By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The Pambansang Lakas ng Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and allied groups under the Resist Apeco! Defend Aurora Movement are pressing the Senate to investigate one of its own. In a symbolic protest which saw leaders of Pamalakaya “planking” on massive stones lining the breakwater area in front of the Senate compound in Pasay, Pamalakaya et al said the senate should stop the Apeco project on its tracks.
The groups said the Senate should initiate a formal probe into the controversial Aurora Economic Zone and Free Port Project (Apeco) and the role of Sen. Edgardo Angara and other Apeco officials in the project they alleged to be riddled with anomalies.
Pamalakaya vice chairman Salvador France in a statement said the Senate should start the investigation as soon as possible and scrap the P332.5 million (US$7.74 million) budget for Apeco next year. He also called for the repeal of Republic Act No.10083, which created the free port authority.
“The Senate should also censure Angara for branding Bishop Rolando Tria Tirona of the Prelature of Infanta as an ‘absentee bishop’ of Aurora province because he is opposed to the project,” he said.
During the occasion of Baler’s 402nd year anniversary last August 19, Angara in a speech denounced anti-Apeco groups as outsiders who are not from Aurora province. Angara reportedly said that 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.
As an aside, France pointed out that Angara is also facing graft and corruption charges before the Office of the Ombudsman, charges filed by urban planner Jun Palafox. He also said the senator committed libel when he said that Pamalakaya was a front organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
To question constitutionality of Apeco
Pamalakaya announced that, along with the Panlalawigang Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Aurora (Pamana), the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) and the Resist Apeco! Defend Aurora Movement, it will file a petition before the Supreme Court on October 12 questioning the constitutionality of Republic Act No.10083, the law which created Apeco.
Meanwhile, Pamalakaya and its allied groups urged the Commission on Audit (COA) to conduct a thorough audit of some P2 billion (US$46,511,627) funds spent by the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Free Port Authority from 2007 to 2010.
“The ruling Angara dynasty and the Apeco authority should explain to the public how they spent P2 billion (US$46,511,627) of taxpayers’ funds in the name of a highly questionable and extremely anti-people and anti-environment project. The COA should step in and investigate this anomaly,” said Elmer Dayson, vice chairman of Pamana.
Dayson said the Angaras originally asked for another P3 billion (US$69,767,441) for Apeco’s 2012 budget, but the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) only approved P 332.5 million (US$7,744,186).
The Pamana leader insisted that Apeco deserves a zero budget for 2012 and the law creating the first and second phases of the project should be repealed by Congress since it violates the 1987 Constitution provision on social justice. He said the
creation of Apeco was in violation of countless laws on national patrimony.
Pamalakaya, Pamana and the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon learned during a 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. Angara and Gov. Angara-Castillo at the helm of the highly questionable board of directors of Apeco.
“The decision making policy of Apeco is also questionable. There’s a group of five persons who do not even constitute the majority of the 11-man board, and they are the ones 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. This is a clear case of conflict of interest,” the groups said.
According to Pamana, the phase two of the Apeco project has led to the landgrabbing of 12,427 hectares of prime agricultural lands in San Ildefonso peninsula. The Apeco project will reportedly affect 5,430 residents in five barangays and will eventually displace 22,043 residents of Casiguran and nearby towns, mostly indigenous people, fisherfolk and farmers. The project will also affect fishing activities and rice production in Casiguran and Northern Aurora. Farming villages of Dibet and Esteves, which are considered the rice granary in Casiguran, will also be affected. These villages also have 493 hectares of productive rice farms, all of which will be converted into support infrastructures for Apeco.