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Philippine irrigation project a threat to thousands of tribal people

BAGUIO (UCAN): Tribal communities in the northern Philippines are threatened by a government-sponsored China-funded irrigation project on ancestral lands, tribal leaders claim.
On April 10, Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, said he was able to secure a loan agreement with China to fund the building of an irrigation project in the mountainous Cordillera region.
However, Windel Bolinget, a tribal leader and chairperson of the Cordillera People’s Alliance, said that while the US$62-million ($486.65 million) could benefit poor farmers, it would submerge tribal communities.
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 would generate 14,784 jobs during its implementation and more than 8,000 jobs when it becomes operational.
The Cordillera People’s Alliance, claimed scheme will displace at least 100,000 individuals and submerge their communities and farmlands.
Alliance spokesperson, Bestang Dekdeken, said it will also result in the “privatisation of agricultural services ... under the guise of advancing a socio-economic agenda.”
He said the government is trying to fast track the project to allow foreign mining interests in the region.
The Cordillera is one of the country’s richest regions for mineral resources and is a major source of gold and copper. 
The irrigation project is to source its water from the 175-kilometre 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 the tribal people who live along its banks.
Church leaders voiced their support for the threatened tribes by calling on the government “to cease all projects that promote devastation of the common home.”
Redemptorist Father Alex Bercasio, said, “The Church remains firm on its stand on the protection of the environment,” adding that the Church recognises tribal people as “the vanguard in the protection of all creation.”
“The indigenous peoples’ right to life and a safe environment is compelling enough to oppose any development project that would deny them basic rights,” he said.
Bishop Pedro Torio of the United Methodist Church commended the self-awareness of tribes in demanding their rights to their land.
“We assert the obligation of the state and people within society to implement compensatory programs that redress long-standing, systematic social deprivation of racial and ethnic people,” he said.
Meanwhile, on April 22, tribal people in the region celebrated Cordillera Day—marking more than three decades of what they described as “victories of people’s struggle for land rights.” Among these victories was the successful opposition to the building of a series of dams along the Chico River in the 1970s. 
The event has become an annual solidarity gathering aiming to remind Filipinos of tribal peoples’ opposition to the late president and dictator, Ferdinand Marcos.
“This is a celebration of victories we gained and a reminder to intensify our struggle against plunder of our ancestral lands,” Bolinget said.

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