Indigenous group intensifies opposition to dam project in north Philippines

The Isnag tribe in the Apayao province have declared senior officials of a national agency on Indigenous affairs as persona non grata on their ancestral lands, as the dispute over a major hydel power project intensifies

December 31, 2021 by Anish R M
Indigenous Isnag residents in Kabugao, Philippines, convene for a community meeting on December 23, in opposition to a proposed mega-dam project. Photo: Rappler

More than 1,000 Indigenous residents of Kabugao in the Philippines have backed a resolution to declare another official of National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), Geoffry Calderon, as persona non grata on Isnag tribal lands. The resolution was passed on December 23 by the Kabugao Ancestral Domain in the Apayao province in northern Philippines that oversees the affairs of the Isnag ancestral lands in the region. The resolution was announced a week later.

The resolution is the third of its kind to be passed over the past few months in the intensifying dispute over the construction of the state-run Pan Pacific Renewable Power Philippines Corporation’s (PPRPPC) Gened-2 dam. The dam is proposed to be built over the Apayao river that flows through the Indigenous lands. Two other officials of the NCIP, current acting regional Atanacio D. Addog and chief former regional director Marlon P. Bosantog, along with the PPRPPC and its agents, were previously given the same status as Calderon.

The resolution against Calderon came after the NCIP prevented hundreds of residents from attending the consensus-building activity,which is part of the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) process required for developmental projects proposed on Indigenous lands, held on December 18.

The NCIP also deployed the Philippines National Police’s (PNP) local force to allegedly prevent opponents of the project from participating in the FPIC process through threats, violence and intimidation. In response, the community also passed a second resolution on the same day expressing non-consent to the construction of Gened-2 dam, alleging that both the PPRPPC and NCIP did not engage with the Indigenous groups in “good-faith”.

The resolution also stated that the FPIC process showed “complete disregard to the Kabugao AD’s (Ancestral Domain) custom and traditions of collective decision making”, by using “hand-picked” elders and leaders as representatives of the community.

The dam is expected to lead to large-scale encroachment of several tribal ancestral lands in northern Philippines, including that of the Isnags. In the non-consent resolution passed on December 23, the community reiterated their long-standing concerns that the project poses “imminent environmental and cultural degradation” and will submerge and inundate Indigenous lands along the Apayao.

The 335 megawatt (redesigned as a 250 megawatt) Gened-2 hydro-power project is among a series of dam projects proposed along the Apayao-Abulog River, in northern parts of the Luzon island. Lands across 8 barangays, the smallest administrative division in Philippines local government, of Kabugao are expected to be submerged and can directly affect over 17,000 residents.

Indigenous protesters have been opposing the project for nearly a decade and have faced violence and intimidation from authorities. They have also accused the NCIP of hand-picking “elders” as community leaders to gain consent for the project. More recently, NCIP regional chief Addog claimed that previous FPIC meetings when the dam construction faced stiff opposition had the presence of communists militants, red-tagging Indigenous protesters.