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close this bookConflict over Natural Resources in South-East Asia and the Pacific (UNU, 1990, 256 pages)
close this folder2. Conflict over land-based natural resources in the ASEAN countries
View the document(introductory text...)
View the document2.1 The ASEAN region: great wealth and great strife
View the document2.2 The historical roots of conflict
View the document2.3 The plunder of forest resources
View the document2.4 The transformation of a natural resource: from agriculture to agribusiness
View the document2.5 Conflicts over mineral resources
View the document2.6 Development and tribal peoples: resistance to displacement
View the document2.7 Natural resource abuses: a time for change
View the documentReferences

2.6 Development and tribal peoples: resistance to displacement

The survival of a large number of tribal peoples in South-East Asia is increasingly being threatened by the development and implementation of large-scale infrastructure projects that are designed to maximize the extraction and utilization of natural resources. On one side of the conflict are ranged the national government and its economic planners, international funding agencies, giant foreign corporations and their local partners, and the military. Against the enormous power wielded by the forces of the establishment stand the relatively small communities of tribal peoples with their 'pre-modern' concepts of property ownership, their simple modes of production and selfsufficient economic systems, and their communal styles of living. They often are fighting a losing battle.

In Belaga, Sarawak, there have been plans for two hydroelectric dams financed by the Federal government to be constructed across the Balui River in Gian Bakun (SCS News, 1984). At a total cost of M$9 billion with a power output of 2 400 MW, and covering an area of 600 sq. km, the project will be the largest in South-East Asia. The power to be generated will be more than enough for Sabah and Sarawak's projected industrial power needs, so it is also proposed that electricity from the project be sold to the Philippines,

Indonesia, and Singapore, as well as Peninsular Malaysia. This would involve the laying of the longest cable in the world-672 km.

For the 10,000-12,000 people living in the area, however, the hydroelectric project can only mean an end to their way of life with no bright prospects for the future. The people comprise the Kayan, Kenyah, Kejaman, Ukit, Penan, and other ethnic groups. They were never informed or consulted about the project, and they are apprehensive about what the dams will do to the rivers that are their chief means of communication and transport. The rivers have already been polluted by the activities of logging companies, which have refused to pay compensation for the damages.

In Northern Luzon, in the Kalinga-Apayao and Mountain provinces, tribal hill peoples are struggling against the incursions of giant dam projects that will mean their extinction as a people (Caring, 1980). The Chico River is the longest and most elaborate river system in the Cordillcra mountain ranges in Northern Luzon. Four dams, with a total capacity of 1 010 MW, are to be built with funds from the World Bank. Officially named the Chico River Basin Development Project (CRBDP), it would cover an area of 1 400 sq. km. Total affected population is estimated at 100,000 in six towns in Mountain Province and four towns in Kalinga-Apayao. These people belong to the Kalinga and Bontoc tribal groups. The lands in question are the ancestral properties of the communities and are considered sacred.

Chico IV alone would uproot more than 5,000 Kalingas from their ancestral villages, destroy 1,200 stone-walled rice terraces, and ruin 5O0 ha of valuable fruit trees. Traditionally involved in tribal wars among themselves, the people saw the need to unite in order to safeguard their homes, families, and heritage. Thus in 1975 began the struggle of the Kalinga and Bontoc peoples against the Chico dam project. The local movement became a national symbol of protest against similar projects in other regions of the country and an international issue that drew the attention of people all over the world facing similar problems. The area was heavily militarized as the tribes prepared to resist the dam at all costs. Inevitably, the NPA began gathering support and was able to win over many of the tribal residents. The government tried to gain the support of tribal leaders through bribery, intimidation, and force, but the Kalingas and Bontocs persisted. Finally, the government relented under local and international pressure and the World Bank itself decided to postpone the dam project. In the meantime, more than 100 people had died.

While attention was being showered on the Chico dam, the government was quietly building an even bigger project farther north in Kalinga-Apayao (Ibon Facts and Figures, 1979). Known as the Apayao-Abulug River Hydro-Electric Development Project, it was projected to cost about P5.2 billion to construct and will inundate 9 400 ha where some 18,000 members of the Isneg tribal group live in the town of Kabugao. It appears the National Power Corporation (NPC) has learned the wrong lesson from the Chico experience. Instead of becoming more open about development plans and how they affect the people in Apayao, the NPC seems to have become more secretive, in the hope of avoiding another public outcry of the same magnitude as the Chico controversy.

In Abra province, also in Northern Luzon, some 55,000 Tingguian tribal peoples were involved in confrontation beginning in 1977 with the Cellophil Resources Corporation (O'Connor, 1981: 5). Owned by a close friend of President Marcos, Cellophil began operations on its 200,000-acre logging concession which it had acquired in 1972 and 1974. The company set out to construct a pulp and paper mill and planned to expand into a rayon-staple fibre plant in neighbouring La Union province. Life was made difficult for the villagers by Cellophil. Those who refused to sell their lands had to fence off their property or were accused of trespassing; bulldozers filled up irrigation and drainage ditches; the mill rapidly destroyed fishing, one of the Tingguian's alternative sources of livelihood; pasturelands for the water buffalo were lost; and the people faced the depletion of their forests as well as the likelihood of erosion, landslips, floods, and drought.

Like their neighbours the Kalingas, the Tingguians fiercely resisted Cellophil, and the Marcos government responded by launching a military campaign against the protectors beginning in March 1977. Sympathetic church leaders were hunted down and persecuted. One parish priest, a native Tingguian named Fr. Conrado Balweg, was forced to go underground and later joined the NPA. Many farmers have been detained, and numerous military abuses, including the killing of civilians, have been committed. Because of the intensified military campaigns, hundreds of residents have evacuated into towns in the northern part of Mountain Province (Biag, 1983).

These cases point to the seeming irreconcilability of the many conventional viewpoints regarding national development and the interests of tribal peoples in South-East Asia. Governments must recognize the rights of tribal groups and strive to preserve and develop their societies within the context of their centuries-old systems, instead of pursuing a policy of extermination of traditional cultures in the name of modernization and progress. Otherwise, national unity can never be achieved.