THE National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Bakun, Benguet local government halted the operations of Hedcor, Inc.’s three hydroelectric plants, which were earlier issued a cease-and-desist order (CDO) for alleged issues in obtaining consent from the tribes.

In a stock exchange disclosure on Thursday, Hedcor’s parent firm Aboitiz Power Corp. said the “forced shutdown” was upon the instruction of NCIP-Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and “without any reference” to the directive of the Department of Energy (DoE) on June 25 for the plants to continue operating.

NCIP-CAR on June 22 issued the halt order, indicating that the town’s indigenous groups withdrew their consent to the plants in April due to “highly disadvantageous conditions in the deal” and “Hedcor’s alleged use of the memorandum as a tool to unduly exert pressure on the Bakun LGU officials to yield to [the company’s] demands.”

AboitizPower said according to lawyer Jerry A. Marave, who joined the group that implemented the shutdown, a court order and not a letter from the DoE can supersede the CDO.

Hedcor’s hydro plants affected by the order are the 2.4-megawatt (MW) Lower Labay, 3.6-MW Lon-oy, and 5.9-MW FLS.

Hedcor said the group insisted that the DoE letter “was not an instruction, but a simple reminder.”

In its letter, the department emphasized the importance of ensuring the integrity of the power system while advising the company to continue operating its hydro plants in compliance with the law, spot market rules and the grid code.

Leo Lungay, Hedcor’s vice-president for operations and maintenance, said that unless the Energy department “expressly states in writing and confirms that their letter sent on June 25… is simply a reminder, we will treat DoE’s letter as an order for Hedcor to keep operating our plants in Bakun.”

“However, we are forced to stop operations, with the threat posed by the situation. As much as we want to continue delivering power to the Luzon grid, we don’t want to compromise the safety of the community and our personnel,” he added.

Noreen Marie N. Vicencio, Hedcor’s vice-president for corporate services, said that the firm had constantly reached out to the community for a customary dialogue or tongtongan.

“Prior to the issuance of this CDO, we were hopeful with the confirmed tongtongan that we were supposed to have with the IP (indigenous peoples) leaders last June 15. However, with the last-minute cancelation advised by the LGU, and followed by the BITO (Bakun Indigenous Tribes Organization ), we are saddened that the situation has come to this,” she said.

According to NCIP-CAR, the CDO can only be lifted if Hedcor submits proof that it has secured the certificate precondition and the free informed prior consent of the Bakun IPs, in line with the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997.

According to the IPRA, project developers may acquire permits and licenses only after receiving the certificate from the NCIP, expressing consent from the indigenous community hosting the project.

Hedcor operates 21 hydropower plants supplying 258 MW of renewable energy.

On Thursday, shares in AboitizPower improved 2.25% or 55 centavos to finish at P25 apiece. — Angelica Y. Yang