Dam projects bring twin disasters to people of Ilocos Norte

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The Cabacanan Small Reservoir Irrigation Project (CSRIP) and the Ilocos Norte-Ilocos Sur-Abra Irrigation Project (INISAIP), with construction being rushed in early 2024, bring twin threats of deluge to Ilocos Norte. The National Irrigation Agency (NIA) makes hollow claims that these will benefit the peasant masses and national minorities in the province and adjacent areas. In fact, they face the prospect of dislocation with their ancestral land threatened with seizure, destruction of the environment and widespread flooding.

Goaded by imperialist institutions and foreign companies, “development” projects such as CSRIP and INISAIP are being rammed by the US-Marcos regime. The same projects were first floated during the time of his dictator father. Currently, Marcos is using El Niño and the possibility of a widespread drought as an excuse.

Cabacanan Dam

The Isnag-Yapayao people gravely fear the distress that the CSRIP will bring to the mountains of Barangay Saguigui, Pagudpud. The project will rise on the ancestral land covering a “disputed area” between Isnag-Yapayao tribe of barangay Dampig and Caunayan and people claiming to be indigenous to Barangay Saguigui.

Part of the ₱837-million CSRIP project, Cabacanan dam measures 95.10 meters high from its foundation and 248 meters wide at its base, with a capacity of 2.87 million cubic meters. According to the minorities, when the dam releases water into the 9.88 meter-wide spillway, or as wide as a four-lane road, it will flood and possibly wipe out the barangays downstream. It is also near the Bangui and Vigan-Aggao fault lines that run along Pagudpud making it vulnerable to earthquakes.

The Isnag Yapayao Balangon Tribal Council Inc (IYBTC) and Isnag Yapayao Ugayam Tribal Council (IYUTC) from Barangay Dampig and Caunayan have expressed strong opposition to the said project. To railroad the project, NIA is using Emilio Rabago who claims ownership of the ancestral land and misprepresents himself as “tribal chieftain” in Barangay Saguigui.

The groups condemned the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP)-Ilocos Norte for their deception, and for rushing the process of obtaining a free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) for the CSRIP. “Pressure like this on national minorities trample on our right to self-determination”.

They claim the NIA did not comprehensively and truthfully explain the project’s objectives and all its details. The NIA concealed the fact that CSRIP is a project for hydropower and tourism by a Japanese company. The NCIP and NIA ignored the IYBTC and IYUTC resolutions which seeks to cancel the FPIC so they can resolve the “disputes”.

Isnag-Yapayao leaders face relentless harassments due to their opposition. Since December 18, 2023, they have recorded cases of “visits” and “dialogues” by police which are actually forms of intimidation on Isnag-Yapayao leaders. Police criticize Isnag-Yapayao statements supposedly because these are “being exploited by left-leaning groups”.

Gigantic INISAIP Dam

INISAIP will cover 14,672 hectares of land in nine towns in Ilocos Norte, one in Ilocos Norte, and two in Abra for the construction of various infrastructure including a gigantic dam. The ₱25.7 billion project will be funded through a Private-Public Partnership. The NIA’s partners for the project are the BPE Corp. (BPEC) and China Railway Construction Corp. Ltd.

The 126.41 meter high dam is the main part the project which will be built on the Palsiguan River in Lagayan, Abra. Its capacity is estimated to reach 147 million cubic meters. For this, 9.1 kilometer long tunnels will be built from Abra to Nueva Era, Ilocos Norte, boring holes into the mountains and destroy the environment. Another dam will also be built to catch water from Abra.

The NIA reports roads to the Palsiguan River have began to be paved to speed up transportation for construction.

Who will benefit?

It is clear to the indigenous peoples and peasant masses in the province of Ilocos that these projects are not to help them. They said, “Instead of hydropower dams, the [billions] should be used to repair damaged irrigation systems and improve them.”

The government is only building infrastructure that is of no use to them, Isnag-Yapayaos say. This is similar to the windmill and solar farm projects built in Ilocos Norte. They said, “[windmills and solar farms] occupy more than 30,000 hectares of our ancestral land…these do not serve the masses of our province and instead only bring profit to big businessmen.”

This includes the expansion of windmills by the NLREC company in Pagudpud which cover 1,000 hectares of Isnag-Yapayao ancestral land. The Ilocos Norte Solar and Wind Power Plant is also being built in Burgos, Bangui, Pasuquin and Vintar covering 2,346 hectares of mountains and plains where thousands of minorities and peasants live.

In Ilocos Norte, and even in other parts of the country, the NCIP has been swindling people to acquire FPICs to grab land. This is a blatant violation of the integrity of the indigenous peoples.

Dam projects bring twin disasters to people of Ilocos Norte