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by Gerry Geronimo


The good senator, Edgardo Angara, labored with might and mien to make it appear that all was pretty, or at least, all was well at the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone Authority (Apeza). He condescended to conduct on Nov. 11, 2010 a second hearing on the proposed budget allocation for the Apeza, just to accommodate certain issues raised against the enterprise during the first hearing. But since the Apeza was a major advocacy of the good senator, and, we must mention, also of a number in his family many of whom are holding public positions in the local and national government, it was not surprising to see a tint of self-interest in the composition of those asked to act as “resource persons.”

“Resource person” is the preferred term of current use, rather than witnesses because from these peoples’ expertise and experience the legislative body is to draw the information and guidance they need to craft the proper legislation. At the Nov. 11 hearing, the unabashedly admitted mandate of the resource persons was to make the rest of us benighted understand how beautiful a project the Apeza was.

But despite the formidable array of Angara allies conscripted into the service to stonewall those who oppose the enterprise, the operation to paint the Angara version of the truth was not entirely successful. After all, the truth is an ungovernable substance that like water seeps through every nook and cranny available until, no matter how long and tedious, it comes out into the open. Making matters difficult for the Angaras was the happy circumstance that the oppositors found their voices articulated by a community not only known but also respected nationwide for its dedication to truth and justice.

It is not very often that I find my church living up to its avowed mission to take the side of the poor, or what theologians call the preferential option for the poor, and, thus, am more than glad, now that I come across one, yield most of space today to the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace’s statement about the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone. As published recently in the broadsheets, the text reads as follows:

“Anuman ang dinaranas na takot at pagharap sa panganib ni Fr. Joefran, mga magsasaka at katutubo na naninindigan at sambayanang mulat, kasama kami sa tuloy-tuloy na pagtutol sa proyektong ito [Aseza/Apeco] ng pamahalaan… Ilalaan naming ang aming mga sarili sa anumang hamon sa aming buhay pagkapari mangahulugan man ito ng sakripisyo at pag-aalay ng buhay.” (more…)

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By Atty. Reynaldo Geronimo

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

THE place is called “Casiguran,”; its name, it is said, comes from the Tagalog word “kasiguruhan” which in turn appears to be a corruption (neither pun nor fun nor, despite what follows below, satire intended) of the Spanish word “siguro” which means safety or security.

The name was well-earned, so the story continues, because in that peninsula the galleons that once upon a time plied the Manila-Mexico trade route sought safety from strong storms that sometimes deranged the otherwise sober waters of the ocean called Pacific.

But at the Philippine Senate recently, Casiguran did not provide safe harbor to someone who claim to be its son, Senator Edgardo J. Angara, from the fury of the storm stirred up by the many protesters against the budget allocation proposed for the Aurora Special Economic Zone. The venue of the disturbance was the Senate floor during the consideration last November of that portion of the budget of Trade and Industry and its attached agencies. Senator Angara was sponsor; he was interpellated by Senator Sergio Osmeña III who was articulating the concerns of the protesters.

Perhaps to serve an appropriate appetizer to make his budget proposal palatable to his colleagues, Senator Angara sought permission to run what he described as “a 7-minute video showing what Apeco is and the present state of Apeco”. But whatever may have been its true intent, the video succeeded in alerting the senators to APECO’s shortcomings. Indeed, the video seemed less than accurate. For instance, the dive sites (shown to give the impression that the site is a tourist attraction) were not all in Casiguran; as admitted by Senator Angara, “the dive sites are in Baler but some of them are in Casiguran…”. The video’s images of beaches were also deceptive. Senator Angara had to admit, “The beaches are in Baler…”. He was quick to add, in fairness, that “we did not show a beautiful bay in Casiguran called Casapsapan which I believe can compare favorably with any other beach in the country.” The query, in the minds of those listening, whether on the floor or at the gallery, is, “if Casapsapan was as great as Senator Angara would project it, why was it not put in the video itself”.

But really, those instances of a propagandist’s license were mere just minor minor. What seemed major major, though, were admissions regarding the proposal itself.

