15 May 2022
The Ancestral Domain of Bakun, Benguet owned by the Kankana-ey and Bago Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples (ICCs/IPs) earns the distinction of being the first Ancestral Domain nationwide to be issued with a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT). Saguday is their term for the Ancestral Domain which means inheritance from the ancestors to be passed from one generation to another. It has a total area of 29,444.3449 hectares and composed of seven (7) Barangays, namely: Ampusongan, Bagu, Dalipey, Gambang, Kayapa, Poblacion, and Sinacbat. The Bakun AD is bounded by the Province of Ilocos Sur on the North and West, and the Ancestral Domains of Mankayan and Buguias on the East, and Kibungan on the South, all of Benguet Province.
As of 2019, it has a population of 15,324 (with 8,255 males and 7,069 females) based on a survey made by the Bakun Rural Health Unit (RHU). The data on population includes the migrant IPs and non-IPs who co-exist with the native IPs or the AD owners.
The Bakun AD was first awarded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim (CADC) bearing No. CAR-CADC-120 pursuant to DENR Department Administrative Order DAO No. 2, Series of 1993. With the enactment of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997, the concerned ICCs/IPs filed a petition before the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) for the conversion of their CADC into a CADT. The same was granted to the Kankana-ey and Bago of Bakun, Benguet when the Commission en Banc (CEB) passed a Resolution on 18 July 2002 approving the issuance of the Bakun CADT bearing No. CAR-BAK-0702-0001.
The Bakun CADT was registered with the Registry of Deeds of Benguet Province on 07 December 2007 without segregating the areas covered by individual titles previously issued either by the DENR or the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) from the survey plan of the Ancestral Domain through a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) executed between NCIP and Land Registration Authority (LRA) on 28 August 2002 and the Joint LRA-NCIP Memorandum Circular bearing No. 1, Series of 2005. The registered Bakun CADT only bears the proviso that the same is subject to Section 56 of the IPRA.
Bakun Indigenous Tribes Organization (BITO) is the domain-wide Indigenous Peoples Organization (IPO) registered with the NCIP-Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) Regional Office (RO) based on the IPRA Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR). However, it has yet to be registered in accordance with the latest guidelines (NCIP Administrative Order No. 2, Series of 2012).
Through the Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resource Management Project (CHARMP) of the Department of Agriculture-Cordillera Administrative Region (DA-CAR), the Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan (ADSDPP) of Bakun was formulated.
The Bakun Indigenous Political Structure (IPS) was documented with fund support from NCIP-CAR which was subsequently confirmed by the CEB. The activities conducted for the Ancestral Domain Indigenous Peoples for Health (ADIPH) Program were likewise funded.
The earlier documentation of the Bakun Sustainable Traditional Indigenous Forest Resource Management Systems and Practices (STIFRMSP) was initiated and funded by the DENR-CAR Regional Office in partnership with the NCIP-Atok Community Service Center (CSC), BITO, and the Bakun Local Government Unit (LGU). The documented STIFRMSP was then presented to the CEB for its confirmation. However, the CEB recommended that: (1) DENR-CAR should undergo the Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process under the Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP) guidelines (NCIP AO 1, Series of 2012) and (2) the IKSP, among others, on hunting and fishing should be included in the documentation.
NCIP field staff then facilitated the FPIC process which resulted to the signing of IKSP MOA and Resolution of Consent. As its counterpart, the Bakun LGU vowed to sponsor the expenses in the documentation of the additional IKSPs. Writing and consolidation of the same are still being done by Mr. Amos Beta-a, a Bakun IP Elder/Leader.
On the matter of IP Mandatory Representation, Bakun has its own Municipal Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative (IPMR) as well as the 7 barangays.
On their means of livelihood, most IPs of the Bakun AD rely on highland vegetable gardening and heirloom rice farming while few are engaged in small-scale mining in Barangay Gambang. Rice production is only for personal consumption while vegetable farm produce finds its way to the Vegetable Trading Post in La Trinidad, Benguet.
Bakun AD is one Ancestral Domain richly endowed by the Almighty with water. For its abundant water resources, the Ancestral Domain plays host to three (3) hydroelectric power plants (HEPPs) of Hydroelectric Development Corporation (Hedcor), Inc. constructed before the enactment of IPRA. These are the: (1) Lower Labay HEPP, (2) Lon-oy HEPP, and the (3) Ferdinand L. Singit (FLS) HEPP. The company has been operating these HEPPs for more than 25 years already.
