Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu has promised to address the concerns of the indigenous people of Oriental Mindoro over a hydroelectric power project, which operations allegedly cause harm to the environment and endanger the lives of nearby residents.

“Your plea does not, and would not fall on deaf ears,” Cimatu assured the Mangyans belonging to the Alangan tribe, who complained against Santa Clara International Corp. (SCIC) that is constructing a hydroelectric power plant in barangay Malvar in the town of Naujan.

Along with other officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), its Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), and Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), Cimatu met with Mangyan elders and village leaders at the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO) on August 3.

The environment chief said the concerns raised by the Mangyan communities will be acted upon by the DENR and other concerned government agencies.

“As you can see, the DENR, including the EMB and MGB, wasted no time to come here to listen to your thoughts and know further about your situation,” Cimatu said during the consultation meeting.

He added: “I took note of your concerns, which I will present in the next Cabinet meeting. We will coordinate with concerned agencies to draw up immediate measures.”

The consultation meeting was also attended by Governor Alfonso Umali, Calapan City Vice Mayor Gil Ramirez, and representatives from the PENRO, Philippine National Police and Philippine Army.

The Mangyans have complained the use of blasting dynamites by SCIC to construct a tunnel, including a passageway to accommodate heavy equipment and large dump trucks transporting supplies to the plant. This was despite an agreement made with tribe leaders that no blasting should be used in its operations.

According to the Mangyans, the blasting operations and other activities of the plant could be associated with the massive flooding that happened in December 2015 when Typhoon Nona unleashed its wrath and caused landslides, leaving several houses and farms buried in thick mud.

However, a flood assessment analysis conducted by the DENR, EMB and MGB in 2016 revealed that the inundation was a result of a “combination of continuous rainfall over long periods of time, and high peaks of rainfall in short periods of time.”

Typhoon Nona recorded 270.4 mm of rainfall only in 10 hours, compared to the 260.4 mm average amount of monthly rainfall recorded in Calapan from 2005 to 2015.

The unstable river bank and shallow channel of Catuiran River was unable to cope with the volume of water, hence it flowed out of the on-site drainage system and reached other barangays. The report concluded that “there are really no clear accounts that could link the development of the hydropower plant being operated by Santa Clara to the December 2015 flooding incident in Catuiran.”

Although the DENR had already shed light on the issue, Cimatu said the agency will see “what it can do for the Mangyans.”

Following a geo-hazard identification survey (GIS) conducted on the hdyropower plant in 2015, Cimatu instructed MGB to assess further and verify the earth tremors that some residents said they have experienced.

He also asked the SCIC to come up with a flood control plan and mechanism, which the EMB must specify as additional condition to be met by the company in their Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).

Meanwhile, the meeting also heard other members of the Mangyan community who claimed that they have not received compensation from SCIC as stated in the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that they have entered into with the company and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

As required by law, the MOA forms part of the free and prior informed consent of affected indigenous peoples/indigenous cultural communities, the Alangan Mangyans of barangays Banuton, Balite and Caburo in this case, for the exploration and utilization of any portion of their ancestral land. Aside from the three, the villages of Malvar and Arangin are also covered by the hydropower plant’s location.

The MOA required SCIC to provide the Mangyans “justifiable compensation for the destruction of crops and properties and other damages that are attributed to the operation.”

The NCIP, which was indicated in the MOA to conduct financial audit of all monies received by the Mangyans, confirmed that the company has made said payment and already benefited some members of the tribe.

With this, DENR MIMAROPA Regional Director Henry Adornado advised the NCIP to heighten IEC efforts to communicate to all Mangyans in the affected barangays the agreements and transactions made in relation to the project.

“They should know the activities included in each phase of the project implementation, and more importantly the benefits that they and the entire Mangyan community are entitled to receive,” Adornado explained.

“We can prevent disasters, as well as confusion and mistrust if we are all rightfully informed,” he added. ###