Development from and for the Cordillera

Development from and for the Cordillera
Chico River, Gayang Mountain Province. The rich history of Chico River must be nurtured even in its development. Ideally, it must be harnessed by locals.**

FOUR years back, we heard The City of Tabuk, Kalinga was bent on constructing a mini-hydroelectric plant as a renewable energy resource. The local government had applied for a bank loan to build the facility which, when operational, would ensure years of power to the people of Kalinga, literally and otherwise. The plant will be owned by Tabuk and its people.
Tabuk’s project is a move in the right direction. Hydropower generation is highly feasible and practical in the Cordillera. Otherwise private ventures wouldn’t have stamped their brand of business up here, harnessing resources within our midst and beyond our comprehension to see, much less develop, for our own. They are applying or had already obtained water rights over our rivers long before our local government units started taking stock of this region’s resources.
Otherwise, the giant firm Aboitiz wouldn’ts have bought the Ambuclao and Binga Dams in Benguet and rehabilitated the same. In tandem with a Norwegian partner, the same power giant purchased the Magat Dam in Alfonso Lista, Ifugao which, because of natural wealth and other taxes going to the host local government unit, is being claimed by Isabela as host, despite the fact that lots surrounding the facility are registered in Ifugao.
Otherwise, a Korean investment-backed enterprise wouldn’t be aggressive in its push to harness river water by tunneling in another hydroelectric power venture Kapangan and Kibungan towns in Benguet. Otherwise, Aboitiz wouldn’t have ventured into the Chico River and forged an agreement for a mini-hydro development in Sabangan, Mt. Province.After all, hydropower is a renewable resource.
Now we buy energy harnessed through our resources by these independent power producers, occasionally with feeble protests over the so-called “power purchase adjustment” (PPA) that allows them to charge us even for electricity not delivered or not used by us. Region-wide, our local government units have yet to take the cue and go beyond computing and begging for their share from the exploitation of the Cordillera’s water resources. They have yet to explore the probability of building and owning their own energy plants.

Development from and for the Cordillera
Ambuclao Dam. When will Cordillerans take charge of their natural resources?***

I broached this idea of host communities or local government units building and forever owning power plants to the late Benguet provincial prosecutor Felix Cabading as a talking point during the peace talks for the creation of a Cordillera Administrative Region and eventually an autonomous one.
We missed the boat towards autonomy that would have given us a leverage to impose conditions for further natural resource development in the Cordillera. Over two decades after the peace pact was signed and the interim region installed, we seem content with the administrative set-up. It appears only Juan Ngalob, the regional director for development, and the Regional Development Council, are concerned about the disparity between our level of development and those of other regions that progressed from the extraction of the gold, silver and copper and harnessing of the water resources up here. No one wants to move on towards autonomy that, despite its imperfections, would give us something to improve on.
That regional watershed summit at the end of 2008 could have been the venue for taking stock of our rights over what remains of this region’s resources instead of it partly being triggered by the complaint of the lowlands that their vital water source up here that is the life-blood of their farms and even industries is drying up. For generations, the Cordillera has been the watershed, the resource base for national development. Recently, it has been blamed for the flooding and silting of the lowlands, calamities they say are triggered by the dams and mining activities up here. Lost in that recurrent complaint is the fact these ventures hardly kept us at pace in development with them and the rest of the country.
These are all water under the bridge –about hydro power and gold produced here and delivered to spur development in Metro-Manila and elsewhere. The Cordillera had given so much in the name of national spilt milk and stand on its own – like our small-scale miners and vegetable farmers.
It’s time for our regional leaders and local government units to think of and pursue development in terms of our own. “It’s long overdue to go beyond begging for what is due and overdue us in terms of national wealth taxes and other benefits and develop our resources for our own benefit.”
Reports have it that the Benguet Electric Cooperative plans to venture into mini-hydro development. It is a push in the right direction, and given Beneco’s track record of turning around a problem-riddled system into a class A facility, it can be the beginning towards the region’s sustaining its own development through energy generation that, for most intents and purposes, benefitted Metro-Manila and other regions and the private power producers.
There’s also wisdom in rallying the rest of the Cordillera provinces and Baguio to supporting Kalinga’s push to self-empowerment through its mini-hydro dam project that will be owned, managed and used by and for its people.
There’s even a better deal than the Kalinga project, as exemplified by the .2 megawatt Ambangal River hydroelectric power project built by the G-8 countries as their gift to Kiangan, the host town, and Ifugao province. After the facility was finished, it was turned over to the provincial government. The only condition was that part of the income from the sale of electricity would go to the rehabilitation of the rice terraces in Kiangan, Banaue, Mayoyao and Hungduan towns of the province which are endangered due to erosion, neglect and abandonment.
Instead of aggressively tapping similar support of foreign countries, however, the region and its local government units appear more keen on approving private enterprise to build and forever own our renewable energy resources.
There should be a time-frame, a limit to how long a private hydro-developer should own and operate a generation facility. As noted by Engr. Edmund Bugnosen, a mining consultant and Cordilleran, even mining permits given for exploration and actual extraction of minerals have their expiry dates. This should apply to hydropower developers who should not own the plants they build in perpetuity but should turn these over to the host local government or community after they have recouped their investments and realized enough profits.
The political leaders of host communities, the provinces and even the region owe it to their constituencies to press for this provision akin to the build-operate-transfer scheme of doing projects.
It’s time, too, for the other provinces, Baguio and the RDC to rally behind the fight of Ifugao for benefits due it from the operation of the Magat Dam, something which then Ifugao governor, now Rep Teddy Baguilat, tried to explain during that watershed summit five years ago.
Otherwise, the Cordillera would remain the watershed cradle for Northern Luzon and the mineral and electric power resource base of the country but never for itself. (email: mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments.)***

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