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Philippine indigenous groups question ‘true purpose’ of dam project in Marcos’ political stronghold

The Cabacanan Small Reservoir Irrigation Project (CSRIP), headed by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), is set to be built on ancestral tribal lands. Any construction would require the approval of tribal councils from the villages of Dampig, Saguigui and Caunayan in the municipality of Pagudpud.

Since June last year, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) has facilitated meetings for the NIA to obtain the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the locals.

Talks broke down in December when the Isnag Yapayao Balangon Tribal Council (IYBTC) and Isnag Yapayao Uggayam Tribal Council (IYUTC) questioned the NCIP for railroading the proceedings, despite the risks involved. The tribes issued a joint resolution calling for the suspension of the FPIC proceedings.

“The ancestral domain is the most important thing for us because our ancestors sacrificed sweat, blood and life for it. We are not in opposition to irrigation because this is a necessity for us farmers. It is only right that the NIA provides this service. But it is beginning to be apparent now that the true purpose of the project is dam construction and not irrigation services,” the statement said.

Last month, the two councils demanded a halt to the 837 million peso (US$14.8 million) project.

IYBTC spokesperson Ambo Garvida fears the periodic water release will flood the villages of Saguigui, Subec and Baduang downstream from the dam site. “It’s unsafe. It will also take away control over our land and water resources,” he told This Week in Asia.

Bayan-Ilocos, a coalition of progressive groups, also flagged the potential hazards posed by the “presence of the Bangui Fault Line and Vigan-Aggao Fault Line” and the “material collapse and sediment