CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—At least 700 farmers, fishermen, Dumagat and Agta supporting the establishment of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco) in Casiguran, Aurora, are marching today (Friday) to the capital town of Baler to call for the continuation of the project.
The show of support for the Apeco came after President Benigno Aquino gave the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) a week to review the 12,923-hectare economic zone project facing the Pacific Ocean.
The President issued the order on Tuesday after he met 120 protesters who marched for 18 days, covering a 350-kilometer route from Casiguran to Metro Manila, to ask him to stop the Apeco.
The protesters said the project was approved without consultation with the affected residents or approval of local officials. They said this threatened to displace them from ancestral domain and farming and fishing grounds.
But Nora Gutierrez, president of the Samahan ng mga Katutubong Dumagat sa Aurora (Sakada), called the protesters’ claims as “all lies.”
Kent Avestruz, Apeco deputy administrator, denied that the agency organized the pro-Apeco rally. “We don’t have budget for this,” he said.
Gutierrez said that in villages covered by the Apeco, “nobody was told to leave.”
“The Dumagat were given 55 core houses and livelihood projects,” she said.
Marlon Angara, head of the Casiguran-based Task Force Anti-Apeco (TFAA), said Gutierrez’s endorsement of Apeco has divided indigenous peoples in the town.
“I urge her to stand for us, poor farmers and fishermen, and poor members of the tribes, especially the Agta of San Ildefonso who are being displaced when Apeco widened its area and occupied the lands,” Angara said.
Angara said he and his fellow marchers are still in Metro Manila and are staying with the Roman Catholic Church’s Caritas.
“We are not yet returning [to Aurora] until the Neda is done with its review,” he said.
Casiguran Mayor Reynaldo Bitong welcomed the pro-Apeco rally, saying this was an occasion to hear the “good things” that Sen. Edgardo Angara and his son, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, were doing for the province’s residents. The Angaras sponsored the laws that created the Apeco.
“But I want them (Angaras) to tell the truth that the Apeco bypassed me, the municipal council and the communities. We did not issue any resolution supporting or protesting the Apeco,” Bitong said.
“Apeco could mean progress. What is wrong [with the project] is the procedure it underwent,” said the mayor. Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon with report from DJ Yap in Manila