Philippine infrastructure

Dam projects face strong opposition in Kalinga

Sherwin de Vera
Dam projects face strong opposition in Kalinga

RIVER OF LIFE. Brooks and streams from the Balbalan-Balbalasang National Park feed Saltan River, which empties its waters to the Chico River.

Eufemia Bog-as

Majority of affected Kalinga indigenous tribes and some towns reject five dam proposals

BAGUIO, Philippines – Eufemia Bog-as already swam the rapids at eight years old. Her cousins taught her how to swim. Like her, they learned how to enjoy the Saltan River at a young age. 

Growing up in the village of Dalyagan in Gawaan, Balbalan, Kalinga, her family and relatives regularly spent part of summer having picnics along the riverbank. 

“It is still part of our bonding every time our relatives visit,” Bog-as, now 29, told Rappler in Ilokano. 

Her memories include catching eels, palileng (a type of goby), and crabs for lunch during their outings. The river’s abundance also provides clams, shrimps, and other shellfish. 

“My cousins also taught me how to use a fishing rod and I was able to get small fish using this,” she said. 

The river of her childhood remains integral to Bog-as’ life and the community. 

“People take logs and pinewoods along the river after storms for firewood. Even now, families and members of our village still gather along its banks to bond and celebrate during special occasions,” she added. 

Bogas worries that younger generations in her village will not experience these things as the construction of three dams looms over the river. 

Damning the river 

The Department of Energy awarded five dam projects along the Saltan River and its tributaries in Northern Kalinga, traversing the municipalities of Balbalan and Pinukpuk. 

Three of these were given to JBD Water Power Inc. (JWPI) – the 49-megawatt Saltan D Hydroelectric Power Project (HEPP), the 45MW Saltan E HEPP, and the 40MW Mabaca HEPP along the Cal-oan River. All are in the pre-development stage. 

In a letter signed by Director Mylene Capongcol of the Renewable Energy Management Bureau, the DOE endorsed Saltan D and Saltan E to the local government of Balbalan in February 2020 and March 2021, “to expedite the conduct of studies, development works and ground activities to implement the subject matter.”

Diagrams and tables provided by the company to the local governments show Saltan D and Saltan E with 40 to 50-meter dams, considered large dams by the International Commission on Large Dams. 

The proposed projects will impact the ancestral domains of six tribes in Kalinga. 

The Mabaca HEPP is within the territories of the Buaya and Mabaca tribes. 

Affected lands for Saltan D are within the domains of the Dao-angan, Salogsog, and Poswoy tribes. The identified dam site is in Gawaan, within the Salogsog territory. The powerhouse will be located on Poswoy lands. 

OPPOSITION. A farm in Gawaan, within the indigenous domain of the Salogsog tribe in Kalinga, where indigenous communities oppose the planned construction of large dams. (Eufemia Bog-as)

For Saltan E, the company plans to construct the dam in the triboundary of Dao-angan, Limos, and Poswoy, with its powerhouse in barangays Apatan and Allaguia of the Poswoy. 

According to the company’s website, the three structures “will have a total output of more or less 150MW installed capacity with a total output of more or less 350MW.” 

JWPI said their renewable energy projects intend to “foster community relations, inclusiveness and connection” and “building a sustainable economic growth for the community.” 

Procedural concerns 

On September 27, members of the Limos tribe in the barangays of Alaguia, Apatan, Asibanglan, Baay, Bayao, Limos Proper, Pakawit, and Taga were supposed to hold a community assembly to either give consent or reject the construction of the Saltan E.

However, on the morning of the same day, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) Kalinga office informed them that the activity would not push through. 

“It was a short notice, just hours before the scheduled assembly. There was also no sufficient explanation for the postponement of the CCA (community consultative assembly) to reach a consensus on the project,” said Limos tribe member Eddie Baggay in Ilocano during an October 6 interview. 

CCA is part of the free prior and informed consent (FPIC) process, a mandatory step under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (RA 8371) to ensure indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination. The law mandates the NCIP to ensure communities are provided  sufficient understanding of the project’s impacts on their domain so they candecide based on merits. 

Baggay believes the postponement was a means to subvert the opposition against the project. 

NCIP personnel conducted a community meeting in Apatanon October 1 “to discuss the benefits of allowing the project to proceed,” he said.

“They are trying to buy time after the series of rejection for the project by the communities and even the local officials of Pinukpuk,” Baggay added. 

Community of rejections 

Community assemblies for the decision-making of the affected tribes started on September 19, resulting in an overwhelming rejection by the Sologsog tribe of the Saltan D. Poblacion (Salegseg), Balantoy, and Gawaan in Balbalan comprised the villages of the tribe. 

The Poswoy tribe, which includes barangays Poswoy and Ababa-an in the same town, also rejected the project on September 21. 

NOT HERE. The Posowoy tribe of Kalinga issue resolutions of non-consent on two Saltan River dam projects. (Eufemia Bog-as)

Community leaders of the tribe stated in their Resolution of Non-Consent that the project would adversely affect farms and residential areas and force the owners to abandon their properties. 

Only the Dao-angan tribe gave their consent for the project. 

On September 28, Poswoy again rejected Saltan E, citing the same reasons.

In February, the Pinukpuk town council passed a resolution opposing the construction of dams along the Saltan River, warning the projects would “certainly cause physical or material harm to the inhabitants.” 

“This opposition is meant to protect the lives of the individuals and the community from potential hazards, and to prevent possible disaster and tragedy,” the resolution stated. 

REJECTION. The Pinukpuk town council passes a resolution thumbing down dam constructions on the Saltan River. (Eufemia Bog-as)

More than 200 community leaders from the Balbalan and Pinupuk also signed a declaration opposing the dam last August. The gathering also birthed Sumkad, a broad alliance of environmental defenders. The term means “to rise” and “resist” in Kalinga. – Rappler.com

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