The Aboitiz family has found an ally in Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, who worked for over two decades in the family’s shipping business, in its dispute with indigenous people opposing the continued operation of its hydroelectric plant in Benguet province.
The Department of Energy ordered Hedcor, a wholly owned subsidiary of Aboitiz Power chaired by Sabin M. Aboitiz, to ignore the cease-and-desist order (CDO) issued by National Commission on Indigenous Peoples in the Cordillera Administrative Region (NCIP-CAR) and to continue operating its FLS Hydro, Lon-oy Hydro, and Lower Labay Hydro Plants.
In the June 25 letter, the DOE said its mandate to ensure the supply of electric power especially during this period of health pandemic would take precedence over the NICP CDO defending the rights of the Bakun tribe affected by Hedcor’s plants.
DOE also cited the “shortage of available capacity from the grid caused by the unavailability of large power plants as well as derated operation of operating power plants aside from the high system peak demand due to high ambient temperature.” DOE said the availability of power supply was crucial in supporting the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, specifically the cold storage and healthcare facilities.
NCIP issued the CDO on June 22 after it ruled that the Aboitizes committed irregularities in the Free Prior Informed Consent-Memorandum of Agreement (FPIC-MOA) between Hedcor and the Bakun Indigenous Tribes Organization (BITO), signed on October 15, 2019. But instead of complying with the NICP order to shut down five days after receiving the CDO, the Aboitizes sought the DOE’s intervention to continue the operations of Hedcor’s hydro plants.
In a statement, Hedcor reiterated its commitment to address the alleged concerns raised by the BITO on their MOA.
“We recognize the concerns of our Bakun IP community and our doors remain open for dialogue. We believe that the ‘tongtongan’ is crucial to the resolution of this issue, not only to protect the welfare of our IPs/ICCs, but also to fulfill our contribution to ensuring the availability and reliability of power supply for the country,” said Noreen Vicencio, Hedcor’s VP for Corporate Services.