Water: An issue for autonomy
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