First is the real amount of money that has already been put into APECO. The total is unfathomable; but what is clear is that certain expenditures which are primarily for the project are nonetheless lodged in the expenditures for the other departments. For instance, the amounts allocated for the network of roads and bridges are part, not of the APECO budget in the Department of Trade and Industry, but part instead of the budget of the Department of Public Works and its agencies. Hence, there is really no way of knowing exactly how much money was put into good use and how much went down the drain, drained hopefully not necessarily into the pockets of those interested in maintaining the appearance of a viable project. (more…)

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Dear President Noynoy Aquino,

The Aurora Pacific Ecozone and Freeport (APECO) was established by RA 10083 over 12,923 hectares of productive agricultural lands and natural forests in Casiguran, Aurora.

THE TRUTHS ARE:

The APECO Law was passed without consultation with the people of Casiguran.

The APECO Law was passed without approval of the local government unit of Casiguran—a violation of the Local Government Code (RA 7160) and the APECO Law itself.

APECO displaces fisherfolk without provision for relocation and livelihood—a violation of the Fisheries Code (RA 8550).

APECO intrudes into ancestral lands of the Agta Dumagats without their “Free, Prior and Informed Consent”—a violation of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (RA 8371).

APECO’s proposed infrastructure and industries will destroy at least 300 hectares of productive, irrigated rice lands thereby endangering food security in Aurora and the pristine waters of Casiguran Bay—a violation of the CARPer Law (RA 9700).

APECO disregards the rights of affected tillers of 110 hectares of land covered by the CARP (RA 6657).

Since 2008, about P500 million of the people’s money has already been released to APECO without any COA audit of its expenditures—a violation of the Government Auditing Code (PD 1445).

Industries Development Corporation (IDC), the only registered investor in APECO owned by Mr. Joselito Ong, asked for exemption from DENR DMC 2008-03 prohibiting commercial cutting of natural forests in Aurorain order to implement a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Province of Aurora and IDC, signed by Governor Angara-Castillo, Senator Edgardo Angara, Congressman Sonny Angara and Mr. Ong. Mr. Ong is one of the 5 Board members of APECO.

APECO already paid P50 million out of a committed P120 million to Mr. Joselito Ong (IDC) supposedly for the purchase of Mr. Ong’s logging rights–a potential violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019).

APECO paid more than P650,000 per hectare for the coconut land of Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer Benjamin Miña, yet it paid only P45,000 per hectare for the rice lands of those who have already lost their homes–a potential violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (RA 3019).

Mangroves have already been cleared to give way to APECO – a potential violation of environment policies in PD 705 and DENR DMC 2008-03.

The APECO Law was passed without the benefit of a full feasibility study and of the required inputs from the affected communities.The bill, which merely lapsed into law, was sponsored by Senator Edgardo Angara in the Senate and Congressman Sonny Angara in the House of Representatives, with the endorsement of Governor Bellaflor Angara-Castillo. Congressman Angara and Governor Angara-Castillo presently sit in the APECO Board, while Senator Angara admits he acts as CEO of APECO.

President, they are so powerful and we are powerless against them. Hindi pinapakinggan ang boses ng mga maliliit. The APECO is a virtual “republic” with more prerogatives and powers than any government corporation (GOCC) in the country today.

Who will benefit from the APECO? Illegal loggers, internet gambling operators, smugglers, land speculators? And who will get hurt? Farmers, small landowners, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, the environment, the national government coffers.

Tanong ni Lola Luz Gonzales, edad 79 at magsasaka, “Bakit kami papaalisin ng APECO sa lupa na pinagyaman namin?” Sabi ni Victor Abajon, isang katutubo, ang buhay bago APECO ay “mahusay, matahimik at malaya.” Mr. President, please stop funding the serial plunder of Casiguran. Please listen to the voiceless people of Aurora.

Maraming salamat, Ginoong Pangulo. Asahan ninyo na kasama kami sa pagtataguyod sa daang matuwid.

Signatories:

PRELATURE OF INFANTA

MOST REV. ROLANDO TRIA TIRONA
Bishop of the Prelature of Infanta

MOST REV. JULIO XAVIER LABAYEN
Bishop-Emeritus of the Prelature of Infanta

Vicariate of St. Anthony de Padua, Casiguran, Aurora

FR. CEFERINO VALENZUELA, JR.
St. Isidore Parish. Dinalungan, Aurora

FR. JOSE FRANCISCO TALABAN
Nuestra Senora de Salvacion Parish. Bianoan, Casiguran, Aurora

