Aboitiz-ow​ned Hedcor plays godfather to Sibulan indigenous community

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/02 April) — What the government failed to do in health, infrastructure and even education services, the Aboitiz-owned Hydro-Electric Development Corporation (Hedcor) provided host communities in Sibulan, Bagobo Tagabawa leaders who accepted on Friday the P1.05 million royalty the company paid for running run-of-river hydropower plants within their ancestral domain, said.

“Because it was impossible for government to do so, nahitabo ang wa nato damha (what happened was something we never thought possible),” said Datu Rogelio Manapol, chair of the indigenous group Kapiid Ka Banua.

Manapol referred to the network of roads that now connects Kapatagan to Tudaya and the nearby sitio Tibolo to the Hedcor’s plant A. He said the company’s access roads have also made it easier for them to bring their products to the market.

“Kaniadto, mag-antus ta og pas-an og di makarga og kabayo, karun napulihan na og makina (Before we had to struggle in carrying these loads, or put them on horseback, now they’re all replaced by machine),” the tribal leader said. “Our elders used to say, maputi na lang ang uwak, di jud na makaabot dinhi ang kalsada (they will have to wait until the crow will turn white, the roads will not come to Tudaya),” said Jocelyn Pili, a 31 year old resident of Tudaya. “It’s sad that had it not been for a private company, no road could have reached us until now,” she said.

The Sibulan hydropower plants supply additional 42.5 megawatt of power to the Davao Light and Power Company (DLPC), the largest power distributor in Mindanao that supplies electricity in Davao City.

A year after its commercial operation, Engr. Gregorio Jabonillo, Hedcor vice president for business development, said the company plans to put up two more run-of-river hydropower plants in sitio Tudaya, another one in Kitaotao, Bukidnon; and in Talaingod, Davao del Norte and New Bataan, Compostela Valley. He said the company recently brought residents in New Bataan to the area to let them see how a run-of-river hydropower plant works and how different it is from the big impounding dam in Pulangi River.

Tudaya and Sibulan tribal leaders said during the turnover ceremony on Friday that they hope the benefits they are getting will finally patch up the rift that the company’s entry in their ancestral domain had caused among members of the tribe.

Datu Rudy Agtag, tribal chieftain of Tudaya and a kagawad of barangay Sibulan, said his group plans to use some share in the P1.05 million royalty to put up scholarship for young Bagobo Tagabawa from their community and to set up a livelihood program that will buy the tribe’s farm products and sell them wholesale to the market.  He said he had been accused by some of his people for allegedly “selling out” to the company.

Datu Gideon Tolentino, tribal chieftain of Sibulan, said members of the Bagobo Tagabawa tribe made up the bulk of the contractual workers the company hired during the construction phase of the plants. “But when the company started operation, the plants already needed engineers and other skilled workers, something that our local community does not have,” he said in Cebuano.

He said Bagobo Tagabawas were still hired as security guards, water guards and for other maintenance works in the plant. In 2005, the government approved some 40,733 hectares of the Bagobo Tagabawas’ ancestral domain claim stretching from Sibulan, Davao City to Makilala town in North Cotabato.

Hedcor’s P1.05 million royalty to the tribe was part of the P5.8 million it turned over to its host communities to mark the first year of its commercial operation in Sibulan.

On March 31, the company turned over some P1.6 million to the Santa Cruz municipality and P1.1 million to barangay Sibulan in a ceremony in Santa Cruz municipal hall. The company will turn over on April 11 some P1.6 million to the province of Davao del Sur in the newly-built Davao del Sur Sports and Business Center Complex.

Jabonillo said the company is finalizing the memorandum of agreement with indigenous peoples’ group and the local government in Kitaotao, Bukidnon for  another run-of-river facility along Sita River. He said the company spent some P3 million to build some 43 kilometers of access roads, install potable water systems and financial assistance to students belonging to indigenous peoples’ community in Sibulan. “We always make sure the company is accepted by the community before we enter the area,” he said. (Germelina Lacorte/MindaNews)