Cordillera execs hit people’s initiative, meager share on resource use
May 18, 2024

BAGUIO CITY — The mayor of Baguio criticized the proponents of the people’s initiative to revise the Constitution while the governor of Kalinga raised the meager return the Cordillera region receives from the exploitation of its natural resources during the May 17 Senate hearing on the proposed charter amendment in Baguio City.

In his statement during the Senate Subcommittee on Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 public consultation, Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong slammed the push to amend the 1987 Constitution through people’s initiative.

“I would also like to decry some efforts from some legislators to pursue the People’s Initiative. I believe it is purely unethical,” the mayor and former police general said.

While Magalong expressed support for legislation that promotes economic growth and global competitiveness, he emphasized that these efforts must be in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the importance of protecting national interests.

The bid to change the Constitution through people’s initiative has been marred by allegations of bribery to secure signatures. The Senate unanimously rejected the move for people’s initiative in January, with all 24 senators signing a manifesto denouncing it as a “brazen attempt to violate the Constitution, the country, and our people.”

BAGUIO CITY MAYOR BENJAMIN MAGALONG (Sherwin De Vera)

Inadequate mining share

Kalinga Governor James Edduba acknowledged the role of foreign investments in developing Cordillera resources. However, he emphasized the need for a fair distribution of benefits, highlighting the current imbalance where the region bears the environmental impact but does not get a commensurate share.

“Pinababayaan dito yung mina [pero] doon naman sa offices [nila] binabayaran yung taxes, minsan hindi kami nakikinabang na dito naman iniistorbo yung bundok namin, dito kinukuha yung resources,” the governor lamented.

(The mines are here, but they pay their taxes where their offices are; sometimes, we do not benefit from it, but they disturb our mountains and get the resources here.)

Senator Sonny Angara, chair of the RBH No. 6 subcommittee, said that while the charter amendments do not address the governor’s concern, he agrees that the tax regime needs to be studied.

KALINGA GOVERNOR JAMES EDDUBA (Sherwin De Vera)

“Sangayon ako sa sinabi niya (Edduba). A bigger share should go to the communities kasi sa kanila yung pinsala. Yung risk reward, kung sa iyo yung pinasala dapat sa iyo din yung reward,” the senator said during a press conference after the hearing.

(I agree with him (Edduba). A bigger share should go to the communities because they bear the destruction. The risk-reward, if you bear the destruction, you should also get the reward.)

“Kung pinagaaralan yung internal revenue code, dapat tignan yung share na napupunta sa local communities kasi nakita natin over the last decades talagang napipinsala yung local communities.” he added.

(If they study the Internal Revenue Code, they should look into the share given to local communities because we have observed over the last decades that local communities suffer from destruction.)

Four metallic mines are in the Cordillera – Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company, Philex Mining Corporation, Benguet Corporation, and Itogon-Suyoc Resources, Inc. – all located in Benguet. There are 11 Mineral Production and Sharing Agreements and three exploration permits. Approved mining tenements in the region cover 18,905 hectares.

According to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau Cordillera record, the region’s mining industry produced P13.5 billion worth of minerals in 2023. Meanwhile, in the same year, the taxes, fees, and royalties paid by mining companies reached P503 million.

Energy for whom?

Edduba said this concern also applies to other industries, like dams that generate energy.

“Kami yung watershed dito sa Cordillera pero hindi kami nakikinabang sa mga dapat kaming makinabang,” Edduba said.

(We are the watershed here in the Cordillera, but we do not benefit from what we should benefit from.)

The Department of Energy estimates that the Cordillera’s 5.5 million hectares of drainage area have a generation potential of 3,600 megawatts.

The region is home to 16 commercial hydropower facilities, 12 of which are in the province of Benguet, including the Ambuklao and Binga dams. Despite these facilities, electric cooperatives in the Cordillera remain dependent on power plants outside the region.

During Legarda’s queries after Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) Interim Board Chairperson Steve Cating’s statement, Edduba, and Cating said their electric cooperatives source the bulk of their power from a coal-fired plant in Pangasinan. # nordis.net

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