CITY OF SAN FERNANDO— Don’t stop progress and the creation of jobs by the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco).
Nora Gutierrez, chair of Samahan ng mga Katutubong Dumagat sa Aurora (Sakada), said this was the main message of her group when it led a rally of 700 residents of Dinalungan, Casiguran and Dilasag towns in the capital town of Baler on Friday to support the project.
Gutierrez said farmers, fishermen and Dumagat who joined the pro-Apeco rally carried placards reflecting their position that Apeco did not grab any land from them and that no tribe member was removed from his or her ancestral domain.
“Neither were there fishers who were barred from their fishing grounds. Instead, Apeco will build an ice plant in Barangay Esteves [in Casiguran],” Gutierrez told the Inquirer on Sunday.
The pro-Apeco rally was held a few days after President Aquino ordered the National Economic and Development Authority to review the Apeco, which Congress created through laws proposed by Sen. Edgardo Angara, whose family hails from Aurora.
The review was Mr. Aquino’s response to 120 Casiguran residents who marched for 18 days, covering a 350-kilometer route to Metro Manila, to stop the Apeco project and their displacement.
Gutierrez said indigenous peoples in the three towns were promised housing, employment as forest guards, livelihood projects and construction of two multipurpose halls.
“We went to Baler to show our support for the programs of Apeco in Casiguran and condemn and deny the allegations of anti-Apeco groups,” she said.
Salvador France, vice chair of the national fishers’ coalition Pamalakaya, called the pro-Apeco rally as a “dirty tactic.”
“The usual divide-and-rule tactic is [used] … to create rift among the poor people, counter the anti-Apeco offensive,” France said in a statement.
Malcolm Sarmiento Jr., Apeco president and chief executive officer, said the anti-Apeco marchers cannot possibly represent the 3,000 households affected by the project.
In a statement, Sarmiento described the anti-Apeco marchers as “informal settlers” in a reservation owned by Aurora State College of Technology. Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon