By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – With the objective of defending a “paradise against destruction,” various groups formally launched Resist Apeco! Defend Aurora Movement, Sept. 6.
Apeco stands for the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Free Port (Apeco) project that will cover almost 13,000 hectares of land in five villages of Cagisuran town. The project would consist of the construction of residential, commercial and industrial projects, ports, eco-tourism, highway, airport, among others.
Elmer Dayson, vice chair of Panlalawigang Alyansa ng Mga Magbubukid sa Aurora (Pamana), and one of the conveners of Resist Apeco movement, said the Apeco project will affect 5,430 residents in five villages and will eventually displace 22,043 residents of Casiguran and nearby towns, mostly indigenous people, fisherfolk and farmers. The group, together with regional and national organizations, conducted a fact-finding mission in Casiguran, Aurora last June to document the impacts of the Apeco on the residents of Aurora.
Speaking at the forum, Andy Barcenas, a local leader in Cozo village, said Apeco is worse than any typhoon that would hit them. “Our right to the land we have tilled for years will be taken away,” Barcenas said.
Fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) said the project will affect fishing activities and rice production in Casiguran and in the entire Northern Aurora. He said farming villages of Dibet and Esteves, which are considered the rice granary in Casiguran and made up of 493 hectares of productive rice farm will be converted into support infrastructures for Apeco.
Danilo Ramos, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), who joined the fact-finding mission, testified how rich Aurora province is. “The people of Aurora live in what we may call a paradise. Now, with the Apeco, they are faced with the danger of total destruction of their livelihood and resources,” Ramos said.
Questionable funds for Apeco
Convenors of the Resist Apeco! Defend Aurora Movement also raised questions on the P2 billion ($47.04 million) funds spent for the project from 2007 to 2010. ?
“The ruling Angara dynasty and the Apeco authority should explain to the public how they spent 2 billion pesos of the taxpaying public in the name of a highly questionable and extremely anti-people and anti-environment project,” Dayson said.
He added that the Commission on Audit should step in and “discover the underworld operation of the Angaras in Casiguran, Aurora.”
Joseph Canlas, chairman of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL), related that during the hearing at the House of Representatives regarding the proposed P332.5 million ($7.82 million) budget for the Apeco next year, the Apeco staff could not explain how the P43 million ($1.01 million) of the P2 billion was spent.
Canlas revealed that the Angaras were actually asking for another P 3-billion ($70.56 million) for Apeco’s 2012 budget, but the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) only approved P 332.5 million.
“P 2-billion of public funds was spent by the Angaras since 2007 and that constitute a heinous crime. We cannot allow another heinous crime against taxpaying public by Congress giving another seal of approval to the P 332.5 million budget for Apeco,” the group said.
Pamalakaya, Pamana and the AMGL learned during the meeting with Apeco officials that the 11-man board of directors of Apeco has been idle, and only five of the members of the board of directors are working with Rep. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara and Gov. Bella Angara-Castillo at the helm.
“The decision making policy of Apeco is also dubious and highly irregular. Imagine, a group of five persons who do not even constitute the majority of the 11-man board is deciding on the outcome and fate of Apeco project. Worse, Rep. Angara and Gov. Castillo are the ones operating Apeco over the last two years showing a big degree of conflict of interest with the public,” the groups said.
Angara’s name calling
The Resist Apeco! Defend Aurora Movement also took offense when Senator Edgardo Angara branded Bishop Rolando Tria Tirona of the Prelature of Infanta as “absentee bishop” of Aurora province.
The group said during the occasion of Baler’s 402nd year anniversary on August 19, Senator Angara in a speech denounced anti-Apeco groups led by Bishop Tirona and Pamalakaya. The senator described Pamalakaya and Bishop Tirona as outsiders who are not from Aurora province. Pamalakaya said they had obtained an audio of Senator Angara’s speech. ?
Senator Angara said the parish of Prelature of Infanta stole the 400-year old Baler Bell and was also guilty of hiding a tabernacle made of 24 carat gold, the Baler church’s chandeliers and other precious items of the church. The Senator also said the Bishop of Aurora should come from the province and not from the Prelature of Infanta which is based in North Quezon. Angara also urged the Ramon Catholic Church to replace Tirona with a bishop who really comes from the people of Aurora province.
Salvador France, Pamalakaya vice chairperson and Resist Apeco! Defend Aurora Movement convener, said Sen.Angara resorted to name calling against Bishop Tirona, because the chief of the Prelature of Infanta has opposed Apeco.
“According to the Gospel of the Angaras, if Bishop Tirona is an absentee bishop, Pamalakaya is a front of the Communist Party of the Philippines. This is how Senator Angara treats opponents of the Apeco project, the brainchild of the Angara dynasty composed of the Senator, sister Gov. Bella Angara-Castillo and the senator’s son Rep. Sonny Angara,” France said.
“Senator Angara is moving heaven and earth to keep the Apeco project. He is resorting to grand slam act of Red bashing and triple platinum trial by publicity to demolish all legitimate and politically correct opposition to the project,” France said.
Other members of the Resist Apeco! Defend Aurora Movement are Katribu party list, Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Kamp), Government Employees for Genuine Land Reform (GE4GLR), Anakpawis party list, among others.
The movement called on Congress to repeal Republic Act No. 10083 which created Apeco.
They said they will question the constitutionality of the law before the Supreme Court, saying the law violates the 1987 Constitution provision on social justice and that Apeco is a clear violation of national patrimony.