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BANGUI - Residents are asking why windmills' power lines cutting across properties in Bangui, Ilocos Norte, were set up without the consent of landowners.
The Pagudpud-to-Laoag lines are expected to transmit electricity from the 80-megawatt Pagudpud wind farm to the Luzon grid.
The wind farm, developed by the North Luzon Renewable Energy Corporation (NLREC), is expected to be commissioned by the end of November.
But residents said they are not opposing the generation of renewable energy. They want to understand how the transmission lines were put up without due process.
Several landowners, officials, and concerned citizens from different barangays in Bangui came forward to narrate their side.
VIOLATION OF RIGHTS?
Section 1, Article 3 of the Bill of Rights states that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.
“By due process (sa pagkakaalam namin) ay mayroong easement of right of way or expropriation in which case maglalabas ng order ang korte at ito ang kailangang i-respeto ng landowners [kahit wala na silang pinirmahang right of way],”said lawyer Golda Arquillo, who will represent two complainants from Brgy. Dadaor and Brgy. Masikil.
No public hearing, no easement of right of way, and no expropriation case was filed before the power lines were installed.
“Wala, walang kumausap sa amin, nagulat na lang ako. Kinausap nila kami, nakatayo na 'yung mga tower,” said Elena Acoba.
She and husband Victor wanted to extend their home and build a business space in front for their child, but now aren’t sure if they are ready to take the risk of living near a transmission line tower and under dangling cables.
Some residents have also alleged they were deceived. Jomar Guerrero of Brgy. Malasin signed a contract after the company promised to build a tall tower.
“Sabi kasi nila, kahit 5 storeys ang ipatayo ko, hindi maaabot 'yung linya. Pero noong napatayo na, ang baba ng mga kable. Paano na kung may madisgrasya diyan lalo na’t mga bata pa anak ko at mahilig maglaro?” he asked.
His 2-storey home is not yet fully built and he now fears the low-hanging lines.
NLREC's legal consultant and acting Ilocos Norte Provincial Assessor Atty. Erme Labayog, however, said the company constantly communicated with land owners. He said they have all the documents needed, include their agreement with the Department of Energy, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and the resolutions of the different towns and barangays that the transmission lines cover.
Arquillo, however, said only the private landowners can rightfully decide what is best for their properties.
Barangay Dadaor officials showed ABS-CBN News the private lands where aged trees provide shade and fruits.
Some of the trees were cut down by the company, some only at the tip while some down to their roots, said barangay chairperson Evelyn Gumallaoi.
Farmer Astrophel Rigates recalled waking up to the sound of his tamarind tree being cut.
He doesn't remember anyone asking for his permission. The fruits of the tree used to be an additional source of income for their family.
The NLREC, meanwhile, promised to restore whatever the wind farm project has affected.
This is part of their commitment to the public, Labayog said.
Affected residents, however, can only wait in hope.
The crux of residents' protest lies in the potential danger the power lines pose.
There are discussions about the long-term health effects that might be caused by the power lines and towers' electromagnetic fields, as well as residents being in danger of electrocution.
While no health expert can prove claims regarding electromagnetic fields, National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) spokesperson Lilibeth Gaydowen admitted the possibility of acquiring these transmission lines.
“Yes, possible na i-acquire ng NGCP ang mga transmission lines na ito in the future kasi it is the practical thing to do instead of us building another set of transmission lines,” she said.
NGCP's current transmission lines carry 115,000 volts of electricity. The towers, as per their guidelines, must be clear of any structure – including trees – 10 meters left and 10 meters right, “dahil nga mataas ang voltage ng mga iyan,” Gaydowen said.
NLREC’s transmission lines carry 115,000 to 230,000 volts of electricity.
If the NGCP acquires NLREC's towers, Gaydowen said they will assume they can exercise their rights over the lands where these were erected. That is the virtue of the easement of right of way.
The landowners, meanwhile, said the towers are standing fewer than 10 meters from some homes, and they are afraid they might be forced to move out.
Edmund Esteban, dean of the Mariano Marcos State University in Batac City, is an electrical engineer. He does not approve of transmission lines passing through populated areas.
“Ang libo-libong volts na iyan parang kidlat din yan. Pag tumama sa iyo, nakakapahamak. It is not safe to build these in thickly populated areas kasi we’ll never know what disaster might hit us. Like earthquake, typhoons, or even strong winds,” he said.
Residents of Brgy. Malasin once tried to barricade the project to block NLREC workers.
They faced police officers. Some were from Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Weapons And Tactics team, some were from the Regional Mobile Group, and others were from the Bangui Police Station.
PNP provincial director Senior Superintendent Antonio Mendoza, Jr. personally led the policemen. Residents' protest was rendered useless and the transmission lines were installed.
For residents, the police presence was subtle coercion.
Elena and Victor even placed "No Trespassing" placards beside their home. They tied them to the power lines but the placards were removed by workers.
Elena and Victor sat silently watching them, with police protecting the workers.
"Wala kaming kinakampihan doon kung hindi nagrequest sila para mapanatili lang ang peace and order kasi may mga threat sa mga nagtra-trabaho. Kahit sino namang mag-request pagbibigyan namin," said Mendoza.
Labayog, meanwhile, alleged that residents tried to cut the power lines and threatened the workers with weapons.
Residents want the transmission lines relocated.
However, Labayog said chances are slim that the power lines will be relocated. She said they have no problem with people who own the lands where the towers were built.
“Sa mga tower, walang problema. Ang nire-reklamo lang naman ay ang mga linya, hindi towers. And it is impossible to transfer the lines without relocating the towers,” Labagyog said.
Mayor Diosdado Garvida, on the other hand, declined to interfere in the dispute. He said project negotiations should be between the company and landowners.
Arquillo said a petition for injunction, with a prayer for a temporary restraining order against NLREC, was filed at the Regional Trial Court last Wednesday. They also want NLREC to pay for damages.
Labayog, on the other hand, said the NLREC is now "putting things in order" for an expropriation case.
He said the company is ready to withdraw the case if landowners end their protest.
The Office of the Solicitor General also visited the area a few weeks ago to assess the situation.
The NLREC allotted more than P23 million for projects intended for host communities. The amount will be subdivided among towns, including Bangui.
Ilocos Norte is home to several wind farms, particularly in the towns of Burgos, Bangui, and Pagudpud. The province has become more attractive to the local and international tourists partly because of the windmills.
However, residents said economic development and tourism must not come at the expense of their rights.
Section Main Story,Focus,regions,Why windmills' power lines draw anger in Bangui