By Myrna M. Velasco
The Department of Energy (DOE) is sorting out strategies and mechanism with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to resolve delays in approvals of critical energy projects.
To come up with a plan of action, Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi met with NCIP Chairperson Allen A. Capuyan so they could identify points of contention when it comes to the concerns of the IP communities and how these could be addressed in fast-tracking approval and permitting processes for energy projects.
Approval processes of energy projects with the IP groups in most cases had stretched to more than three years, hence, the DOE is finding a way to have that streamlined so implementation and construction of projects could be accelerated.
Many indigenous resources up for developments – such as those in hydro, geothermal and other renewable energy installations – are often affected by IP issues, therefore, it comes as a major concern for project sponsors.
In contrast, DOE has just a leeway of at least two years to corner new committed power projects – and it may already be short of time, given that the total gestation period of such ventures normally takes 4-5 years.
During the meeting, the two agencies agreed to establish a technical working group “for the close coordination and streamlining of processes,” to include the drafting of checklist or template in evaluating energy projects.
The energy chief stressed the importance of “meeting of the minds” with the NCIP given the scale of energy projects needing to be concretized to underpin not just the country’s economic growth but mainly to support the infrastructure development build-up of the Duterte administration.
This comes amid a scanty list of power projects with just more than 300 megawatts moving forward if the facilities under construction and the problematic projects have to be excluded from the roll.
This puts the country’s “comfort level zone” questionable especially with forecasts that supply-demand equilibrium will converge anew by 2022-2023, or at the time when the Duterte administration will be stepping down from power.
“It is very important that we work on how we can promote our indigenous resources, and we hope that by forging a stronger working relationship with the NCIP, we will be able to address the issues causing delays in securing clearances from their office,” said Cusi.
Referencing on the provisions of Republic Act 8371 or the “Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997,” it has been prescribed that “all project developers are required to secure from the NCIP, free and prior informed consent (FPIC), and other clearances from the indigenous communities inhabiting the area where the project will be situated.”
In his meeting with the NCIP, Cusi highlighted “the importance of proper coordination among concerned government agencies, project proponents and indigenous communities in the utilization and development of natural resources.”
The DOE has been establishing mechanisms on how it can speed up project approvals in keeping with the spirit and intent of policies already laid down for that – such as the prescriptions of Executive Order No. 30 and the Energy Virtual One-Stop Shop (EVOSS) law.