Aurora protesters midway through marchBy Tonette Orejas |Inquirer Central Luzon
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—Exhausted but determined, 120 farmers, fishermen and Agta villagers marched for the eighth day in protest of the creation of a 12,923-hectare economic zone that they said would displace some 3,000 families in Casiguran, Aurora.
The marchers, who began their trek on Nov. 24, on Saturday crossed the boundary of Aurora, reaching Pantabangan in Nueva Ecija by 2 p.m. They had hurdled about half of their 350-km, 18-day journey and expect to reach Malacañang on Dec. 9.
The Senate earlier approved a P353-million allocation for the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco) that was proposed by Sen. Edgardo Angara. The senators said the project would spur progress in Aurora and nearby provinces, making it the country’s Pacific gateway.
Kent Avestruz, Apeco deputy administrator, said zone officials had been reaching out to the groups opposed to the project through forums and assemblies.
“We have openly invited them several times, especially Fr. Joefran Talaban, but they never attended any of the barangay assemblies where the largest [number of] participants reached more or less 3,000,” Avestruz said.
He said the farmers were against the Aurora State College of Technology (Ascot), not Apeco.
The state college has a reservation inside Apeco but the farmers are claiming the area, saying they had been tilling the land there for decades, he said.
“They are not the legitimate owners but are illegal settlers inside Ascot trying to claim the land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program,” he said.
But Marlon Angara, chair of Task Force Anti-Apeco, called Avestruz’s statements “misleading and untrue.”