indigenous peoples

Apayao’s Isnag tribe declares NCIP exec persona non grata over dam projects

Sherwin de Vera
Apayao’s Isnag tribe declares NCIP exec persona non grata over dam projects

Apayao province's Isnag tribe opposes construction of a series of dams along the Apayao-Abulog river.

Kabugao Youth

A Cordillera review team of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples notes irregularities in the process of getting free prior and informed consent for a series of dam projects in the Apayao-Abulog river basin

VIGAN CITY – Indigenous communities in Apayao have declared another lawyer of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) persona non grata on Kabugao ancestral land.

More than a thousand members of the Isnag tribe attended the December 23 assembly to declare NCIP Legal Affairs Officer Geoffrey Calderon unwelcome in their territory. Around a hundred elders signed the declaration.

The document also highlights alleged irregularities in the process of getting free prior and informed consent (FPIC) for the Gened Dams Project in the Apayao-Abulog river area.

The Isnag tribe made the decision after the NCIP, through Philippine National Police (PNP) personnel, barred community members from the consensus-building process for the Gened 2 Dam Project of the Pan Pacific Renewable Power Philippines Corporation (PPRPPC) held on December 18.

UNITED WE STAND. Members of the Isnag tribe in Kabugao, Apayao hold an assembly to pass a resolution of non-consent and assail actions by National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) lawyer Geoffrey Calderon. (Kabugao Youth)

In October, the Isnag tribe declared persona non grata then-NCIP Cordillera Regional Director Marlon Bosantog, now-acting regional director Atanacio Addog, and the PPRPPC. They also accused NCIP officials of manipulating the Gened 1 Dam Project FPIC process to favor the power firm.

Red-tagging the opposition

“We likewise deplore to the highest level the baseless red tagging and smear campaign” by Addog, the latest resolution said. 

Addog wrote to Cordillera police chief Ronald Oliver Lee on December 13, requesting police presence in the December 18 activity.

GUARDED CONSULTATION. Police at a December 18 consultation on the controversial Gened Dam project screen arrivals to limit attendance to “authorized representatives.” Photo courtesy of Kabugao Youth

The NCIP lawyer claimed that “unpleasant events” had occurred between groups in favor and against the project during a previous consultation.

He cited reports of communist groups allegedly behind the opposition to the project and claimed that “the presence of these groups during community assemblies poses intimidation and security risk among members of the NCIP-FPIC team.”

This was  not the first time NCIP Cordillera cited alleged threats posed by “CTG (communist terrorist group) front organizations.”

NO TO DAM. Community leaders opposing the project attend a December 5, 2021 community consensus-building activity wearing protest shirts. Photo courtesy of Kabugao Youth

In a statement in August, NCIP Cordillera defended the FPIC process for the PPRPPC Gened 1 project by claiming that pro-dam community leaders “were intimidated and threatened” and that “their voices are being stifled by some front organizations of the Communist Terrorist Groups (CTGs).”

Bonsantog, now the spokesperson for legal affairs of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), was the NCIP director during that time.

A tribe divided

Since 2020, the series of dams proposed by PPRPPC along the Apayao-Abulog River had caused divisions among members of the Isnag tribe in Kabugao.

The December 23 Resolution of Non-Consent against the Gened 2 project alludes to that rift, claiming that the NCIP and pro-dam elders were handpicking participants to FPIC consultations.

The document asserts that under the FPIC guidelines, the tribe, acting collectively, has the sole power to decide on whether to reject or consent to any undertakings in their ancestral domain.

Signatories to the resolution also slammed the NCIP for pushing through with the event despite requests from community members and the local government to refrain from holding FPIC-related activities in the last few weeks of 2021.

Earlier community resolutions, including one by the Sangguniang Kabataan Federation, assailed the NCIP’s choice of elders and representatives who negotiate and decide on behalf of the communities.

More than 30 elders and community leaders executed affidavits claiming forgeries of their signatures in the resolution designating the “authorized elders/representatives.'”

Several elders in barangays Bulu, Waga, Laco, Magabta, and Poblacion also withdrew their signatures from the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for the Gened 1 Dam Project.

Glaring irregularities

NCIP Cordillera’s own Regional Review Team (RRT) also noted glaring irregularities and questionable signatures in Gened 1 FPIC process documents and reports.

Signatures of eight individuals appeared differently across several MOA sets, the RRT said in its August 14 report. The RRT also observed the duplication of signatures of 15 persons and alterations in the names of six signatories.

“Despite express prohibition, FPIC activities were held outside the ancestral domain,” the review team said.

PPRPPC personnel were also present during the decision-making activities, a violation of the legal process, the team added.

“Most crucial, however, is how the consensus-building processes in both (ancestral domains), as documented during the first community assembly, do not appear to have been faithfully observed and applied during the decision-making process,” the report said. – Rappler.com

Sherwin de Vera is a Baguio-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.