19 July 2010
The Prelature of Infanta and agrarian reform NGOs pressed on proponents of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco) to answer allegations of displacement and corruption in the project’s implementation in the province.
In a statement on July 12, Bishop Rolando Tria Tirona, Bishop Emeritus Julio Xavier Labayen and 30 priests appealed to the Aquino administration and the Commission on Audit to review RA 10083 or the Apeco law and alleged anomalous infrastructure projects.
The clergy also condemned the June 26 attack on Casiguran parish priest Joefran Talaban, a known advocate of the residents’ rights to their lands and fishing grounds.
Jon Sarmiento of Pakisama, a national confederation of farmers belonging to the Task Force Anti-Apeco, voiced similar concern over Aurora Rep. Sonny Angara’s reaction to the clergy demands that he would not favor a review on the grounds of displacement.
“Contrary to the claims of the Angaras, this is more than an election issue. The local and tribal communities were opposed to the two Apeco laws as soon as they found out and it was too late,” he said in Filipino. “They were never consulted and the project was already underway.”
Rep. Angara and Senator Edgardo Angara authored RA 10083, which expands the former Aurora Special Economic Zone Act (Aseza) coverage from 500 to 12,923 hectares. Aurora governor Bella Angara-Castillo endorsed the project amid contentions of affected residents that it confiscates private properties without due process while violating other national laws on local government, agrarian reform, fisheries, and indigenous peoples rights.
The Task Force Anti-Apeco is a network of civil society organizations supporting their cause that includes NGO Fisheries for Reform, Focus on the Global South, Task Force Detainees, among other Manila-based groups. They disagreed with Rep. Angara’s view that promised benefits of employment and development will be realized over time.
“Already P400 million has been allocated to the Apeco and only the Apeco office, a backpacker’s inn and an unused airstrip have been built,” said Mikey Perocho of NGOs for Fisheries Reform after the group visited the area this month.
With fishing, agriculture is among the major industries of the province known as the rice granary of the North. The municipality of Casiguran and Pakisama have an ongoing partnership organic farming initiative to further boost productivity and help address the looming problem of food security in the country.
“The productivity of the local economy would be compromised and negated by the Apeco,” he added.
Rep. Angara in a previous interview denied that human rights and just compensation were problematic. However, National Housing Authority representatives tasked with the relocation of residents are reportedly recommending that the Memorandum of Agreement with the Apeco be rescinded unless the issues concerning local and tribal communities would be resolved.
Fr. Edu Gariguez of the CBCP-Nassa said they intend to raise discrepancies in the solon’s statements in the dialogue of Bishops Tirona and Labayen with Rep. Angara on June 21.
For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Fr. Edwin Gariguez
CBCP-NASSA ( Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines – National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace )
Tel no. 09228348248