Ilocos Norte

Ilocos Norte IP groups raise concerns over NIA dam project 

Sherwin de Vera

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Ilocos Norte IP groups raise concerns over NIA dam project 

The lush mountains of the Cabacanan Watershed will feed a proposed reservoir, which is expected to ramp up agricultural production in the town of Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.

Ilocos Norte provincial government

'They are undermining our right to self-determination,' reads a joint statement of two tribal councils

BAGUIO, Philippines – Two Isnag-Yapayao tribal councils in the town of Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte have lashed out at the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples for rushing the free prior and informed consent (FPIC) process for proposed dam project of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA). 

In a joint statement on December 17, the Isnag Yapayao Balangon Tribal Council and Isnag Yapayao Ugayam Tribal Council said the NCIP-Ilocos Norte is pushing for the speedy completion of FPIC for the Cabacanan Small Reservoir Irrigation Project (CSRIP). 

“Iti daytoy a panang-pressureda kadakami ket mabadbaddekanda ti karbenganmi iti bukod a pangngeddeng,” the group said. 

(With this kind of pressure from them, they are undermining our right to self-determination.) 

“Dagiti naisayangkat nga FPIC ket saan a nasurot ti usto a proseso. Saan a naan-anay ken napudno a mailawlawag nu ania ti panggep ti proyekto, ken amin a detalye a kasapulan a maamuan dagiti tribu a maseknan,” the statement read further. 

(The FPICs that were conducted did not follow the correct process. The purpose of the project and the crucial details that the affected tribes need to know were not adequately and clearly explained.) 

According to them, the NIA failed to disclose important details about the project. 

The groups raised concerns about the possible flooding of barangays Saguigui, Subec, and Baduang, and the associated risk of having the dam near the Bangui and Vigan-Aggao fault lines. 

They also questioned the continuation of the FPIC despite the ongoing boundary dispute between three tribal councils, which includes the project area. 

They urged NIA to instead use the P800 million fund for the dam project to improve and repair the existing irrigation systems. 

A hydroelectric project? 

The statement said that during a November 29 dialogue, Pagudpud Mayor Rafael Benemerito told the tribes that CSRIP is a hydropower and tourism project led by a Japanese firm, contrary to what NIA said. 

The project description on the Environmental Management Bureau website did not mention any hydropower component of CSRIP. But NIA has been eyeing the development of multiple-use facilities, which includes the construction of “hydroelectric power projects on its existing irrigation systems and future irrigation projects nationwide.” 

They also questioned the irrigation office for presenting the project as a small reservoir. 

Dams with a height of more than 15 meters or those that are between 5 and 15 meters impounding more than three million cubic meters fall under the large dam category of the International Commission on Large Dams. 

Based on NIA’s October 2021 Revised Project Description of CSRIP, the Cabacanan River will supply the 36.10-meter-high dam with a maximum storage capacity of 3.12 million cubic meters. 

The facility is expected to increase the irrigable area from 91 hectares to 260 hectares and 245 hectares during wet and dry seasons, respectively. This translates to 3,945 tons of rice and vegetables from 1,104 tons. 

NIA is also allocating 10% of the reservoir area for aquaculture, with an estimated annual production value of P42.7 million. 

Under dispute 

The proposed reservoir is in Barangay Saguigui. However, the project site is a disputed area with the indigenous peoples of Saguigui, Dampig, represented by the Balangon Tribal Council, and Caunayan led by the Ugayam Tribal Council. 

On November 10, Saguigui and Caunayan indigenous peoples gave their consent for the project. 

But on November 29, the Ugayam Tribal Council, along with the Balangon group, submitted a resolution urging NCIP to suspend the FPIC process. They asked the office to allow them to first settle the boundary issue using their indigenous customs before proceeding with the FPIC for the project. 

“Ta agraraira pay ti boundary dispute iti nasao nga ancestral domain, saan a mabalin nga ituloy ti FPIC, iti makagapu nga aniaman a saritaan panggep iti plano a proyekto ket mangkumplika ken mangdegdeg iti agraraira a risiris ti tallo a tribu panggep iti boundaries iti ancestral domain a sakupen ti proyekto,”  part of the resolution read. 

(With the ongoing boundary dispute in the said ancestral domain, it is not proper to continue the FPIC process because any discussions regarding the proposed project will complicate and worsen the conflicting territorial claims of the three tribes within the ancestral domain covered by the project.) 
Despite the request of the two tribal groups, the provincial NCIP proceeded with a community meeting on November 30 to discuss the Memorandum of Agreement. Representatives from the Ugayam and Balangon tribal councils did not attend the meeting. –

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