LUCENA CITY—A leader of the Agta tribe in the Sierra Madres in northern Quezon on Monday said the construction of a bridge that would link the province to Aurora had no permit from his community.
The Agta leader, Ramcy Astoveza, who is executive director of Tribal Center for Development Foundation Inc. (TCDFI), questioned the failure of the proponents of the 358-meter, P468-million Umiray Bridge to secure approval from the Agta.
A project of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and financed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), the bridge will be built over the Umiray River to link Umiray village in General Nakar town in Quezon to Umiray village in Dingalan town in Aurora.
The DAR in Quezon on Monday denied Astoveza’s claim that the project had no approval from the indigenous peoples of the area.
Arlene Villanueva, the DAR’s information officer in Quezon, said the proponents consulted the indigenous peoples and won approval from the majority.
The proponents broke ground on Jan. 23 to start the construction of the bridge, which would be finished by June next year.
The DAR said the bridge would allow farmers and traders on both sides of the river to transport their goods with ease, spurring rural development, easing poverty and ensuring food security.
Danger to Sierra Madre
While supportive of the project, Astoveza said the Agta feared the bridge would hasten the destruction of the Sierra Madre mountain range in Quezon and Aurora provinces, which are already being undermined by illegal logging and mining.
Astoveza called on President Aquino to compel the proponents of the bridge to get a permit from the indigenous peoples in the area before proceeding with the project.
Under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997, all plans, programs, projects or activities that may affect ancestral lands must have the “free and prior informed consent” of the tribes living in the area.
Astoveza said going through the process would ensure the recognition of the rights of the indigenous people.
In a text message to the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Monday, Fr. Pete Montallana, former head of the Save Sierra Madre Network Alliance, said “the government has again trampled on the rights of the indigenous people” by bypassing the Agta-Dumagat community in Quezon when it planned the project.
Astoveza said the Sierra Madre tribesmen were surprised at the groundbreaking for the project last week as they were never consulted about it.
“We should be part of the planning because the project lies inside our certificates of ancestral domain,” he said.
But the DAR’s Villanueva said the project could not have pushed through if it had no approval from the indigenous peoples of the area.
The DAR, the local governments, and the other proponents had extensive consultations with residents and the indigenous peoples, she said.
Astoveza said the Sierra Madre tribesmen were not opposed to the project, as it would not only connect Aurora and Quezon but also Central Luzon and Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon).
“The bridge will bring benefits to all but it should have our [approval] because that is what the law [requires],” he said.
Jerry Pacturan, agrarian reform undersecretary for support services, said in a statement issued last week that the project was the culmination of three-year consultation and planning conferences among national and local government agencies in partnership with Jica.
Jica shoulders the bulk of the project’s cost of P368 million.
Astoveza said the Agta tribal council would call an emergency meeting to discuss the project and what action the tribe would take.
He said the tribe would also bring the issue to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.