By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez
First Posted 16:47:00 01/21/2011
MANILA, Philippines – Two lawmakers have come to the aid of indigenous peoples and residents in Aurora province being threatened of displacement from their lands because of development projects in the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone Freeport (APECO).
But Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara appealed to the residents to give development a chance.
“As representative, I believe these issues can be resolved amicably,” Angara said in a text message when asked to react. “I do wish they would give it a chance and some time to show what can be done for residents there.”
Angara and his father, Senator Edgardo Angara co-sponsored Republic Act No. 10083, the law that created APECO. The younger Angara and her aunt, Aurora Governor Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, sit on the economic zone’s Board.
APECO covers more than 12,400 hectares of public and private land, including sprawling areas devoted for agriculture and tracts of ancestral lands belonging to the Agta-Dumagats, the indigenous peoples of Casiguran town.
Because of development being planned in the area to attract investments and generate jobs, Bag-ao said some 3,000 families, including 452 who are holders of certificate of land ownership award, Bag-ao said. The families, she added, will be relocated to the school reservation.
“The Agta-Dumagats who, for years now, have been pushing for the recognition of their ancestral domain under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), are facing uncertainties over the lands and seas that have been their home since time immemorial,” Bag-ao said.
“Fisherfolks who have been vested with exclusive rights over the municipal waters of Casiguran Aurora are now threatened not only to lose access of the sea that provide them with livelihood but also their homes as they are to be relocated,” she added.
Bag-ao noted that economic zones are funded by public funds, as in the case of APECO, whose budget was raised to P800 million in 2009.
“Do the development funds being spent by government help the farmers become better farmers and increasing their productivity? Do they help the fishermen become better fishermen? Are these funds being used to strengthen the claims of the indigenous people over their ancestral domains?” she said.
Angara, however, maintained that the indigenous communities will not be left behind with the development of the province.
Under the law, he said that APECO is envisioned to be an ecological zone and with green power to protect the environment. He added that before APECO took over the area, a large part of it was being used by logging concessionaires.
“The intention is to enhance livelihood opportunities in the area and not to displace any of the indigenous peoples,” he said.
He added that families that will be relocated are non-indigenous communities.
When the investments come in such as industries, Angara said residents will have opportunity for employment. The area is also envisioned to be a tourist attraction, which could also employ those living in the town.