Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (PNE) urged aspirants in this year’s national election to champion the protection of those who defend the environment.
The group said the protection of the environment and defense of the people who are working against ecological destruction “should be a platform” for every candidate.
Kalikasan PNE made the appeal as they renewed the call to drop the cyber libel suit against Sarah “Bestang” Dekdeken of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) this week.
“A whole year has passed, and the case is being dragged in court, causing Bestang, her family, and comrades in the CPA undue difficulties and other costs affecting her ability to defend the environment and rights,” the group said in a statement.
Last year, retired Police Brig. Gen. RWin Pagkalinawan, former Cordillera regional police chief, sued Dekdeken for blaming him over the dismantling of a memorial to Kalinga leader Macli-ing Dulag.
Pagkalinawan said the removal of the memorial marker of Dulag, Pedro Dungoc, and Lumbaya Gayudan “was based on a Kalinga provincial resolution,” which ordered the dismantling of the structure because “it is being used by the [rebels] to recruit minors” while portraying Dulag as a member of the communist-led New People’s Army.
Memorial markers against the controversial Chico River project
The markers were placed to commemorate the heroism of Dulag, Dungoc, and Gayudan – Indigenous People leaders who fought the World Bank-funded Chico Dam project construction in the 1970s.
The CPA commissioned an architect and a solar artist to conceptualize and work with other groups to install the markers of the three Indigenous People’s leaders.
On April 23, 2017, the markers were inaugurated in Bugnay village in Tinglayan town, Kalinga Province as part of the Cordillera Day observance.
Kalikasan PNE said CPA and Dekdeken have been proactive in campaigning against multiple mega-dam projects from desecrating important river ecosystems, including the Chico River.”
“The indigenous people’s group is also mobilizing against multiple mining operations in the region,” the group added.
The groups have been opposing the construction of the US$90-million Chico River Pump Irrigation Project, which is one of the flagship projects of the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program.
In 2018, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he was able to reach a loan agreement with China to fund the building of the irrigation project.
The project, which includes the construction of a pump station, canals, service roads, and a dam, is expected to serve about 8,700 hectares of agricultural land.
The government’s National Irrigation Administration also claimed that it would benefit at least 4,300 families in the northern provinces of Cagayan and Kalinga.
A statement from the agency said the project will generate 14,784 jobs during its implementation and more than 8,000 jobs when it becomes operational.
The irrigation project will source its water from the 175-kilometer long Chico River, which straddles the Cordillera mountain range and flows down to join the Cagayan River.
The river is, however, considered a “river of life” by tribal people who live along its banks.
CPA claimed the scheme will displace at least 100,000 individuals and submerge their communities and farmlands.
The group said the project will result in the “privatization of agricultural services … under the guise of advancing a socio-economic agenda.”
The Cordillera region is dubbed as the watershed cradle of the northern Philippines. Its forests sustain six of Northern Luzon’s major river systems.
About 85 percent of the region is classified as forestland while 30 percent is designated as a forest reserve.
The region’s river basins have an enormous water-bearing capacity with a total drainage area of 5,447,500 hectares and groundwater storage of about 150 million cubic meters.