The residents and their supporters, among them Catholic bishops, say the Apeco project being pushed by the family of Sen. Edgardo Angara is a massive case of landgrabbing that should be put to right. They said they would file criminal complaints against the project.
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — A massive case of landgrabbing that should be put to right.
Residents and indigenous peoples of the coastal town of Casiguran, Aurora, are determined to are set to file a suit against the administrators of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (Apeco) on charges of land grabbing. They have already sought the involvement of the Department of Justice (DOJ), saying that the agency should look into the irregularities surrounding the economic zone and the free port project. Apeco will take over 13,000 hectares of prime agricultural lands in Casiguran.
Residents and their leaders including Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said that the ecozone violates many laws, among them the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), the Fisheries Code, and many others pertaining to government auditing. The project will reportedly deny farmers and tribal people the rights over 12,000 hectares of irrigated lands covered by land reform. Most of the residents, majority of them indigenous people claimed that they were not consulted that an economic and free port zone would be put up in their area.
“We are filing a criminal case,” Pabillo said.
Angaras behind Apeco
Apeco was created via Republic Act 10083 approved August 2010,and has since been the subject of controversy.
There are already pending investigations in both houses of Congress on the matter, but these have not moved forward. The Apeco is seeking the approval of the P145 million for the 2011 national budget for the ongoing construction of the project which has a total P800 million budget. In November 2010, Senator Serge Osmeña III vowed to block the approval of the project budget after the Senate finance committee hearing wherein allegations of anomalies floated.
Residents and indigenous peoples of Casiguran in Aurora, are determined to file charges of land grabbing against APECO. (Photo courtesy of AyokosaApeco / bulatlat.com)
Corruption is also being alleged against project proponents. Senator Edgardo Angara and his son, Aurora Rep. Jun Edgardo “Sonny” Angara co-sponsored the law that created Apeco. Both the younger Angara and the senator’s sister, Aurora Governor Bellaflor Angara-Castillo are members of the eco-zone’s Board. Prior to the law’s approval, Angara has also made amendments to extend the project to cover 500 hectares to 13,000 hectares including the areas that are home to several indigenous communities, small farmers and fisherfolks in the San Ildefonso Peninsula.
Critics have also said that project administrators did not conduct an environmental impact study, land conversion study, feasibility study, seaport study, and airport study, making the project anomalous on so many counts.
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, in the meantime, said she would create a fact-finding body to look into the allegations.
“The panel will assess the evidence so far available, advise what other documents/evidence are needed to build a strong case against those involved in the anomalies, determine what case may be filed and against whom,” de Lima said.
Bring Apeco issue to the peace talks
Meanwhile, some 400 protesters composed of Dumagats and small fishermen held a protest against the Apeco project. This was during the groundbreaking rites for a housing project for 450 families that have been displaced by the project. The groundbreaking event was led by Sen. Angara.
Pamalakaya’s chairman Fernando Hicap said the Apeco project was “a classic case of wholesale landgrabbing courtesy of a ruling political dynasty in Aurora province.” He has previously said that it is the family and relatives of Sen. Angara who will primarily benefit from the economic zone.
In August last year, Pamalakaya led a fact-finding mission in Casiguran. In its findings, it said that the Apeco management utilized intimidation, deception and false promises in order to acquire the people’s consent for the project. It cited the case of Adarlina Constantino, 74, who was visited by the representatives of National Housing Authority (NHA), which warned her that she would be evicted anytime soon because her house is located on a government reservation. NHA representatives along with police in full battle gear visited her again but the 74-year-old woman refused to leave her house.
Casiguran residents, mostly fisherfolk, are fenced off from the sea by APECO. Casiguran Bay is home to blue marlin and blue fin tuna. (Photo courtesy of AyokosaApeco / bulatlat.com)
Leaders of the group said that it would try to get the support of the 117 archbishops and bishops of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to persuade the Angara officials to stop pursuing the project. “We can imagine the destructive impact of this project, it will rival the story of The Great Deluge in the Holy Bible,” they said. They said that adding the free port would result in environmental degradation at the marine life-rich Casiguran bay.
Pamalakaya has already called for investigations into Sen. Angara’s involvement in the project. It based its call on allegations of Architect Felino Palafox that the location of free port project was influenced by the Aurora based lawmaker.
Palafox, the original master planner for the eco-zone, asserted that the new location was prone to flooding and liquefaction. Apeco, however, proceeded with the change of location. He also alleged that the part of the land for the new location was purchased from Benjamin Mina, the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources officer (PENRO) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Aurora province.
Finally, Pamalakaya said that it would write the respective panels of the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to tackle the issue during the upcoming peace negotiations.
It said that the two panels should agree to the repeal the law that led to the creation of Apeco.