Lower Labay HEPP was constructed in 1991 and was commissioned on 19 June 1992. Initially at 2 megawatts (MW) capacity, it was upgraded to 2.4 MW. Lon-oy HEPP was constructed in mid-1992 and was commissioned on 24 July 1993 with the capacity of 3.60 MW. The Upper Takbo was built in 1991 but was renamed Ferdinand L. Singit Hydro in 1996, in memory of its late Plant Engineer. FLS HEPP was constructed in 1991 and was commissioned on 08 August 1992. Initially, it had a capacity of 4MW and was upgraded in 1993 to 5.9 MW and was further upgraded to 6.4 MW in 2015.
The desire of Hedcor, Inc. to continuously operate the same for another 25 years underwent the FPIC process following the 2012 Revised FPIC Guidelines. The FPIC process for the 3 abovementioned HEPPs commenced from Pre-Field Based Investigation (FBI) Conference, FBI Proper, Pre-FPIC Conference, First Community Assembly, Second Community Assembly, Consensus Building, and Negotiation Process. There were 3 negotiations made beginning 17 May 2019 until 17 July 2019. On 17 July 2019, the ICCs/IPs, through their Elders/Leaders representative, issued a Resolution of Non-consent, mainly, for the reason that they were not amenable to the amount of royalty insisted on by the proponent.
On 26 July 2019, the Benguet Provincial Office (PO) received a letter from the Punong Barangay of Sinacbat (one of the validated elders) retracting his signature on the issued Resolution of Non-consent because he wanted to have another set of negotiation. On the same day, a request for re-negotiation from the Punong Barangays of Poblacion, Ampusongan, and Kayapa was received and was immediately furnished to the RO on 01 August 2019, a request for reconsideration by Hedcor, Inc. was forwarded from RO to PO through Memorandum Number OG-PO-19-745. With this, in coordination with the concerned ICCs/IPs, the Community Assembly relative to the request for reconsideration was conducted on 02 September 2019. On the same day, a resolution of the ICCs/IPs retracting the Resolution of Non-consent was issued thereby continuing the negotiation process leading to the signing of the corresponding FPIC MOA and Resolution of Consent on 15 October 2019 on the company’s application for a Certification Precondition (CP) relative to the continuous operation of the subject HEPPs awaits CEB deliberation.
As early as 04 November 2019, the FPIC report was already drafted by the FPIC Team, however, it was not yet finalized. This was due to the non-submission of the MOA by Hedcor, Inc. The said document was taken by them after the signing of the Elders/Leaders for the signature of their authorized representatives and also for its notarization. The latter had to be incorporated in the FPIC report. It was only returned on 14 February 2020 at the Provincial Office. The FPIC report was then finalized and routed for signature of the FPIC Team members and the authorized elders. While the FPIC team members signatories were completed before the end of February 2020, one of the Elders/Leaders refused to sign the FPIC report because of his knowledge of the resolution to defer the FPIC process.
On the other hand, the Provincial Office requested Hedcor, Inc. to submit the lacking documents, namely, copies of the hydropower operating contracts (HOCs), undertakings relative the payment of surety bond and disclosure of records, undertaking stating the actual coverage of the project in hectares, and the summary of the landowners affected. The undertakings were received on 13 July 2020 through e-mail while the HOCs and summary reminders to the proponent on the submission of the lacking documents were made through e-mails, text messages, and phone calls.
While waiting for the submission of the documents required from the proponent, a resolution of the Bakun Elders/Leaders was received on 04 August 2020 requesting NCIP to defer the processing of the CP for the aforementioned projects. This was brought about by the “Petition for Certiorari with Prayer for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and a Writ of Preliminary Mandatory Injunction” filed by Hedcor, Inc. against the officials of the domain, and docketed as Civil Case No. 20G-CV-3549. As stated in the resolution, the ICCs/IPs requested for the deferment until a favorable settlement of the mentioned civil case shall have been arrived at.
Aside from the resolution to defer the processing of the CP, the authorized FPIC elders still refused to sign the FPIC report. During field activities in Bakun and Provincial Wide Activities involving the elders of Bakun, NCIP Benguet personnel endeavored to follow-up and remind the elders of their MOA but they would always respond that they have unsettled issues to resolve regarding the operation of the three aforementioned HEPPs.
