by Benjamin B. Pulta
The Department of Justice has vowed to look into the complaints of farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous peoples belonging to the Dumagat tribe and local leaders of Aurora province involving the Aurora Pacific Ecozone and Freeport (APECO), where members of the Angara family sit as board members.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima yesterday met with an Aurora-based non-government and people’s organization calling itself the Pinag-isang Lakas ng Casiguran (Piglas-CA), that has made allegations of widespread corruption and other violations allegedly committed by Apeco.
The group accused Apeco of violations of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and Extension and Reform (Carper) law, Fisheries Code, Indigenous Peoples Right Act (IPRA), Government Auditing Code and Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act as grounds for the plan to file the complaints.
Father Edwin Gariguez of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines-Task Force Anti-Apeco Convenor, said they have already submitted their documents to the Office of the Secretary Leila de Lima to prove that there’s basis to file criminal charges against Sen. Eduardo Angara, his son Rep. Jun Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, Aurora Governor Bellaflor Angara-Castillo and Apeco officials.
The group also claimed that there is a conflict of interest in the creation of the economic zone.
“Secretary De Lima said she would create a committee this week to look into the matters,” Gariguez said.
Apeco is a P1-billion economic zone project in Aurora.
Sen. Angara and Rep.Angara authored Republic Act 10083 which created Apeco and expanded the former Aurora Special Economic Zone from 500 hectares to 12,923 hectares.
Last Saturday, 400 of the affected Aurora locals barricaded the Reservation Area in Barangay Estevez, causing the suspension of Apeco’s ground breaking ceremony.
The reservation area is a 100-hectare irrigated and highly productive land set aside for relocation.
Gov. Angara-Castillo endorsed it amid strong opposition from thousands of farming, fishing and tribal communities to be displaced as vast tracks of irrigated agricultural, forest and ancestral lands, including a huge portion of municipal waters, are appropriated for the project.
Gariguez said he and Father Jose Francisco Talaban, Casiguran parish priest, will join civil society representatives from Pambansang Kilusang ng mga Magsasaka and the Green Convergence movement at the Department of Justice to show their support to the affected local communities.