BY GLENDA SOLOGASTOA
ILOILO City – The four Caballero brothers, leader elders of the indigenous peoples (IPs) in Calinog, Iloilo, challenged IPs opposing the multibillion-peso Jalaur River mega dam project to face them in a dialogue instead of spreading “lies.”
Federico Caballero, the eldest of the Caballero brothers, urged anti-dam IPs to attend a gathering on Sept. 30 in Barangay Agcalaga, Calinog.
“Tanan nga agrabyado, tipon sanda to kag atubangon nanda ang ‘planted’ nga mga istorya batok sa amon (All those against the project should attend and prove their false accusations against us),” said Federico.
Federico was referring to some IPs claiming to be elders also and accusing the brothers of “selling” their ancestral domains to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).
NIA is the implementer of the Jalaur River Multipurpose Project – Phase II or mega dam.
The P11.2-billion project is foreseen to provide year-round irrigation to approximately 32,000 hectares of farmland and benefit more than 783,000 farmers in Iloilo.
The Caballero brothers refuted claims that the NIA project disrespects the IPs’ ancestors burial sites scattered in areas planted with trees or bamboos as markers.
Romulo Caballero said it was they who had suggested to NIA to get an IP elder to guide them in paving access roads.
In Romulo’s opinion, burial areas might not be totally spared but remains thereat could be transferred.
Asked if those who had come out and introduced themselves as elders to side with the anti-dam advocates were indeed elders of the Panay Bukidnon IPs, Leopoldo Caballero, chairman of Garangan-Masaroy-Agcalaga Council of Elders, quipped, “Kon sa edad, elder eh, pero sa batasan indi.”
Leopoldo also defended themselves as the real council of elders duly recognized by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
“Kon sanda ang lideres, daad sanda ang ginapatawag kon may mga concern parti sa mga IPs (If they were, indeed, the true IP leaders, they should have been consulted. But they weren’t),” said Leopoldo.
He also clarified that while they favor the project, they still have to approve it.
The gathering on Sept. 30 is being organized by Hugpong Pumuluyo Para sa Kalinungan kag Kauswagan (People United for Peace and Development), an IP group, in coordination with the local government of Calinog.
Expected to attend are representatives from Department of Environment and Natural Resources and NIA.
Leopoldo said they would come up with a manifesto stipulating IP’s concerns and demands./PN