On 06 August 2020, Hedcor, Inc. informed NCIP through a letter that the Municipal LGU (MLGU) ordered them to stop the operation of the power plants due to the pending renewal of the MOA. In this letter, they asked NCIP-CAR RO to uphold the validity of the FPIC MOA because according to Hedcor, Inc., the issue with the MLGU is bilateral and should be treated separately from the FPIC-MOA with the Bakun ICCs/IPs.
On 01 March 2021, another resolution was issued by the Bakun Elders/Leaders which was received by NCIP-CAR RO on 03 March 2021, revoking the MOA executed between the proponent, NCIP, and the ICCs/IPs. Cited reasons for the revocation would include (a) irregularities in the MOA such as failure to complete the FPIC process and lack of signature of the Chairperson; (b) Hedcor, Inc. is utilizing the MOA as a tool in unduly exerting pressure on Bakun LGU officials to yield to Hedcor, Inc.’s demands; and (c) the terms and conditions in the MOA are highly disadvantageous to the ICCs/IPs of Bakun AD.
With the foregoing, a validation activity was ordered by the Regional Office on 16 March 2021 through Work Order 21-18 so that on 06 April 2021, the said activity was conducted and participated in by forty-nine (49) Elders/Leaders and BITO officers/members. The validation evidently showed that the resolution is true and a deliberate action by the Elder/Leader representatives which determined the following reasons:
a. It has been two years already since the signing of the MOA and Hedcor, Inc. failed to reach an agreement with the Municipal and Barangay LGUs even after meeting six (6) times;
b. It was recalled that during the negotiation, Hedcor, Inc. appealed before the AD owners not to demand too much because it will still go through negotiations with the Municipal and Barangay LGUs;
c. It was agreed that Hedcor, Inc. will give the amount of two hundred thousand pesos (Php200,000.00) annually, starting 2017 after the signing of the MOA but it was not given to them;
d. The signed MOA became the justification of Hedcor, Inc. to say that there is no need to negotiate with the Municipal and Barangay LGUs;
e. There is already a misunderstanding among the ICCs/IPs because of the company’s actions; and
f. They were offended by the action of Hedcor, Inc. of filing court suits against their municipal officials who stood for their interests.
Ultimately, a second resolution of non-consent, mentioning the same reasons above, was again issued by the AD owners of Bakun which was received by the Provincial Office on 07 April 2021. Likewise, a resolution requesting NCIP to issue a Cease and Desist Order (CDO) on the operation of the three projects in the Ancestral Domain was received on 22 April 2021. This was endorsed to the Regional Office on 23 April 2021.
On 26 March 2021, a delegation from the Commission headed by Chairperson Allen A. Capuyan proceeded to Bakun to have a dialogue with the ICCs/IPs of Bakun regarding their concerns, the ICCs/IPs requested the Chairperson to issue CDO against the Hedcor, Inc.’s project. Despite a series of dialogues through Zoom among the proponent, Bakun ICCs/IPs, and NCIP, nothing was resolved.
On 03 May 2021, Regional Director (RD) Marlon P. Bosantog notified the proponent to return the parcel of land occupied by their project to the Community. On 22 June 2021, RD Bosantog issued a CDO. Finally, the operation of the 3 HEPPs was shut down on 30 June 2021.
On 28 July 2021, a dialogue/re-negotiation between the proponent, ICCs/IPs, and NCIP headed by RD Bosantog was conducted at Bakun, Benguet wherein a supplemental MOA was crafted and supposed to be signed by them that day, but the representative of the proponent requested another schedule for the signing for them to refer said draft MOA to their legal department. Another request of the proponent is was for the re-opening of the 3 HEPPs which was granted by the ICCs/IPs by way of a “gentleman’s agreement”.
With the comments of the proponent’s legal office, the MOA was returned to the community for presentation and validation on 19 November and 07 December 2021, respectively. It was finalized and signed by both parties on 13 January 2022.
The CDO was lifted on 21 February 2022 by RD Atanacio D. Addog. The FPIC Report was finalized on 07 March 2022 by the FPIC Team. It was forwarded to the RO on 24 March 2022 for review by the Regional Review Team (RRT), and eventually endorsed favorably by the RD to the Central Office (CO) on 25 March 2022.
The deliberation by the CEB was scheduled last 20 April 2022, however, it was deferred, pending compliance by the proponent with certain issues/concerns raised by the Commissioners. It will be taken up by the CEB at the next CEB session on 24-26 May 2022.