FR. MIGUEL FLORO AVENILLA
St. Anthony de Padua Parish. Casiguran, Aurora

FR. JOSELITO CRUZ, FLP
St. Joseph the Worker Parish. Dilasag, Aurora

Vicariate of San Luis Obispo

FR. NILVON CO VILLANUEVA
DEACON IAN CHRIS BALISNOMO, FLP

San Luis Obispo Parish. Baler, Aurora

FR. NOEL VALENCIA
San Luis Rey Parish. San Luis, Aurora

FR. ISRAEL GABRIEL
St. Vincent Ferrer Parish. Maria, Aurora
Social Action Director

FR. PETE MONTALLANO, OFM
St. Patrick Parish. Dingalan, Aurora
Director for Indigenous People’s Apostolate

FR. ANDRES LUMASAC
St. Therese of the Infant Jesus Parish. Dipaculao, Aurora

FR. ERLITO POBLETE
Ina ng Sambayanan ng mga Dukha Parish. Quirino, Maria, Aurora

All five vicariates and 22 parishes all over Aurora and Quezon are opposed to APECO

IP COMMUNITIES AND PEOPLE’S ORGANIZATION IN AURORA

MAYOR REYNALDO BITONG, Mayor, Casiguran
DOMINADOR DELLOSA, Barangay Captain, San Ildefonso
REGINA ENERIA, Chieftain, Dipontian, San Ildefonso
VITA BANAYAD, Chieftain, Kasapsapan
JAVAR TULIO, Chieftain, Disigisaw
RENATO PRADO, Tribal leader, Dipontian
MARINA PRADO, Tribal leader
OLIVER BECASAN, Tribal Council
ALFONSO VAN ZIJL and the Bataris Formation Center
ELMER GONZALES and the Bicol-Ilocano Casiguranon Farmers Association (BICFA), 124 members
REV. FR. ISRAELITO GABRIEL and the Diocesan Social Action Center Of The Prelature Of Infanta
EDUARDO PUJEDA and the Justice And Peace Action Group (JPAG)
DELIA O. SEVELLENO and the Kalusugan Lingkod Sa Aurora (KALINGA)
VICENTE CONVICTO and the Pinag-Isang Lakas (Piglasca), 250 members
SANNY ALCANTARA and the Parish Pastoral Council Of Nuestra Senora De La Salvacion Parish

Munting Sambayanang Kristiyano (MSK) leaders from the Vicariate of Aurora
EDNA GUERRERO
MARY VIDAD
VINIA TANALAS
CULOGIA CHIONG
EVING BAOY
LETTY MOLINA
REY AND REMY ALCANTARA
GLORIA GALANG
SABEL ALFROTE
ARLENE TESORERO
SHIERLEY FELICIA
DIOGENES TOLLEDO
ERLY ARDA
INENG OLAYA
BEBOT OLAGUER
MERLINDA ADA
ZENY HERMOGENES
VIVIAN MIRANDA
DONNIE TORRE
FLORENTO TRUCILLA
TONY GUZMAN
ARLENE ASTRERA
TONY ANGARA
LINDA DIAZ
BEN DE PABLO
CARINA DE PABLO
LORELIE TABAJONDA
CAROL SUMABAT

SUPPORT GROUPS

MOST REV. ANTONIO LEDESMA, D.D
Archbishop of Cagayan de Oro

MOST REV. DEOGRACIAS INIGUEZ, D.D
Bishop of Kalookan

MOST REV. TEDORO BACANI, D.D
Bishop-Emeritus of Novaliches

MOST REV. BRODERICK PABILLO, D.D
Auxiliary Bishop of Manila
National Director of CBCP-NASSA, Co-convenor of SULONG CARPER

ATTY. CHRISTIAN MONSOD
Co-convenor of SULONG CARPER

COMM. CAMILO SABIO
Legal Counsel, CBCP-NASSA

SR. ANGIE VILLANUEVA, R.C.
Chairperson , Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation
Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines

VIC FABE
PAKISAMA

Akbayan Partylist
REP. ARLENE BAG-AO
REP. WALDEN BELLO
former REP. RISA HONTIVEROS

