossil fuels for power.

Among those who support the proposed construction of the dam is
Damulog Mayor Romy Tiongco, a former priest and social activist who
said, “So far, I have seen the sincerity of the project proponents in
addressing the concerns of the affected communities.”

Fibeco president Raul Alkuino said the pre-development stage of the
project is progressing well, and that they were addressing the
“minutest details” as far as social and environmental impact of the
project is concerned.

Butch Baz, head of the Project Management Office, said the company has
conducted more than 200 community consultations. Of the 22 communities
affected, he said, 17 have given their support. These communities are
in the Bukidnon towns of Kitaotao, Kibawe, Dangcagan and Damulog, and
Roxas in North Cotabato. In the next months, they are expecting to get
100 percent approval.

In a meeting with the project proponents during the Bukidnon
Sangguniang Panglalawigan Session in March 2010, Ampuan and other
tribal leaders argued that the proponents violated their human rights
by conducting

consultations without their consent. Their opposition stems from the
fact, they said, that the project “is clearly not for us.”

Last June, however, the municipal council of Kibawe passed a
resolution opposing the construction of Pulangui V.

The Manobos opposing the dam are likening it to the San Roque
Multipurpose Dam in San Miguel, Pangasinan built from 2001 to 2004.
San Roque was supposed to generate 345 megawatts, irrigate thousands
of hectares of farmlands and act as a flood control mechanism.

But the dam displaced the indigenous Ibaloi communities of the
Cordillera region. And rather than control floods, opponents say, San
Roque caused massive floods at the height of storm “Ondoy” and typhoon
“Pepeng” in 2009 when the dam overflowed and dam personnel abruptly
released water, causing widespread damage.

The Manobos’ opposition to the project is supported by the Moro
Islamic Liberation Front, which called the Pulangui V project
“anti-people” and “simple development aggression.”

“The beneficiaries are not the poor Manobos and Moros but the elites
of society, especially the factory owners,” said Muhammad Ameen,
chairperson of the MILF Central Committee Secretariat.

The secretariat also branded the project a scheme to drive away the
Manobo indigenous tribes and Moros in Bukidnon and North Cotabato from
their ancestral domain, and to dry up the Liguasan Marsh for
distribution to outsiders.

The Manobos also earned the support of civil society organizations and
community leaders who issued a declaration in December 2010 saying “
(the dam) will destroy our much-valued ancestral domain and heritage
from our ancestors that are the foundations of our unique identity
since time immemorial.”

Dam opponents say an estimated one million indigenous peoples and
settlers inhabiting 27 municipalities in the provinces of Sultan
Kudarat, North Cotabato, Maguindanao and the city of Cotabato will be
adversely affected. They say Pulangui River is the only tributary
supplying water to Liguasan Marsh, and that the dam would drain the
marsh and endanger its ecosystem.

Liguasan Marsh has been a “Game Refuge and Birds Sanctuary” since
1941, is part of the National Integrated Protected Areas System, and
is considered a repository of Moro culture and heritage.

“The social impact of the project is minimal, but its impact on
Mindanao’s economy is enormous,” said Baz of the Project Management
Office.

Baz said they wanted not just to give equal livelihood opportunity to
the lumads but improve their lives as well. Aside from compensation,
each family will have a reserved slot in the construction work and
will be allowed to till their lands while construction is ongoing.

Also, part of the livelihood program for the affected communities
includes agro-forestry, like planting of rubber and fruit trees,
engagement in freshwater fisheries, and the development of tourism to
generate income for these families.

Baz said the figures of oppositions are “pure fiction.” The total land
area of the 22 barangays to be affected by the proposed dam is only
about 30,000 hectares and only about a tenth of it will be flooded for
the reservoir.

Based on their field validation, only 1,060 households will be
directly affected and the flooded area for the plant’s reservoir would
only cover 3,300 hectares and not 3,000 households with 78,000
hectares inundated as reported by opponents, he said.

Donggay said the welfare of the affected residents and the whole of
Mindanao remains a priority in pushing the project. “Mindanao cannot
develop with the current power infrastructure and supply that we
have,” he said.

Datu Roldan Babilon of the Central Mindanao Indigenous Peoples
Negotiating Council clarified that they are not opposed to the
project. “Our non-negotiable stand is we are not against development,
only to the negative effects of the project,” he said. “The proposed
dam is like ethnocide for the Manobo Pulangiwen tribe.”

Datu Migketay Vic Saway of the Talaandig tribe and member of Kasapi,
an indigenous people’s party-list group, said the project did not get
the consent of the lumads, an accusation Fibeco has denied. But Saway
insists, “The issue is social justice for the historical injustice
committed against the lumads.” (Via Bukidnon News with permission from
VERA Files)

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