“We need to redefine the queer concept of the build-operate-transfer scheme that was pioneered in the Cordillera for the sake of national development. They built the mines and dams here, operated them and transferred the gold and electric power (including the taxes) to Metro-Manila,” he said.
BAGUIO CITY (246 kms north of Manila) – The gentler among the Cordillera mountain peoples – Ifugaos – might not be as fierce as the Kalingas and Bontocs, but they are fighters too.
Contesting the alleged “theft” of their lands within the area of the 540-megawatt (mw) Magat Dam, Asia’s biggest dam by Isabela province, Governor Teododor Baguilat Jr. said they question why two lots in Sto Domingo, Alfonso Lista town where NAPOCOR situated their facilities was declared as Isabela province’s domain. “This is theft,” the provincial governor said.
Magat Dam, supplying electricity to the whole of Cagayan Valley Region and other parts of the country, and a fishing ground for some Isabelinos, was privatized in 2006.
Magat, located in San Mariano town, Isabela is known as the biggest dam facility in the Philippines, combining irrigation, flood control and power supply. With four generating units of 90 mw each, it has the largest capacity among the operating hydro electric power plants in the country.
It was built through WB-financing at a cost of $83.7 million and started commercial operations in 1983. Aboitiz Equity Venture Inc. who joined SN Power of Norway to form SN Aboitiz Power Inc. won the privatization bid in 2006 against 11 other bidders. “Isabela province only wants to have the bigger chunk of the taxes by SN Aboitiz to them,” Baguilat said.
Accruing to keepers of watersheds
Last quarter last year, Ifugao Rep. Solomon Chungalao raised during a meeting of the Regional Development Council his concern over the lack of benefits accruing to the keepers of the watersheds of the Magat Dam.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who presided over the meeting at the Presidential Mansion in Baguio City, directed the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR) to look into the issue.
Earlier the issue was raised with the then three sectoral representatives of the Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives, for them to lobby for a redefinition.
Over in Hungduan town where the Hapao River serves as a big feeder to the Magat Dam, multi-awarded environmentalist, conservationist and Ifugao journalist Ramon Dacawi said, “Ifugaos could go as far as diverting the water flow if nothing is plowed back to them as keepers of the watersheds.”
Benguet and Ifugao need not lobby alone toward a better deal on the exploitation of Cordillera's water resources, Dacawi, Baguio City’s information officer added.
Redefining the watershed keepers
A redefinition of “keepers of watersheds” will mean they can demand for a share even at Bauko town in Mt. Province, which serves as the headwaters of the Agno, the main headwaters of the 345-mw San Roque Dam.
Baguio City, Dacawi added, will likewise be entitled as its Lucnab, Kias and Happy Hallow barangays are within the Agno watershed. Despite the murky water it delivers, the city, as headwater to the Balili, can then claim benefits from the operation of the mini-hydros of Hedcor downriver, he also said.
“After all, we need to redefine the queer concept of the build-operate-transfer scheme that was pioneered in the Cordillera for the sake of national development. They built the mines and dams here, operated them and transferred the gold and electric power (including the taxes) to Metro-Manila,” he said.
“We are claiming the structures in Sto Domingo, Alfonso Lista one hundred percent,” Baguilat said.
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