Ifugao holds Cordi Day, focus on Alimit hydro

            The rhythmic beat of the gongs followed the snaking Ibulao River, echoed through the rolling hills of rice and corn, and set the stage for the power struggle that will seal the fate of two rivers, and the Ayangan people of Ifugao.

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Fates Intertwined. The future of the Ibulao River, and the children, rests on the shoulders and decisions of the affected communities. //Bernice Lee

Set on the riverbank of the Ibulao River in Sitio Nammug in Bimpal, Lamut, the provincial Cordillera Day celebration last Aprill 22 highlighted the ongoing issue on the proposed Alimit Hydropower Complex project by the SN Aboitiz Power (SNAP) Group that aims to harness the capacity of the Ibulao and Alimit Rivers to generate a potential 390 megawatts (MW).

“Instead of the town center, we decided on the riverbank venue because besides the conducive environment, it gives a full view of the proposed site for the weir,” said Daniel Butangon, president of the Pallitugong, Mah-et, Nammug, Ayod (PAMANA) Farmers Organization that hosted the Cordillera Day activity.

The project has three components, namely the storage type Alimit HEPP, the run-of-river Olilicon HEPP, and the Alimit Pump Storage Project. For the Olilicon HEPP, Sitio Nammug will host the proposed 14-meter weir that would divert water from the Ibulao River through a 7.7-kilometer underground tunnel to the Alimit Reservoir. The project, planned to be operational by 2020, will affect communities in the municipalities of Aguinaldo, Lagawe, Lamut, and Mayoyao. (See Related Article: Power Talks: A Farmer’s Take on the Alimit Hydro Project)

With the theme, “Advance Indigenous Peoples Struggle for Self-Determination. Reject Traditional Politics,” the activity gathered Ifugaos from different sectors and municipalities to discuss their ongoing struggle with the hydropower project.

History and struggle revisited

James Tayaban, an IP advocate since the 1980s and member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), expressed his happiness and excitement at the gains from the long struggle for IP rights.

“Some people taunted us before, using the CPA acronym as Crazy People of Ayangan, but it is because of our work then that projects cannot just be imposed on a community today,” said Tayaban, noting that the Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) was a product of the peoples struggles. He added that peoples’ organizations should continue to strengthen and consolidate.

Similarly, Mario Banhan, a 59-year old farmer from neighboring Banga, shared that people before had a hard time understanding and relating to the Chico dams struggle of the Bontoks and Kalingas under President Marcos, which eventually led to the beginning of Cordillera Day.

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Common History. Ifugaos participate in the Cordillera Day celebrations. // CPA Archive 

“The people were listening intently to the discussions during the Cordillera Day, probably because it directly affects us, so I hope that the people will awaken and actively get involved in the issue,” he said.

Resource speaker Rhoda Dalang of the Cordillera Peoples Legal Center or Dinteg expounded on the indigenous peoples (IP) rights and the FPIC, while JM Mayuste of AGHAM or Advocates of Science and Technology for the People provided a national context by presenting the renewable energy situation in the country. AGHAM is currently studying the Feasibility Study results of the Alimit hydro to help the communities understand its contents and possible impacts.

Reviving culture and community

Meanwhile, Butangon also shared that the participative cultural and solidarity night renewed their appreciation for the traditional Ifugao dances and the need to teach these to the younger generations.

“The last time I witnessed the tayo (native dance) in the community, I was only a kid, not older than the kids who attempted to dance it during today’s program,” he said, adding that he was a little embarrassed at the kids’ apparent lack of knowledge in dancing to the beat of the gongs. He said that the gongs are rarely used in community programs, due in part to the influence of other cultures.

“The Cordi Day was a good reminder for us to remember our identity as Ayangans, as Ifugaos, and that this identity and culture should be taught and encouraged among the youth,” he said.

Besides addressing this concern, he said that PAMANA will be meeting to share and discuss the lessons they learned, and deliberate on the possibility of employing the organization in the negotiations for the FPIC process of the hydro project.

He said that they organized the PAMANA last year as an instrument for them to avail of project funds for the community. They decided to host the Cordillera Day to help them learn more about the hydropower issue, and make informed decisions and strategies in facing it.

Not to be confused with the Cordillera Day celebrated every July 15 marking the creation of the Cordillera Administrative Region, the Cordillera Day celebrations organized by the CPA is a tribute to the heroism of Macliing Dulag, an opposition leader against the Chico dams who was killed by state security agents in April 24, 1980. From being a memorial to Macliing, Cordillera Day has evolved as a venue for information and cultural exchange on the pressing issues that face the Cordillera people and indigenous peoples in general.

The Ifugao Peoples Movement (IPM) and the Ifugao Elders Alliance co-sponsored the provincial Cordillera Day celebration, as the province’s counterpart for the decentralized celebrations spearheaded by peoples organizations under the CPA. //Bernice Lee

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