The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples Must Prevent the Operation of the San Roque Dam

Thursday, October 11, 2007

04-10-02: It is nearly done. The builders of the San Roque dam have to lay on only 25 meters more of earth and gravel, and the dam will practically be finished.The spillway of the 200-meter high dam will still need some work. But it constitutes only a small part of the kilometer-long structure. Already, two mountains have been bridged. The gap through which the Agno river used to flow has been completely plugged.

Since dam construction began in 1998, the Agno has been flowing through two diversion tunnels. Construction engineers say that these tunnels, too, can be plugged even before the spillway is finished so that the dam can start collecting water. They believe this can be done by July. So July is when we can expect the flooding of Dalupirip and Ampucao to begin.

Dalupirip and Ampucao are the southernmost barangays of Itogon in the Cordillera province of Benguet. The former is occupied by Ibaloy, the latter by a mix of Ibaloy, Kalanguya, and Kankanaey - indigenous peoples of the province. Initially, only seven of their subsettlements - Bitubito, Daynet, Tadjum, Silag, Ambalanga, Pangbasan, and Kawadjan - will be submerged in the reservoir created by the dam. But inasmuch as the dam will also induce silt build-up along the Agno - at the rate of at least 6.35 million cubic meters per year - the tail of the reservoir can be expected to extend and submerge Tabu, Balucoc, and other subsettlements of the community of Dalupirip.

The communities have not given their consent to the submergence of their gold panning sites, cattle ranges, swidden cultivation sites, rice fields, fruit trees, homes, and the graves of their ancestors. True, many of their members have agreed to accept monetary compensation for the structures and land improvements they are losing. But they have done so only out of resignation. They are saving what they can in the face of the insistence of government and the multinational San Roque Power Corporation (SRPC) to implement the dam project.

In forcing the dam project upon these communities, government is violating its own laws on the rights of indigenous peoples. One of these laws, the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA, Republic Act 8371), specifically provides that a project should be implemented only after it has received Free and Prior Informed Consent from the indigenous communities it will affect. The IPRA's Implementing Rules and Regulations (Rule VII, Part II, Sections 9 and 10) further provide that the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) may step in and stop any project that is being implemented without such Free and Prior Informed Consent.

The NCIP knows that the implementors of the San Roque dam project have failed to comply with the IPRA's consent requirements. The NCIP's present Chair, Attorney Evelyn Dunuan, reported this to the Presidential Adviser on Indigenous Peoples' Affairs on 27 June 2001. But on 9 January 2002, the newspaper Sunstar Baguio quoted Attorney Dunuan as saying:

It appears that the contract for the San Roque Power project was signed on October 11, 1997 while the IPRA, signed into law on October 29, 1997 by then President Fidel Ramos, took effect only on November 22, 1997. . . . It is an accepted legal tenet in the Philippines that generally, laws passed cannot be applied retroactively nor can laws be passed to impair existing contracts.

Other lawyers, however, believe that the tenet should not be applied to the San Roque dam project, in which the issues involved carry much greater weight than the date of the signing of contract. The parties to the contract had not yet started actual work on their project by the time the IPRA took effect; they only began clearing the project site on 15 February 1998. With the passage of the IPRA, they could have backed away from the project or at least postponed its implementation until they could comply with the new law's requirements.

In any case, what really matters is that this project violates indigenous peoples' rights, especially: (1) the right to ancestral domain - particularly the right of indigenous communities not to be removed from their territories "without their free and prior informed consent" (IPRA Section 7); (2) the right to self-determination - particularly, the right of indigenous communities to participate in "decision-making in matters which may affect their rights, lives, and destinies" (IPRA Section 16).

Thrice already in the past, we wrote the NCIP on this matter. And, once, our petition specifically requested that the NCIP stop the implementation of the San Roque dam project. But the NCIP did not act. Thus, we have again asked it to do so. But now, we have set a timeframe of thirty days, ending on the 14th of April 2002. Inaction or a negative response by 15 April will free us into seeking other remedies - legal as well as metalegal.

The NCIP may argue that it is too late to stop dam construction. We argue that it is not too late to prevent dam operation - to stop the plugging of the Agno diversion tunnels, the submergence of indigenous people's ancestral lands, and the removal of indigenous people from their communities' ancestral domains.

We know it is Malaca�ang which has pressured the NCIP to take the position that the mandate the agency derives from the IPRA does not apply to the San Roque dam project. But we challenge the NCIP to stand brave before Malaca�ang, on the side of indigenous peoples' rights - on our side as the affected indigenous people!

Shalupirip Santahnay Indigenous People's Movement
Itogon Inter-Barangay Alliance
Aly�nsa dagiti Pes�nte iti Ta�ng Kordily�ra (Alliance of Peasants in the Cordillera Homeland)|
Cordillera Peoples' Alliance for the Defense of Ancestral Domain and for Self-Determination
10 April 2002