Mr. Speaker and Fellow Members of this August Chamber:
I rise today in support of the indigenous peoples of Banaue who, at this period in time, are faced with the daunting challenge of stopping the aggressive construction of a seven-storey parking building, which threatens to undermine the preservation and protection of their ethnic and cultural heritage.
Dubbed as the Torre de Banaue, the proposed parking building will soon rise right at the heart of Banaue’s long established cultural and public plaza where communal activities, cultural events and traditional festivities are traditionally held.
My colleagues, I am not a resident of this community, although I have had the privilege of making several visits to this beautiful town. But though I am not a resident, I place my trust in the wisdom and knowledge of those who have lived and cared for the land for many generations. I have met and talked with individuals and groups who advocate passionately and tirelessly on this issue, who are one in consistently saying that the project touches on an issue extremely sensitive to the ethnic community. For decades, the endangered plaza has been home to the long years of the traditional celebration of Imbayah or Urpih festivals, providing Ibannawors the opportunity to sustain, develop and celebrate their cultural identity which is closely tied to how they view their identity, humanity and sense of purpose. Thus, the site holds a great cultural sentiment to the IPs of the community.
It should also be noted that Banaue is the only town in Ifugao, and probably one of few across the nation, that has no decent public plaza to offer its residents. Thus, the conversion of this space, which has by practice, been the center for communal relations, will further deprive its people the right to a public plaza for public assembly and leisure.
More than losing this cultural site, the proposed building is also endangering the safety and health of the longtime residents living around it while plunging the community to a massive debt burden.
Being a land fill, the people are acutely concerned of the possible hazards posed by the project unallayed by the fact that there was no proper feasibility study or geological examination conducted to ensure the structural stability and integrity of the soil to withstand the infrastructure.
Without these tests which would indicate the location’s disaster-resilience, the lives and safety of the occupants and residents living around the building are in grave danger.
Furthermore, the parking building will become a constant bane to the health of the residents living around it due to constant exposure to vehicles emitting carbon monoxide, particularly children and pregnant women.
Families living around the building will also face various risks from parking accidents such as falling objects or, worse, cars. In fact, the 70-year old grandmother of a member of my staff fears for her safety and security given that she would be living right beside the said parking building.
Worth PhP 55 million pesos, and possibly the highest one-time funded project of the Local Government of Banaue, the decision to convert the public plaza into a parking space was also done without undertaking a proper and adequate prior public consultation that is a blatant disregard of the IPs right to self-determination and a violation of Section 22 of the Local Government Code.
This is worsened by the lack of due process in the entry of the LGU in a loan agreement with the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP). Pursuant to the Local Government Code, the Loan Agreement was prematurely entered into.
As per the LGC, any ordinance enacted by the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) should be forwarded to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) for its review before an ordinance is deemed approved. In the situation of the Parking Building, the Ordinance of Banaue was forwarded to the SP on December 1, 2014. On December 10, 2015, Mayor Jerry Dalipog already entered into the loan agreement with DBP without awaiting for the approval by the SP or the expiration of the 30-day period. It was only on January 27, 2015 that the SP approved the ordinance.
Through the Ordinance, the LGU was able to borrow an amount of PhP 55,000,000.00 from DBP to fund the project with a total interest amounting to PhP 27,000,000.00 and a term of 15 years payable annually and with a compounded interest. The 27M interest, however, is a conservative estimate because the rate is floating. The LGU was able to secure the loan by using part of its Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) as collateral.
The massive debt burden has also raised concerns from various groups on the people’s economic rights, particularly as no apparent financial feasibility was conducted to ensure the capability of the LGU to repay the loan. While there is no doubt that the building would generate revenue for the LGU, there was no
consideration if the revenue will be enough to raise the required annual debt service without cutting back on funds intended for the provision of basic social services or hurting the people by raising the fees on community services and rental rates on government properties.
Raising more serious doubts was the fact that the contractor of the parking building, Wang Jo Construction, is the same contractor of the long-overdue inter-town project for the supply of water from Banaue to Lagawe.
To some, the construction was viewed as the right step for the local government to make in their hope of leading the community towards development and progress. But to a lot of petitioners, the project does not reflect this aspiration.
While there is a consensus on the need for a safe and adequate parking, the parking building is not considered a priority issue for the community who is on the cusp of developing its ecological integrity and cultural heritage towards sustainable development. Nor is it as pressing as the need to build basic infrastructures and to provide sustainable livelihoods to service the people.
With the PhP 55-M fund, the LGU could have built at least 28 barangay health centers, 55 day care centers, 28 multi-purpose centers or 28 school clinics.
This makes the parking construction more about the environment, culture and welfare of the community, particularly the residents who will be directly impacted of the project, and, more importantly, about whether or not the IPs have a voice about the use of their lands and resources.
The decision to undertake the project, however, was done without proper and thorough public consultation, which was a clear disregard of the right to self-determination of the Banaue IPs and their homeland.
On August 5, 2015, the National Commission on Culture and the Art (NCCA) has promulgated a cease and desist order on the implementation of the project. Unfortunately, despite this, the construction is still on-going.
Clearly, to move forward with this project without resolving these various concerns is putting the IPs rights and welfare at risk while saddling them with an economic burden due to an ill-conceived project. I, therefore, urge my colleagues of this distinguished chamber and the various national cultural and historical agencies of the government: the National Commission on the Indigenous People (NCIP), National Heritage Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), National Commission on Culture and the Art (NCCA) to join the people of Banaue in their race against time to stop the implementation of this project and help protect the IPs right to self-determination as they pave their road to development and progress.
Economic development and progress, and the many changes that come with them, challenge our nation, and the numerous individual communities that comprise it, to strike a balance between commercial growth and the protection of our cultural heritage. This is the core question that confronts us in the much publicized case of the Torre de Manila near Rizal Park, and is the same question that we must resolve now in the case
of the Torre de Banaue.
But there is always a way forward, and there is always an avenue for hope. We must strive for development that is inclusive, humane, and respectful of the rights, culture, and needs of local communities, and that is mindful of the importance of honoring our shared history and heritage. Only then can we confidently say that this development has truly moved our country forward, and that we can stand proudly as citizens of a nation that not only looks to the future with hope and optimism, but back on our history with pride and reverence.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and Good Afternoon.