By Jing Villamente Reporter

Indigenous people in Aurora province are set to march to Malacañang to press their demand for the total scrapping of the planned Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco).

Members of the Agta tribe in Casiguran, Aurora joined a forum held on Tuesday in Quezon City. They said that they will march to Malacanang to show President Benigno Aquino 3rd that they are serious in they efforts to block the project, which will they said will convert 12, 923 hectares of their ancestral land into an eco-zone.

In a forum at the Ateneo de Manila University led by Winnie Monsod, former head of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and University of the Philippines School of Economics professor, over a hundred of Agta people slammed the Aquino administration’s continued justification that Apeco will do good in the contested land.

The NEDA has said that although it voted down plans to establish a freeport zone in Casiguran, Aurora, it recommended that the area be converted into an agro-aqua and ecotourism zone.

Monsod said there is a serious need to evaluation the pros and cons of the project. She added that a series of dialogues with the residents who will be most affected by the project should be a priority.

“In fairness to NEDA, di nito pinatutuloy and Apeco in its free zone aspect but now comes up with a different concept. If they are saying that Apeco is not a viable project at nagpalit sila ng concept, with the claim that it is beneficial, it must be first debateable. Let’s start again. Kunsultahin ang mga tao [Agta] kaysa makinig sa mga lider ng lugar na hindi naman mga nakatira doon,” Monsod explained. She was referring to the Angara clan led by Sen. Edgardo Angara.

She added that the project remains questionable, noting that it is not viable and if established, could be a source of corruption like the other free port concepts.

“Smuggling is a characteristic of eco-zone. It is a fantastic opportunity for smuggling,” Mon­sod said.

She also refuted the supposed economic benefits to be gained from Apeco, saying that it lacks a master plan, feasibility studies, land use plan, operational plan and coordination among the stakeholders, government and civil society organization.

She explained that the area’s strategic location and its resources make it conducive to farming, fishing and livestock raising which is recognized by the municipality’s comprehensive land use plan from 2008 to 2018.

Marlon Angara, a fisher folk leader in Casiguran, said the Agta community leaders have expressed opposition to the project as they reported incidents of being threatened by
Apeco personnel. They have also been accused of trespassing in their ancestral lands while they are collecting firewood, fishing and hunting.

In December 2012, several Agta families endured the 350 kilometer march from Casiguran to Manila to urge the President to shelve the project.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, Gov. Bella Angara-Castillo of Aurora and Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara spearheaded the Apeco project through the passage of RA 9490 in 2007.

Apeco has been embroiled in a controversy due mainly to the opposition of the residents of Casiguran who will be displaced by the project.

“Sabi nila sa agro-aqua, pwede kaming magtanim ng kawayan at ito’y bubuhusan ng pondo o pera. Ito ay di na kailangan. May limang klase ng kawayan ang nakapaligid na sa amin. Maging pagtatanim ng seaweed ay di rin angkop dito dahil ang aming lugar ay napapaligiran ng mga ilog tabang papuntang karagatan.

Ang seaweed ay kailangan ng tunay na maasin na dagat,” Angara, the fisherman, said.

He added that they are preparing for their march to Malacañang just to be heard.

“Aping- api na kami sa Apeco. Angara ang may project nito. Kahit ako man ay Angara na malayo sa kanilang angkan dahil ako’y isa lamang mangingisda, hindi kami titigil sa pagtutol. Hindi rin kami talagang boboto sa kanila. Hindi na kami pabor sa kanilang
ginagawa,” Angara said.

Fr. Xavier Alpasa, Executive Director of Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan, said they were the first to oppose the Apeco project because they cannot see the benefits of the project for the people who will be displaced.

“Dapat ba natin ikatuwa na ayaw na ng NEDA ang Apeco? Kung may pagbabago man dapat para sa tao. Kailangan muna silang konsultahin para sa kanilang kaunlaran at kabuhayan. Di lamang iilan ang dapat makinabang dito. Ang batas na ito ay ginawa ng powerful Angara clan. Bilyon na ang ginastos, di naman napakinabangan ng mga tao. Ang kaunlaran ba ay para lamang sa mga Angara?“ Alpasa asked.

Christian Monsod on the other end talked about the legal aspect of Apeco, saying while Aquino agreed with the project before, the President has ordered the NEDA to re-study of the project along with the Department of Justice which said that it violated laws and the constitution by not consulting the people.

“Invalidate RA 10083. It would only be a source of fights and corruption and can be used by Angaras in the future. The study must include the Commission on Audit,” he suggested.


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