“The arrest of Ernesto Bubod is a part of the colluded effort of big energy companies and the government. Bubod is an Igorot and peasant leader who asserted his family’s rights to land that led to him being targeted by the military,” Joseph Canlas, AMGL Chair said in a press conference in Quezon City.
AMGL said that indigenous peoples communities in Pantabangan and Carranglan towns in Nueva Ecija and Dupax del Sur and Alfonso Castañeda in Nueva Vizcaya are under heavy militarization that coincided with the privatization of Pantabangan Multi-purpose dam and hydro-electric power Plant being awarded to a Lopez-controlled energy company First Gen Hydro Power Corp. (FGHPC) on September 8, 2006. On October 15, 2008, First Gen sold the multi-purpose infrastructure to another Lopez-controlled company EDC in partnership with CalEn. The water level of Pantabangan lake is sustained by a 27-kilometer tunnel from Casecnan Trans-Basin project operated by CalEn in Pantabangan and Alfonso Castañeda since 1996.
Alongwith the privatization, watershed and reforestation programs have been facilitated by the government through NIA resulting to massive dislocation of Igorot and Bugkalot communities.
“This is a classic history of big local and foreign corporations snatching away ancestral lands in the name of profit, with the government facilitating, using the military to terrorize and displace indigenous peoples from their land. This is an issue of peasant struggle for land against the interests of energy corporations,” Canlas said.
AMGL – NE said that Bubod’s arrest was a frame up or filling of trumped up charges. Bubod’s wife Lita said that at noon of March 22, they were approached by five men who posed as employees of EDC at Sitio Maluyon, Brgy. Villarica. The men were looking for Ernesto and without any warrant held him responsible for a March 17 burning of trees within EDC plantation or arson. The men then introduced themselves as elements of the military under the Charlie Company of the 81st Infantry Battalion, led by Private First Class (PFC) Marvin Galsim and Michael Labarda.
Ernesto told Lita to walk away who did not realize that his husband was already being arrested. The next day, Lita and Ernesto’s relatives were already looking for him as he was not with any friend or relative at the town proper. They were only able to reach Ernesto on March 25 at Pantabangan police headquarter and was being charged with illegal possession of firearms.
Lita said that Ernesto was being charged with illegal possession as he was able to disprove the arson case he was originally being accused of. Thus, they and their supporters from the church said that Ernesto’s arrest was a frame up.
PPP, PEP, Oplan Bayanihan, Balikatan
AMGL said that the issue of Pantabangan multi-purpose dam project is connected to the Aquino government’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) program and Philippine Energy Plan (PEP). This is worsened by Aquino’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan that subjects communities in the countryside to massive militarization. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) considers the tri-boundary area of Nueva Ecija, Aurora and Nueva Vizcaya as a stronghold of the New People’s Army (NPA).
“Aquino simply continued the anti-people and anti-peasant programs and policies of the past regimes. The Pantabangan communities have been victims of Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) that resulted the killing of a UCCP pastor and the disappearance of 2 indigenous farmers in 2006 during the privatization of the dam to First Gen. Now they are again being targeted,” Canlas said.
“The Pantabangan area is also adjacent to the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Laur, Nueva Ecija, one of the site of the US-PH Balikatan exercises. We are certain that US soldiers are at the area to protect the interest of CalEn and to threaten peasant resistance to its projects,” he added.
AMGL challenged the Aquino government to stop the massive militarization of local communities in Pantabangan and Carranglan and pull-out American soldiers.
“The Aquino government is exhausting all means to repress the peasant struggle for their rights on land. If president Aquino is for human rights and people’s interest, he should order the immediate release of Bubod and military pull-out from the communities,” Canlas dared.
“We call on all sectors to protect indigenous peoples, our fellow countrymen, against the interests of big local and foreign energy firms grabbing lands. Join us in our protest next week against Balikatan exercises,” he called. #
Backgrounder of Land Issue in Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija
May 1966 – Philippine congress enacted the Republic Act 5499 or Upper Pampanga River Project that authorized the construction of the Pantabangan Multi-Purpose Dam
June 11, 1971 – August 1974 – The Marcos regime constructed Pantabangan Multi-Purpose Dam and Hydro-electric Power Plant producing 112 MW of power and irrigates about 77,000-hectares of agricultural lands being the second biggest dam in Asia. It was operated by National Power Corp. (NAPOCOR) and National Irrigation Administration (NIA). About 8,100-hectares of productive lands were submerged and communities or 9 barangays were totally wiped out including the town proper of Pantabangan. Locals were forced to migrate to nearby mountains.
July 10, 1987 – The Cory Aquino government approved the entry of private corporations to the power industry.
July 16, 1990 – onwards – Igorot people from earthquake-hit Cordillera areas migrated in Pantabangan and Carranglan area, increasing the population of indigenous peoples (Igorot, Bugkalot, Aeta) in the area.
February 1996 – The Ramos government commenced with the Casecnan Transbasin Project at Alfonso Castañeda, Nueva Vizcaya that included a 27-km tunnel from the Casecnan river in Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija to Pantabangan Lake. The dam and hydro-electric power plant were constructed by California Energy (CalEn) under a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) scheme. The project also covered 57,930-hectare watershed program that displaced many Bugkalot communities in Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya areas.
December 2001 – Under the Arroyo government, Casecnan Multi-Purpose Project, Hydro-Electric Power Plant were commissioned generating 140 MW of power operated by CE (CalEn) Casecnan Water and Energy Co.
May 2006 – massive militarization displaced indigenous peoples communities, causing the killing of UCCP Pastor Andy Pawican on May 21 at Brgy. Fatima, the abduction of Rogel Marcial and Miguel Paltin on May 22.
September 8, 2006 – Under the Electric Power Industry Act of 2001 (EPIRA), the Pantabangan Multi-Purpose Dam and Hydro-electric Plant was privatized and rewarded to a Lopez-controlled First Gen Hydro Power Corp.
October 15, 2008 – Lopez-controlled Energy Development Corp. (EDC) bought 60% of Pantabangan Multi-Purpose Dam/Hydro-Electric Power Plant from First Gen
January to February 2009 – massive militarization was implemented in the area, causing mass evacuation, hamletting and human rights abuses
November 2009 – EDC covered 50-hectares of land in Brgy. Villarica as part of their watershed and reforestation program. They are also targeting another 50-hectares where Sitio Maluyon is located, forcing the Igorot community of 34 households to abandon their farms. As they are also victims of military harassment, they transferred their houses to nearby areas but continued to till the lands EDC is targeting. Ernesto Bubod was the only one who did not vacate his house and farm.
2010 – EDC and NIA formed the pseudo-cooperative Maluyon Indigenous Christian Farmers Association (MICFA) that promised job opportunities to the Igorot farmers who left their houses and lands, but were paid P150 per day of work on the plantation on an irregular basis. Militarization also continued at their area.
January to March 2011 – EDC and NIA continue to deceive the Igorot farmers to leave the lands.
March 22 – Ernesto Bubod was arrested by elements of the Charlie Company of the 81st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA). Originally accused of arson but filed with illegal possession of firearms.
March 2011 – EDC and NIA approached the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to approve the one-sided Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Igorot farmers, that the latter rejected.
Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL)
and AMGL – Nueva Ecija (AMGL – NE)