“Many of us will go hungry if the solar project continues. The development they claim is not for the farmers but for the businessmen.”
By MAO HERMITANIO
RODRIGUEZ, Rizal — The promise of electricity does not entice farmers of Barangay Macabud, Rodriguez Rizal to give up their rice lands.
They may be living in the dark, but it is clear to hundreds of farmers of Barangay Macabud in Rodriguez, Rizal that their productive farmlands are their only chance of giving their families a bright future.
Macabud farmers, led by their local organizations, and the village council, are united in opposing the plan of ATN Philippines Solar Energy Group Inc. to build, operate and maintain a 30-megawatt solar power plant in their community. In 2012, ATN Solar obtained a contract from the Department of Energy (DoE) to build a solar power facility in Macabud, the only remaining riceland in Rodriguez, Rizal.
Initial results of an Environmental Investigation Mission (EIM) led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Bulacan (AMB) last March 20 to March 21 in Macabud, revealed that farmers have more to lose than gain if the solar power project is pursued.
Harvesting heat instead of food
ATN Solar plans to a build a solar power plant in sitio purok 2 right in the middle of a productive riceland tilled by farmers.
It was in 2012 when representatives of ATN Solar first arrived in the village of Macabud, brandishing an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and claiming ownership of parcels of land.
The ATN executives explained the so-called benefits of the solar power project to farmers and promised them financial assistance worth P30,000 per family and college scholarship for the youth. But the farmers were not at all interested, not even impressed with the so-called promise of development dangled by private investors encroaching their lands.
Jimmy Pascual, a farmer and a village councilor said, “We know the solar project is their way of encroaching into our farms. ”
At present, ATN Solar is claiming ownership of more than 256 hectares of disputed land with overlapping land titles. Some 124 hectares of land were awarded to farmers-beneficiaries under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) while some 435 hectares of land are still contested after these were initially exempted from coverage due to the 18-degrees slope provision of the now defunct CARP.
ATN operates as a holding company, which engages in real estate, land development, health care services, mining, energy and oil exploration. Its company board of directors is composed of Filipino-Chinese and Malaysian executives. For the solar power project, the company disclosed that cost of financing may reach as much as $69 million. Its subsidiary ATN Solar may avail of $50 million in engineering, procurement and construction from China Machinery Engineering Corp. or CMEC ($25 million) and Guangdong Electric Power Group ($25 million), both China-based corporations.
Another company, Yingli Solar, has proposed a $5-million supplier’s credit line against the prospect of supplying $20 million worth of solar panels. What is clear is that foreign portfolio investments are involved, favoring mainly Chinese capital.
The Aquino government is aggressive in its promotion of renewable energy, including solar power, and has an ongoing incentive program for renewable energy developers. Under the Renewable Energy Law, the DoE has approved 124 grid-use solar energy projects nationwide, with a total potential capacity of 4,016-megawatts (MW) but with an installed capacity of 144-MW.
Sprawling productive agricultural lands
“We were born and raised here and we expect to die in this land. Suddenly the ATN comes, grabbing our land,” Pascual said.
Farmers first settled in Macabud during the 1940s when it was still a vast forest and grassland. Some of the families who were the earliest to arrive in the land were the Serranos, Dela Cruzes, Cruzes, Pascuals, Sarmientos and Torreses.
Pablo Serrano Jr., one of the elders in the community, said it was their ancestors who made the once barren lands productive.
Except for the lack of electric power services, Macabud, by itself, is a developed agricultural community. A farmer yields a minimum of 100 cavans of palay per hectare, per cropping and harvests crops including eggplant, bittergourd, string beans, tomatoes, corn, banana, coconut, cassava, purple yam, taro, and other agricultural crops in abundance. Those with bigger ricelands can harvest 200 to 300 cavans of palay every cropping.
Macabud farmers have developed and made the lands productive, supplying the town and Rodriguez and Bulacan markets with their produce. Farmers also rely on livestock and poultry for additional income.
Due to lack of irrigation, Macabud farmers are able to plant rice only during the rainy season. Only those whose farms are located near water sources can till for a second cropping.
Pascual said if there’s irrigation, their income would be better. He was able to send all his three children to college through farming.
Through the assertion and efforts of farmers’ associations in Macabud, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), in 2012, started to build an irrigation canal in sitio Proper 2, but the project remains unfinished up to this day. Most of the farmers only rely on rainwater and drip irrigation.
Asserting their right
Despite the passage of a local village council resolution and the petition signed by Macabud farmers, the provincial government of Rizal, the Mayor’s Office and even Malacanang, have endorsed the building of a solar power plant in the area.
But the farmers are steadfast in defending their right to the land and opposing the entry of ATN Solar.
“Many of us will go hungry if the solar project continues. The development they claim is not for the farmers but for the businessmen,” farmer Nestor Villeza said during the EIM’s forum group discussion.
Farmers know that they will lose everything they have worked for — their farms, house livelihood, if they will allow the landgrabbing of ATN Solar. They are now organizing activities and consolidating the community, led by farmers’ organizations and the local village council to unite all of Macabud’s more than 8,000 population in resisting the solar power project.