ENVIRONMENTAL groups and activists voiced their opposition to the proposed 300-megawatt (MW) hydro power plant in Malay, Aklan by a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation (SMC).

The Strategic Power Development Corporation claims that it would increase renewable energy (RE) capacity in Visayas during peak hours, and generate income and livelihoods for local communities.

However, Rebecca Tandug of the Philippine Initiative for Environmental Conservation stated that the site for the planned project is within lands sacred for a neighboring indigenous community, specifically in Barangay Nabaoy.

"Known as nomadic in nature of foraging and exploring the mountains, Nabaoy has a perfect geography that would aid the Atis food sustenance while preserving their natural heritages and cultural integrity," she said.

The construction of the hydro project allegedly violates the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (RA 8371), by threatening the rights and access to nature of the Atis. This compromises their spiritual and harmonious relationship with their environment.

According to Tandug, "the project is definitely an injustice to our Ati brothers and sisters."

She also claimed that there was lack of consultations and transparency by project proponents to the Nabaoy community, including the barangay officials. As a result, the community demands fair and just consultations from SMC.

"The cost-benefit of the project was not presented to them so they can make intelligent decisions in favor of their direct environment," she said.

Environment advocate Ritchel Casidsid-Cahilig, a resident of Malay, also criticized the proposed hydro plant for its potential harmful impacts on local eco-tourism. According to her, the project "will utilize and control critical portions of the river water which can cause negative impact on the natural environment and will affect the tourism planning and development of Barangay Nabaoy."

The Nabaoy community has benefited from the local produce, delicacies, livelihoods, and recreational activities provided by the nearby river, forests, and lands. Per Casidsid-Cahilig, this environment has allowed it to remain self-sufficient and resilient even during the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the planned project could deprive Nabaoy of the immeasurable value provided by these ecosystem services, which exceeds its benefits in the long-term.

"If these natural environment will be disturbed, it can potentially alter the way of life of the locals in such a way that future generations will no longer benefit from them," Casidsid-Cahilig said.

The Malay hydro project is currently undergoing the process of environmental impact assessment under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

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John Leo is a member of the interim Secretariat of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas. He has been a citizen journalist since 2016.