NCIP calls for suspension of Chico River project

CHICO RIVER. This magnificent stretch of the Chico River in Barangay Katabbogan, Pinukpuk, Kalinga, will be the source of the P4.37-billion Chico River Pump Irrigation Project. File photo from NIA-Cordillera Administrative Region's website

CHICO RIVER. This magnificent stretch of the Chico River in Barangay Katabbogan, Pinukpuk, Kalinga, will be the source of the P4.37-billion Chico River Pump Irrigation Project.

File photo from NIA-Cordillera Administrative Region's website

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – Indigenous peoples (IP) groups stormed a meeting on the controversial Chico River Pump Irrigation Project which they said violated free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). 

While the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP)-Cordillera acknowledged that they were recently furnished with the FPIC report, it said the project had already commenced even before they could receive the report. 

The FPIC is the legal instrument that establishes bottom-up participation and consultation of an IP group prior to starting development on their ancestral land.

The Cordillera People's Alliance and other IP groups here said that the FPICs of the communities in Katabbogan and Pinococ in Pinukpuk, Kalinga, where the project is located, were not obtained.

Roland Calde, NCIP-Cordillera regional director, said in his May 3 letter to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) Cagayan Valley – the main administrator of the project – that he received the FPIC report on May 2 and realized this was completed by the NIA-Cagayan Valley on April 22 after submitting the disturbance compensation agreements with affected landowners.

"Further, it also came [to] our attention, that while pending the issuance of CP (certification precondition) for the project, earthmoving and construction are already taking place within the domain," Calde said.

He added, "With this, we beseech your good office to hold in abeyance or temporarily suspend activities taking place therein while the office conducts its mandatory review and evaluation to cause the issuance of CP."

During the meeting on Tuesday afternoon, May 7, the NCIP, NIA-Cagayan Valley, Regional Development Council, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources agreed on the suspension while the CP is being processed.

The NIA also said in the meeting that 100% of the IPs and landowners were already paid.

Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), which was not allowed in the meeting, said that no FPIC was given by the affected communities.

"Contrary to the claim of the NCIP, there is no FPIC for the project. Even the process to acquire FPIC in accordance with the 2012 FPIC Guidelines was not completed since no certificate of precondition has been issued. The consultation meetings and the memorandum of bgreement between [NIA-Cagayan Valley] and communities in the affected ancestral domains were only part of the FPIC process and do not already mean FPIC," CPA Chairperson Windel Bolinget said.

He added: "The concept of FPIC was manipulated. FPIC was not secured prior to the signing of the loan agreement and the construction of the project. The fact that the affected communities were not aware of the provisions of the loan agreement, including the Chinese contractor and Chinese workers that will implement the project, also entail the lack of full disclosure of information about the project."

He also said that the NIA negotiated with landowners to allow project construction and disturbances within their private lands in exchange for compensation. It made the affected landowners sign a document called The Individual Right of Way Permit to Enter and Construct as a go signal for the construction, he said.

"This was the 'consent' that became the basis for NIA to start its earthmoving activities. These are outright violations of FPIC," Bolinget said.

On April 4, Neri Colmenares and the Makabayan bloc in Congress filed a petition before the Supreme Court asking it to stop the Duterte government's loan agreement with China for the Chico River pump irrigation project. (READ: SC orders gov't to answer petition vs P3.69-B China loan deal) – Rappler.com