Wa­ter: An is­sue for au­ton­omy

Sun.Star Baguio - - Opinion -

TIME and again, we pro­claim, or are re minded, that our Cordillera re­gion is the wa­ter­shed cra­dle of North­ern Lu­zon. Be­yond flaunt­ing this dis­tinc­tion, how­ever, we are fall­ing short of harnessing this re­source, or us­ing it as a ral­ly­ing point for our lead­ers to con­vince us that it is a solid rea­son why we must clamor - if we re­ally have that de­sire - for au­ton­omy.

The need to an­chor the cam­paign for au­ton­omy on our re­gion’s ca­pa­bil­ity and right to ex­ploit our wa­ter re­sources for the Cordillera’s own ben­e­fit and devel­op­ment is most rel­e­vant. It is most im­por­tant in the af­ter­math of the de­struc­tion wrought by the con­struc­tion, in the 1950s, of the Binga and Am­buk­lao Dams on the com­mu­ni­ties of Benguet. Barangays then were sub­merged, their in­hab­i­tants dis­placed for the two dams to be built to spur the devel­op­ment of Metro-Manila, but leav­ing their host com­mu­ni­ties lit­er­ally in the dark or the last to be en­er­gized.

To make up for this glar­ing but ig­nored short­fall, the na­tional gov­ern­ment could have – but did not – given the two used-up dams to Benguet Prov­ince as repa­ra­tion. In­stead, the dams were awarded to the gi­ant Aboitiz Group of Com­pa­nies which, with for­eign cap­i­tal sup­port, re­stored the wa­ter util­i­ties back to pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Now, Aboitiz and other out­side com­pa­nies are get­ting wa­ter rights and per­mits to con­struct other hy­dro­elec­tric dams in the Cordillera. Be­fore we know it, all the ar­eas vi­able for hy­dro projects are no more, as­signed to gi­ant en­ergy firms by gov­ern­ment of­fices in Metro-Manila which do not un­der­stand the im­pact of these to the re­gion’s fu­ture plans for self-rule.

What is sad­den­ing is the fact that Aboitiz filed twice a case against the peo­ple of Ka­pan­gan, Benguet for the lat­ter’s seek­ing the ad­vice of Beneco on how to re­act to Aboitiz’s harnessing their wa­ter re­sources into hy­dros.

This re­al­ity gives ur­gent rea­son for the re­gion to take stock of its re­main­ing wa­ter re­sources and plead for the na­tional gov­ern­ment to slow down on the is­suance of wa­ter rights, pre­ma­ture free-and-prior-in­formed con­sent (FPIC) and per­mits to build hy­dros while the Cordillera is push­ing to­wards au­ton­omy.

Au­ton­omy would mean that the Cordillera would have bet­ter chances of harnessing its wa­ter re­sources for its own use and devel­op­ment. This was pointed out by the Benguet Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive in a res­o­lu­tion ad­dressed to the Re­gional Devel­op­ment Coun­cil. The res­o­lu­tion re­quested the RDC to press the na­tional gov­ern­ment to is­sue a mora­to­rium on the is­suance of wa­ter rights and hy­dro dam con­struc­tion per­mits while the re­gion is mov­ing to­wards au­ton­omy.

Beneco wanted to point out that by the time Cordillera sel­f­rule is in place, there would be no more por­tions of Cordillera rivers to de­velop into hy­dros for the au­tonomous re­gion’s devel­op­ment

The Beneco res­o­lu­tion asked RDC to re­quest the Lo­cal Wa­ter Util­i­ties Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Depart­ment of En­ergy to stop is­su­ing wa­ter rights and fran­chises for pri­vate com­pa­nies to har­ness Cordillera’s hy­dro po­ten­tials. Above all, - and this is the main point of the Beneco res­o­lu­tion - it urged the RDC to ac­tively and ag­gres­sively help Cordillera prov­inces and towns ac­cess fund grants from other coun­tries for the con­struc­tion and devel­op­ment of hy­dro­elec­tric plants to be even­tu­ally owned and op­er­ated by these towns and prov­inces.

This has been done, the Beneco pointed out, cit­ing two hy­dro­elec­tric dams which were built through for­eign grants, af­ter which these were turned over to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity or to the prov­ince to speed up the devel­op­ment of Ifu­gao.

These are: 1)The Am­ban­gal Mini-Hy­dro in Kian­gan town which was built by Ja­pan through the G-7 Coun­tries and turned over to the town for man­age­ment, pro­vided part of the in­come gen­er­ated shall be used for the restora­tion and pro­tec­tion of the rice ter­races in Kian­gan, May­oyao, Banaue and Hung­duan towns where the most ex­ten­sive rice ter­races are, 2) An­other hy­dro plant in Ifu­gao be­ing con­structed through a

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