Philippines indigenous groups oppose geothermal plant


By Judith A. Pasimio

Apo Sandawa is the ancestral home of more than 100,000 Lumad (the indigenous people of the island of Mindanao in the Philippines). It is one of the ASEAN Heritage Sites and is also on the United Nations List of National Parks and Equivalent Reserves.

The Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) has begun the construction of a geothermal power plant on Mount Apo despite strong opposition to the plant for over 10 years from the Lumad and environmentalists.

A heavy military presence is causing tension and fear among the local communities, and many have already fled their homes.

Datu Tulaland Maway, one of the leaders of the indigenous people's opposition, was reported to have a 40,000 peso ($2500) price on his head. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Edtami Mansayagan, leader of the sub-regional people's organisation.

Two leaders of the Manobo tribe who were particularly vocal were murdered by the military last year. The provincial Catholic diocese expressed its concern that the project was generating insurgency rather than energy.

In 1989, 14 tribal leaders performed a D'yandi (a sacred peace pact) uniting nine tribes opposing the project "to the last drop of blood". For the past three years, there has been an annual commemorative climb to the peak of Apo by advocates and supporters of the commitment, but no climb was held this year because the trails were heavily guarded by the military.

In 1983, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) prohibited PNOC from carrying out geothermal explorations on Mount Apo. Two years later, however, the Bureau of Energy Development issued PNOC a six-month exploration permit, even though it had not

been granted an Environment Compliance Certificate (ECC).

In 1988, the DENR denied PNOC a permit, calling the whole project "patently illegal". Four years later, the DENR gave in to pressure, mainly from the Office of the President, and an ECC, with certain conditions, was issued.

Environment, development and indigenous people's organisations, as well as individuals, filed a lawsuit against the PNOC, DENR and the National Power Corporation, but the case was dismissed by the Supreme Court.

Subsequently a petition was filed with the DENR seeking cancellation of the permit because of the company's non-compliance with the conditions of the ECC. Recently the Environment Management Bureau decided that there was a "procedural violation" of the ECC and recommended that PNOC be fined but that the project permit not be revoked.

The PNOC has now bulldozed mountain slopes and cleared forested areas for the construction of access roads. Even the provincial government has expressed concerns about PNOC's waste-dumping activities. There were reports that the PNOC has been dumping wastes into the two major river systems, Matingao Creek and the Marbol River, and a number of local residents have acquired skin diseases after contact with the water.

A fact-finding mission last year disclosed that relocated residents had received no payment for land, there was no payment for labour, and promised jobs had never materialised. Those relocated were forced to live four or five families to a single bunkhouse.

The PNOC's permit allows it to construct the first of three phases of the 240 megawatt plant. This should be completed by December, and the final phase is scheduled to be completed by December 1994.

Japanese and North American companies have expressed interest in assisting with construction. While the World Bank was the primary funding source approached, it has expressed dissatisfaction at the project's response to environmental concerns. However, the

Export-Import Bank of Japan has approved a US$144 million loan. [Judith A. Pasimio is a member of Friends of the Earth Philippines.]

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