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RTC upholds right of Kabayan IPs to seek info on hydro projects

BAGUIO CITY – Indigenous peoples (IPs) or indigenous cultural communities (ICCs) have all the right to seek all information regarding proposals to set up hydroelectric plants within their river resources.

With that premise, Branch 63 of the Regional Trial Court in La Trinidad, Benguet dismissed a case filed by energy developer Hedcor Kabayan Inc. accusing the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) with interfering or influencing the on-going Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) the corporation is conducting for its Kabayan II hydropower project.

“The IP’s/ICC’s access to all information affecting their interest should be guaranteed by the diversity of the sources and means of information available, thus enabling them to check the accuracy or facts and to appraise data, scheme and proposals objectively consistent with a laissez faire approach to the regulation of speech and expression,” the court noted.

Hedcor Kabayan, part of the Hydroelectric Development Corp. now developing hydroelectric dams in various parts of the Cordillera, earlier filed the case for injunction and damages, for allegedly influencing the FPIC and “violating the exclusive rights of Hedcor as renewable energy development of Kabayan II hydro power generation project…”

The issue arose after Onjon ni Kasikuran Shi Kabayan (ONKASKA), composed of indigenous peoples of Kabayan, passed Resolution No. 4-2014 allowing Beneco to conduct a detailed engineering and design study for Agno I and Agno 2 within the ancestral domain of Kabayan along the Agno River.

The Kabayan Sangguniang Bayan endorsed the Onjon resolution on August 26, 2014. Subsequently, the Kabayan Liga ng mga Barangay also adopted a resolution asking the Department of Energy to consider the application of Beneco for hydropower development for the Nalatang River.

Firstly, the court noted, “Hedcor did not establish a clear legal right to preliminary injunction”. It said that the amendment to the hydropower service contract between Hedcor and the Department of Energy was executed only on June 13, 2016.

“Also the endorsement letter was sent to the NCIP on 22 June 2016 for Hedcor to secure the necessary permits and clearances from all relevant government entities including the certification precondition and the conduct of the FPIC (free and informed prior consent) process,” the court said.

“Indubitably,” the court said, “the alleged acts were committed prior to the amendment of the Hydropower Service Contract between Hedcor and the DOE on 13 June 2016.”

Therefore, the court added, “as of 22 June 2016, Hedcor has yet to file its application before the NCIP for Certification Precondition based on the amended contract. It can not rely on its earlier application filed on 31 July 2015 and the proceedings therein had which were deemed mooted with the execution of the amended contract.” Ramon Dacawi / ABN

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