With its Biblical theme: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream”, at least 40 representatives from the different churches and communities affected by energy projects in Ifugao vowed to raise concern for the protection and conservation of natural resources and for the respect of indigenous people’s rights during the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and Church Forum held at the St. Magdalene Parish, Lagawe, Ifugao on November 11, 2015.
Hosted by St. Magdalene Parish and organized by the Ifugao Peasant Movement and the Regional Council of Churches in the Cordillera (RECCORD), the forum aimed to have a dialogue between church representatives and communities on environmental and indigenous people’s issues in Ifugao. Among the representatives from different churches present during the forum are: Fr. John Habawel, Parish Priest, St. Magdalene (Catholic), Lagawe; Rev. Melita Infante, Conference Minister, North East Luzon Conference –United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP); and Rt. Rev. Bishop Alexander Wandag, Episcopal Diocese of Santiago, Isabela.
On the other hand, members and leaders of the communities affected by the energy projects in Eheb; Impugong; Tocucan and Binablayan, Tinoc, Ifugao were also present. They spoke of their experiences when the Quadrvier Energy Corporation and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) conducted the Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) in their areas. In their testimonies, the FPIC implemented in the barangays of Eheb; Impugong; Tocucan and Binablayan reflects gross violations which include the manipulation and total disregard of the FPIC processes; threats and harassments; and lack of transparency. Because of these violations, the communities retracted their signature from the Memorandum of Agreement with the Quadriver and NCIP.
Quadriver, an Ayala Corporation, plans to put up series of 26.1 Megawatts Mini Hydroelectric Power Plant in the above mentioned barangays. Aside from the FPIC violations committed against them, the communities affected also fear for displacement and destruction of their livelihood due to the proposed tunneling, road opening and widening due to the power plant construction.
In response to the issues of the affected communities, Fr. Habawel expressed his concerned and prayers for a fair MOA, full and proper implementation of the FPIC process; proper information and education of grass root communities; and safety for those vilified, tagged and threatened in continuing their work. On the other hand, Rev. Infante assured that the UCCP supports the aspirations of the people and as a church they will listen to the plights of the people.
For its part, RECCORD firmly supports the people in their campaign for the environment. This is also an affirmation of their 12th General Assembly theme of advancing the indigenous peoples agenda for genuine peace and freedom and upholding IP rights. And lastly, Bp. Wandag reiterated the important role of churches in listening and solidarity to the issues and problems of IPs and the wider society. He further stated that the church should also lead the people to genuine development and peace.
The forum also agreed to issue a statement abhorring political vilification and a plan to conduct a solidarity mission in Tinoc by the different churches to hear directly from the affected communities in the coming months.***
Ptr. Maricar Delfun
Regional Ecumenical Churches in the Cordillera