Lost in the translation
By Atty. Antonio P. Pekas
Right now there is an impasse in the negotiations between the people of Bakun, Benguet and Hedcor, Inc. (a renewable energy producer) after the expiration of their old pact inked about 25 years ago. What is holding a new agreement are the resolutions of two barangays calling for the mayor not to issue a business permit to the company. Until the issuance of a permit, the company could not operate.
Why the resolution? The two barangays want better terms or benefits. Chances are, the brains behind these are a few people whose lands are being rented by the company or those in political positions who would like to look good to their constituents or who are in positions where they could enjoy more of the benefits.
As usual, the general populace would only be getting morsels.
Expectedly, the company is saying that they cannot afford what the host community is asking for. Cited as reasons are the low buying rate of the electricity it is producing, its aging plant whose output has considerably decreased over the years, thus, requiring also higher maintenance costs, etc. In addition, it is already giving a lot to the community as mandated by several statutes.
Can these be believed by the Bakun people? The words of the company’s representatives can be too technical for the local people, even with the aid of its local employees numbering about 38 not to mention former local employees who already retired. And the politicians will always have an advantage in winning the hearts and minds of the people even if they have a lot of vested interests aforethought. Such advantage is the reason they were able to win political positions.
Coming up with a believable or objective valuation of how much profit the company is making which would be beyond question, might be the key to resolving the impasse.
While the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) is supposed to be protecting the interest of the people there, the agency has been very successful in destroying its reputation over the years such that its officials will be looked, rightly or wrongly, as looking for personal gain.
How about coming up with a team of experts to study the situation, that is—how much really is the company making in terms of profits? Such team should be composed of a representative of the government, and then one each from the company and the community.
Hopefully, the people of Bakun now are more educated than they used to be. A lowly educated populace will generally have lowly educated leaders. The sense of insecurity that this engenders will make them always wary or suspicious about anything the company will say. A lot would be lost in the translation.
I remember a lawyer who ran for mayor of that town but he lost to his opponent whom he described as “illiterate.” That being the case, he filed with the COMELEC a case for the disqualification of the elected mayor due to illiteracy. Then he sent to our office through his assistant lawyer a press release about his having filed the case and its substance. I told the assistant, “Brilliant that your boss is, does he want the world to know that he was beaten by an illiterate? Go back to him and ask for his answer before we will publish that press release.” He never came back.
With all the wranglings between the people of Bakun and the company, we hope a middle ground would be arrived at acceptable to both parties. Because from what we know, there is no outsider commercial investor in the town.**