REV. FR. EDWIN GARIGUEZ and CBCP-National Secretariat For Social Action–Justice And Peace
RENE PINEDA and the Citizens’ Organization Concerned With Advocating Philippine Environmental Sustainability (Cocap)
ANTONIO M. CLAPAROLS, and the Ecological Society Of The Philippines (Esp)
FR. BENNY TUAZON, MS. LOU ARSENIO and Ecology Ministry Of The Archdiocese Of Manila
JOY CHAVEZ and the Focus On The Global South
PATRIA GWEN M.L BORCENA, and the Greenresearch Environmental Research Group
BLAS TABANRANZA, JR. and the Haribon Foundation
BEMBET MADRID and the Integrated Pastoral Development  Incorp.
GEORGE O. DADIVAS, and the Kupkop Kita Kabayan Foundation, Inc. (KKKFI)
SR. AIDA VELASQUEZ, OSB, and the Lingkod Tao Kalikasan
ANDY ROSALES and the Maging Tapat
MIGUEL MAGALANG and the Marinduque Council For Environmental Concerns
DENNIS CALVAN and the NGOs FOR FISHERIES REFORM (NFR)
RAUL SOCRATES BANZUELA and PAKISAMA
ROY JERUSALEM CABONEGRO and the Partido Kalikasan  (PK)
PHILIPP CAMARA and the Pinatubo Party
BRO. MARTIN FRANCISCO and the Sagip Sierra Madre Environmental Society, Inc. (SSMESI)
FR. PETE MONTALLANA and the Save Sierra Madre Network (SSMN)
RAMCY ASTOVEZA  and the Tribal Center For Development Foundation Inc. (TCD)
GIGI CHUA, NOEMI TIRONA and the Consumer Rights For Safe Food
ANTHONY MARZAN and KAISAHAN
NORMITA BATUAL and BALAOD
Paralegal Volunteers Organization UP College of Law


Individuals

ATTY. KOKO PIMENTEL
CONG. TEDDY BAGUILAT
REV. FR. ARCHIE CASEY, SX, Xaverian Missionary
PROF. ANGELINA GALANG, PhD. Miriam College
PROF. VICTORIA M. SEGOVIA, Miriam College

CHARLES AVILA,
Director, Social Justice, Lay Society Of St. Arnold Janssen
Chairman, Philippine Association Of Small Coconut Farmers’ Organizations

Sisters from the College of the Holy Spirit
SR. ANNA VIRGINIA MAGPILY, SSpS
SR. GENOVEVA SALVA, SSpS
SR. VICTRICIA PASCASIO, SSpS
SR. ROSALINDA ARGOSINO, SSpS
SR. ARLENE LOBITANA, SSpS
SR. FATIMA MANDING, SSpS
SR. ARNOLD MARIA NOEL, SSpS

ELIAS F. SEGUNDO, Concerned citizen
JOSEPH PERNIA, former World Bank Director


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Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 26, 2010, p. 20

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Fisherfolks of Casiguran are fenced off from the sea by APECO. The Casiguran bay is home to blue marlin and blue fin tuna.

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Task Force Anti-Apeco

Press Release: 14 November 2010

Locals thank Aurora’s ‘true champions’

Protesters against the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco) thanked Senator Serge Osmeña for the prompt action on their cause in last Thursday’s budget hearing in the Senate.

“We have been waiting for our story to be told here in Manila. We hope more people find out that it is not the interests of the people of Aurora being served by that project,” farmer Victor Convicto of Casiguran said in Filipino.

Convicto was invited to the Senate by Osmeña with other residents of affected barangays that include Esteves, Dibet, Culat, Cozo, and San Ildefonso.

RA 10083 or the Apeco law, authored by Senator Edgardo Angara and Rep. Sonny Angara, and endorsed by Aurora governor Bella Castillo-Angara, is said to violate laws on local government, agrarian reform, fisheries, and indigenous peoples rights.

The Senate, prior to the joint approval of the bill by Senator Edgardo Angara and Rep. Sonny Angara in Congress, had received a letter in 2009 from the Multisectoral Action Group of Aurora citing contentions of affected communities that were reportedly not raised during deliberations.

“There were no consultations with the community then and until now, they have ignored our sentiments. They are also dividing us by offering money to tribal leaders to take their side,” said Dumagat Victor Abajon.

At the hearing Osmeña had called Senator Angara as the “Chief Executive Officer of Apeco.” It was also revealed that since 2007, the Apeco has been spending public funds without a report to the Commission on Audit. The admission came from the Apeco accountant after Osmeña requested for a copy.

