Respect the law, intellectual property rights, government tells dam operator
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya: Governor Carlos Padilla has called on the new operator of California Energy’s (CE) $675 million Casecnan Multipurpose Project (CMPP) to abide by the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA) in favor of Bugkalots there or face social problems not only now but forever.
At a meeting of the Provincial Development Council (PDC) committee, Padilla faced claims by state-owned holding company Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. (Psalm) that the Regalian doctrine trumps ownership of water in the Casecnan region, meaning it belongs to the state.
A combined irrigation and power generation project located in Sitio Pauan, Barangay Villarica, Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija, the CMPP has two 26 kilometer runoff weirs and intake structures constructed along the Casecnan and Taan rivers located at Pelaway, town of Alfonso Castañeda.
The CMPP’s 20-year build-operate-transfer program between CE Casecnan Water and Energy Co. Inc. (Cecwec) and the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) that began in 2001 officially ceased on December 11, 2021.
In 1994, Cecwec, a unit of the US-based CalEnergy group of companies, began developing the project.
Psalm and NIA took control of the CMPP at 60% and 40%, respectively, and on December 11, 2021, both took over to operate the 165 megawatt CMPP through a designated third-party operator who won the public tender for the CMPP. operation and maintenance.
Psalm appointed Korean Soosan ENS Co. Ltd. as a CMPP operator after successfully completing the post-qualification process.
In October last year, it declared Soosan as the lowest bidder for a one-year operation and maintenance service contract for the CMPP.
Padilla believes that the water rights belong to the owner of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT), the Bugkalot Tribe under the IPRA Act, and therefore the Bugkalots have the right to claim what is owed to them under the law.
“As the water rights belong to the owner of the CADT, the Bugkalots have full rights to the Casecnan water and are therefore entitled to the benefits provided by the IPRA law,” the governor said.
CADT refers to a title that formally recognizes the possession and ownership rights of Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples over their identified and demarcated ancestral domains under Republic Act 8371.
At the April 8, 2022 PDC committee meeting, Psalm maintained its position that the IPRA Act or Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) Act does not apply when it has taken control of the CMPP designating a Korean company to operate this.
Psalm’s attorney, Ivan Zamora, reiterated the former’s position that while the CMPP project itself predates the IPRA Act, the IPRA provision does not apply to Casecnan, nor does the conduct of the CLIP.
In response to Zamora, Padilla warned Psalm that the Bugkalots are the people of Nueva Vizcaya and that he has the opportunity to converse with them.
“Whether you win legally or not, but until you satisfy the people, I’m telling you, we’re going to have a problem not just now but forever. I mean I’m telling you frankly as governor because I I have the opportunity to take care of these people,” he told Psalm.
Padilla added that he knows the Bugkalot culture very well and was once a headhunter from the province of Nueva Vizcaya.
“I don’t want heads rolling in the Casecnan area just because this issue is unresolved,” he said, calling on the government, Psalm and others involved in renewing the functioning of the CMPP to review the provisions of the IPRA Act, of which he was one of the authors during his tenure as a member of Congress.
The Bugkalots are staunch allies and supporters of the national government, even in the fight against terrorism and subversion they have been very firm and so as governor what I fear is that we may alienate their support and shift their loyalty to another, Padilla mentioned.
“If we can reason together without going to court, then we can find a win-win solution to maintain tranquility and peace in the region, support and maintain the support of the Bugkalots who since time immemorial have been very loyal to the government nationwide,” he added.
Padilla noted that Casecnan is high ground that cannot be controlled by the communist New People’s Army simply because of the Bugkalots’ presence there.
“We must not abandon these heights. We want the region to remain peaceful and for Psalm or the government to be able to operate in the region and do so without breaking the law,” he said.
While acknowledging Psalm’s position, Padilla reiterated a Supreme Court ruling that the Casecnan region is governed by the IPRA law.
“The Regalian [doctrine] is not the one at issue here but the provisions of the IPRA Act as issued by the Supreme Court in its decision,” he said, adding that the law identifies which ones belong to a tribe as far as their CADT right or ancestral domain is concerned.
Padilla said he does not insist on legality and hopes the government can reconsider its position without going to court.
“The government should lead by example [because] it was the one [that] approved the IPRA law. It is clear and does not distinguish whether you are a government, a private company or not. There are provisions of the law that must be observed and one of them concerns things that belong to the people of the tribe,” he added.
On the other hand, Zamora explained that Psalm’s position is not prejudicial and does not intend to harm any IP group.
“We are simply ensuring the correct implementation of the constitutional prerogative or sovereign doctrine. On the other hand, we are also looking at the direct interest of the Psalm,” he said.
Padilla, however, said that after all there is a CADT agreement and that agreement is in place and has not been attacked and therefore the CADT provision must also be respected.
He added that if the Psalms believe that CADT’s provisions are illegal, then the onus is on them, not the Bugkalots.
“About the kingship that is demanded by the Bugkalot, be it the Psalm or the Soosan, I agree that shouldn’t be a problem [with the provincial government]. This should be an issue between the Bugkalots and the company,” Padilla said.
But, he added, whether Bugkalots can levy a fee or levy, the provisions of the IPRA Act are also very clear, as noted in section 3, in which one requirement is the conduct of CLIP.
“FPIC applies to everyone, including the government, whether their claim is royalty or not, the fact that you (the Psalm) are in their territory, then FPIC must be respected,” the governor said. .