KASAMA Vol. 12 No. 2 / April-May-June 1998 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

The ancestral domain of the Ibaloi is again under threat of development. Construction of the San Roque Dam across the Agno River which flows through the northern Philippine provinces of Benguet and Pangasinan will bring hydropower to big business but misery to the people of Dalupirip. Extracts from the original article printed in CHANEG Sept/Dec 1997 published by the Cordillera Women's Education & Resource Center, Inc.
by Gigi Sarfati

She lived alone, at 58. Her children are all grown-up, with families of their own. They had gone to the city, she said, in search of jobs. They had asked her to live with them there and she did. But only for a short while. Nanang Hining had to come back to Dalupirip - her home, the home of the Ibaloi.

The lbalois are peace-loving people. They lived on rice and tapioca, kamote (sweet potato) and the various creatures they caught from the Agno River. They used to hold a caniao (ritual) each March to celebrate a bountiful harvest. "We live this way," an elder told me. "As long as one made use of the land and the river, without abusing it, one would eat. But more than that, one would live."

Life is so simple in Dalupirip. You wake up in the morning to the sound of birds and roosters, or some old woman sweeping the bare earthen backyard with a broomstick. There is no need for small rude devices called alarm clocks. And there is no need to rush and beat the traffic for an early meeting at work. Some houses do not have electricity, very few have television sets and none have the little electronic devices that make urban life so convenient and complicated.

As I carefully descended the steep wooden staircase, the aroma of brewed coffee brushed my nose. "We do not have instant coffee here," Aling Marcelina needlessly apologized, "It is too expensive," she explained, "so we grow Benguet coffee." Others grow herbs that make good shangda (a delicious, exotic tea taken from a reed-like plant that grows by the river bank.)

The bunong (a small, light gray and chubby fish) we had for breakfast was delivered free, courtesy of some young men who had gone to the river in the early morning to fish. Food is exchanged frequently between households. No child grows hungry in Dalupirip. Every child is the son or daughter of the whole village. And the village is self-sufficient. During a caniao or any other ritual, the whole village participates. Everyone helps gather firewood, cook and clean. In times of need, like when one is sick or a member of the family dies, the whole village helps.

"Dalupirip is incomparable," Nanang Patricia stated. "Here, no one steals, no one fights, no one is killed on the streets. It's a very safe place to live in. The food we need, we get from the land and the river. The help we need, we get from each other. In the city, life is different. People do not care enough for each other. There is no room for our ways, our culture and beliefs there. We want our children and grandchildren to grow up here," she adds.

Life in Dalupirip is difficult. But they are grateful for what they have and they are glad to have each other. They not only depend on the land and the river for survival. They also depend on each other. They are one community, one people. And they were happy. Then. "But now," says Nanang Antonia, "what is to happen now?" If the government builds the dam, life would never be the same for the Ibaloi.

The San Roque Multi-Purpose Project (SRMP) of the National Power Corporation (NPC) involves the construction of a dam and its related structures at Sitio Bulangit, Barangay San Roque in the municipality of San Manuel, Pangasinan.

Scheduled for completion by the year 2004, the biggest dam in Asia is expected to generate 345 megawatts of reliable hydropower needed to supply different mining operations, agro-industries, special economic zones and tourism centers planned in the Northwest Luzon Growth Quadrangle (NWLGQ). It is a flagship project crucial to drawing in foreign investments into the region. It is expected to act as "a sparkplug of progress in the North Quad, touted as one of the country's springboards to NIChood."

The SRMP is expected to have long-reaching and disastrous effects on communities in the municipalities of San Manuel and San Nicolas in Pangasinan, and the municipalities of Itogon and Tuba in Benguet.

The most immediate effect will be the inundation of homes and agricultural lands located within the planned reservoir area. The NPC has calculated that the reservoir area will cover 14 square kilometers… extending to 20 kilometers upstream of the damsite… Many households living upstream of the damsite, in Itogon, will suffer the effects of flooding.

Aside from those areas to be directly submerged, other households in higher-lying areas are also bound to be displaced because of the accumulation of silt resulting from the damning of the Agno.

Even now, there is already heavy soil erosion and siltation of the river system due to large mining operations in Itogon and Tuba.

The high rates of siltation and erosion resulting from the mining operations further puts in question the economic lifespan of the dam, and with it, the technical feasibility and social desirability of the project.

With the passage into law of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, more large mining companies are expected to come into the Cordillera Region. One is Newmont, the biggest gold mining company in the United States. Newmont has filed an application to explore the triboundary area surrounding the San Roque damsite. Sixteen other mining firms have also filed separate applications covering the Cordillera Region. And if their planned operations push through, the siltation of the Agno River will increase tremendously, affecting areas proportionately larger than what the NPC claims.

The construction of the San Roque Dam will result to the loss of the people's stable means of livelihood. Independent studies made by non-government organizations estimate that about l00 hectares of productive rice lands will be submerged.

With the effects of flooding, erosion and siltation put together, plus the effects of present forestry laws banning the pursuit of economic activities in the watershed area, the people will lose their means of livelihood: the rice paddies, swidden fields, fruit trees, pastures, forest wood (for fuel), gold panning and fishing sites along the length of the Agno River.

According to the Cordillera People's Alliance, "even granted that the people will not be displaced from their homes, how will they be able to survive if they could not make use of the land which had supported them for generations?"

Nanang Antonia was born in Dalupirip. She had lived there all her life. "I fear not for myself," she says, "for I am old and death may be near. I fear for the children, our children. If the lands are flooded, the farms would be destroyed. The children would suffer."

Contact: Cordillera Resource Center, P.O. Box 1359, Baguio City, Philippines.

Photo: Chaneg Jan/April 1998