Locals were also grateful that the project’s former planner Felino Palafox has bared alleged anomalies in its funding and implementation. The Apeco reportedly bought 12 hectares of land from Provincial Environment Regional Officer Benjamin Mina for P8 million while other landowners were paid only P2 million for 44 hectares.

“We know that we are up against a powerful dynasty but we are hopeful because more voices are speaking out,” said Luz Gonzales, among the group’s elders. “They are the true champions of Aurora.”

Representatives from nongovernment and people’s organizations also attended the hearing to show their support for the group.

“With their help, we can and we will continue this fight,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace (CBCP-NASSA). In a letter dated October 26, Apeco deputy administrator threatened to sue Bishop Broderick Pabillo, CBCP-Nassa national director for his statement against the project as “an antithesis to the principles of social justice and democracy.”

“We affirm the Church’s stand and give our full support to the communities of Casiguran,” added Gariguez.

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 )

Manila, Intramuros

 

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PRESS RELEASE
20 July 2010

Manila auxiliary bishop Broderick Pabillio joined the call of the Aurora clergy to the Aquino administration to suspend the operation and budget of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco) in the province.

“We trust in the sincerity of this government to effect promised changes and we hope it starts with upholding the wellbeing of the poor and marginalized over the designs of the corrupt and powerful politicians behind questionable legislations,” Pabillio said in a statement on July 18.

Farming, fishing and tribal communities are protesting their displacement due to RA 10083 or the law expanding the Apeco from 500 to 12,923 hectares authored by Senator Edgardo Angara and Rep. Sonny Angara. Aurora governor Bella Angara-Castillo pushed for 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, they said.

The Church is supporting residents who were not consulted on the ecozone but would be made to pay for its establishment through taxes “without discernible benefit,” according to Pabillo.

“The railroading of the law in both the Senate and the House, in the absence of committee hearings, manifests political expediency,” he said, which affirms the perception that “the legislature can conveniently pass laws that serve their interests.”

Bishop Rolando Tria Tirona, Bishop Emeritus Julio Xavier Labayen and 30 priests also appealed to the Aquino administration and the Commission on Audit to review RA 10083 and alleged anomalous infrastructure projects in their statement on July 12.

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.

Pabillo added that the project is against “principles of social justice and democracy.”

“The administration of Apeco are granted legal powers to sequester private lands even those already committed for agrarian reform without needing to undergo a legislative procedure,” he said, condemning “the gross violation” by the House and Senate in passing the law.

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 )

Manila, Intramuros

Tel no. 09228348248

 

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PRESS RELEASE: 5 May 2010

Farmers, fisher folk and indigenous peoples from Casiguran, Aurora want the presidential candidates to answer contentions against RA 10083 or the new law expanding the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (APECO) from 500 to 12,923 hectares and displacing thousands.

“We want a president that protects the welfare of basic sectors from the abuses and crimes of elites in power that only want to advance their own interests at our expense,” they said.

In a letter to be personally delivered on the morning of 6 May 2010 to the campaign headquarters of every presidential aspirant in Manila, the group enumerated the following calls to action: uphold the private ownership of the disputed lands by local and tribal communities; stop the ongoing implementation of RA 10083; and repeal the APECO laws authored by Senator Edgardo Angara and Rep. Sonny Angara. Aurora governor Bella Angara-Castillo had pushed for the project despite ongoing protests by affected residents.

RA 10083 confiscates private properties without due process while violating other national laws on local government, agrarian reform, fisheries, and indigenous peoples rights, they said. It also breaches the moratorium issued by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself against the conversion of irrigated rice lands to non-agricultural uses.

Casiguran, where Aurora’s rice granary is located, relies primarily on agriculture and fishing for its thriving rural economy. A 2002 study by the International Fund for Agriculture and Development links the rising numbers of landless peasants in Asia including the Philippines and global food insecurity to the compulsory acquisition of land in special economic zones (SEZs). Finding sustainable sources of income to offset the loss of property and livelihood are also problematic in SEZs like the APECO.

“This is our land and our livelihood,” they said. “Our vote goes to the president who can uphold our rights over politics.” They added that national interest is also at stake since RA 10083 puts the APECO beyond the powers of national government and local government units, while using taxpayers’ money for private purposes. “This issue should be on the next administration’s agenda.”

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 )

Manila, Intramuros

Tel no. 09228348248

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