CoRe Group Mediators Assists in a 60-year Ancestral Domain Conflict: Indigenous People’s Cultural Heritage Site Soon to Rise in Ambuklao and Binga

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4/28/20093 min read

Benguet Provincial Governor Nestor Fongwan announced last May 28, 2009 the creation of the Indigenous People’s Heritage and Cultural Site in Ambuklao and Binga. This is with the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement signed by 10 stakeholder groups represented by Bokod Mayor Mauricio Macay, Itogon Mayor Mario Godio, Barangay Ambuklao Chair Polido Tello, Barangay Tinongdan Chairman and IP Head Norberto Pacio, Bokod SNI-IPO Chair Eugene Alico, National Power Corporation (NPC) President Froilan Tampinco, Power Sector Assets & Liabilities Management (PSALM) President Jose Ibazeta, and SN Aboitiz Power Benguet (SNAPB) Chief Executive Officer Emmanuel Rubio.

The Indigenous People’s Heritage and Cultural Site grants the use of the residual areas of Napocor in Marian Village and Sombrero for the use by the indigenous peoples of such common facilities as the school, gym, day care center, market, multi-purpose halls and other facilities. With the MOA, the management of the area is being transferred to the Barangays of Ambuklao and Tinongdan. The establishment of the Site is aimed at empowering the Indigenous Peoples, determining how these areas can be used to improve their quality of life and ensuring their continued use and maintenance for future generations.

The MOA also confirms the commitment of SNAPB to millions of pesos of corporate social development funds for projects on infrastructure, agriculture, tourism, cultural development, and other programs that the people might prioritize. NPC and PSALM boosted their determination to assist the people by vowing to identify land for the use of agriculture, agro-forestry, and similar projects and to provide funds for environmental protection.

The MOA is a product of 7 months of rigorous negotiations among the stakeholders’ representatives. It will be recalled that the local communities had been in loggerheads with government for the past 60 years on claims over the land, which had been subject to government expropriation and declared as watershed and protected area. While the sale of the hydroelectric plants in Ambuklao and Binga by NPC and PSALM to SNAPB was welcomed by the people as a chance to re-ignite the development of the area, it also revived the age-old “wounds” around unresolved land issues.

The assistance of the International Finance Corporation/World Bank, specifically the Compliance Advisory Ombudsman (CAO), was sought by the local communities since the IFC financed SNPAB in its plant rehabilitation efforts. The CAO is a facility of the Office of the President of the World Bank that provides assistance to people and communities who may be affected by projects that the IFC-World Bank funds.

CAO met with all the stakeholder groups who identified the meaning of land as recognition/respect for their culture, opportunity and security. They also expressed a strong desire to start “the healing of the wounds” through negotiations, guided by the values of generosity, voluntariness, collectivity, inclusiveness, and respect. A 5-day joint workshop sponsored by the CAO on collaborative negotiation preceded all negotiations in September last year. What followed was an open engagement by all representatives in meetings between September and April, leading to the drafting of the MOA that was signed today.

Chairman Tello who was initially very cautious says, “I signed the MOA because there is nothing to lose and everything is to be gained.” Chairman Norberto Pacio says, “This may not be everything but it is something we can now move forward from.” Ozone Azanza of SN Power noticed that after the collaborative negotiation workshop, “The communities are actually negotiating now.”

Throughout the last 60 years, defensiveness, distrust and suspicion reigned in the relationship between government and the people. However, the space provided by the CAO for open and sincere dialogue paved the way for the people to express their needs, their fears and anxieties, as well as their hopes and aspirations.

Mike Hosillos of SNAPB said “There is much more that we need to work on after the MOA. But we must celebrate this victory if we are to move on to more victories. We share the expectations of the people that through our collaborative partnership, we will all gain from the development and growth of Ambuklao and Binga.” This thought is shared by Rose Kepes who said, “The MOA is like a marriage contract. We have to work on our relationship everyday that we live together.” Governor Fongwan called the MOA a “breakthrough.” After 60 years of immovable position-taking by the stakeholders, “a way had been found to talk meaningfully and everyone is actually listening,” Marcela Pedro of Ambukalo comments.

The people of Ambuklao and Binga still have much to sort out following the MOA. There will be trust and relationships to rebuild. More negotiations need to be pursued to make the Site happen by the end of 2009. The daily task of patiently working together to develop the land, preserve the environment, and grow their dreams along opportunities they identified will be the challenge. But with people talking and engaging each other, instead of judging, blaming or demanding from one another, the prospects for success is now much more promising.

A team of mediators of the CoRe Group which included Annabelle Tecson-Abaya, Tristan Besa and Mia Quiaoit-Corpus were hired by the CAO to take the lead in this 7-month collaborative conflict resolution process. The CoRe Group Foundation is the leading mediation NGO in the Philippines with over 3,000 trained mediators in over 200 private and public organizations.