User-friendly-A A +A
By Ramon Dacawi
Friday, January 4, 2013
THIS by-word of this age of information technology haunts me. Somehow, it helps me understand why this Third World country can’t clearly define and give substance to “sustainable development," another by-word planners continue to mouth and abuse since it emerged out of the Rio Summit in 1992.
We are user-friendly in harnessing our nation’s natural resources. To boost food production, we plan irrigation dams that collect river water and channel it to farmlands. The program of work details the infrastructure to serve the farmer as the end-user: inlet, dam, outlet. Until recently, nowhere in the program of work is a provision for the conservation, rehabilitation and maintenance of the watershed or water source. Sooner or later, the water resource dries up, and the concrete irrigation structure ends up as a monument to myopia and “unsustainable development.”
I wonder if the National Irrigation Administration counted how many irrigation projects now lie in waste as a result of “utak semento.” On a bigger scale, I was at a loss on why the National Water Resources Board, the body that governs the use of water, was, for years, placed under the Department of Public Works and Highways, an infrastructure-oriented agency that then Senator Aquilino Pimentel wanted down-graded, saying its main function is to bid out and award projects to private contractors. It took sometime before government leaders realized the board should be headed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
Career DENR executives also rue the user-friendly tendency of lawmakers during budgetary hearings and allocations. Congress, they said, tends to give the bigger slice of the pie to agriculture and less for environment and water conservation that sustain food production.
It’s because farmers can and trees cannot, a DENR worker told me.
Sadder – and funnier – is a seemingly innocuous provision in the implementing rules covering the controversial Electric Power Industry Reform Act that Congress passed in 2001. Despite consultations conducted by the Department of Energy on the implementing rules of the EPIRA, the “user-friendly” arrangement remains at the expense of the resource base like the Cordillera.
As per the implementing rules, one centavo is set aside for every kilowatt-hour sold from the production of our hydroelectric dams. The fund, which runs to millions of pesos each year, is meant for the resettlement of people displaced by the construction of the dam, lowering electricity rates, providing livelihood project and watershed rehabilitation and reforestation projects within the host communities.
The catch lies in the definition of a “host community” or local government unit entitled to a share of the fund. As defined in the IRR, the host LGUs are limited to those where the dam infrastructure is located. In the case of the 345-megawatt San Roque Multi-purpose Dam therefore, the host barangays are where the dam was built. San Manuel and San Nicolas towns of Pangasinan are the host towns. Pangasinan is the host province and Region 1 is the host region entitled to a share from the one-centavo-per kilowatt-hour fund.
It’s a user-friendly set-up. Energy produced by the dam is for Pangasinan and other lowland provinces and regions. As per plan, water harnessed from the dam would irrigate some 85,000 hectares of lowland farmland.
But the water that runs the turbines of San Roque will comes and will always come from Benguet, up here in the Cordillera. The headwaters and watersheds of the Agno River, which flows into the dam, are in the Cordillera. The water starts as a trickle from Mt. Data in Mt. Province and swells as it flows down to Buguias, Kabayan, Bokod and Itogon towns straddled by the Upper Agno River. Some parts of Atok and Tublay towns in Benguet, together with Lucnab, Kias and other barangays of Baguio also contribute to the formation of the River Agno. These upland towns and provinces, which form the life-blood of the San Roque, are not entitled to a share from the fund.
In a press conference when he came up for a public hearing on the IRR of the EPIRA, then Energy Secretary Vincent Perez said this observation of inequity was “very insightful.” He promised they would consider a redefinition of what a “host community” is, based on the river basin concept.
When the final IRR came out, that point was not considered.
Then Ifugao Representative Solomon Chungalao saw fit to file a bill to rectify this injustice that his constituents also continue to suffer, as Ifugao is also the watershed of the Magat Dam that neighboring Isabela claims lies on its territory.
The one-centavo-per-kilowatt-hour fund, used to be under the National Power Corp., is now managed by the Department of Energy, as per provisions of the Epira. To access the fund, host LGUs and communities must submit project proposals which the DOE would have to approve.
An NPC insider revealed that when the Ambuclao Dam in Benguet was still that productive, a women’s group in the host barangay of Ambuclao applied for a P30,000 allocation from the fund for a native loom-weaving project. The proposal was never acted upon.
Overall, the Cordillera, as a vital resource base for national development, was and continues to be user-friendly. As such, my Ifugao brain tells me, it pioneered and was a model of BOT, or the build-operate-transfer scheme of development. They built the mineral mines and the hydroelectric power dams here, and then transferred the gold and the electric power, together with the taxes, to Makati and Metro-Manila.
Notwithstanding the years of exploitation of its resources in the name of national development, the Cordillera remains one of the poorest regions in the country.
This reality on the ground should be enough reason to support the third push for Cordillera autonomy that would enable us to take stock of what remains of our resources, also for development, this time for this upland region.
So we can continue to be user-friendly, this time for ourselves.
(e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for comments)
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on January 05, 2013.