CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—President Benigno Aquino III has extended for another two or three months a weeklong review of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (Apeco), an official of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) said on Friday.
During a meeting at Ateneo de Manila University on Dec. 11, the President ordered the review after residents of Casiguran, where the first ecozone in the country’s eastern flank facing the Pacific is rising, went on an 18-day, 350-kilometer march to dramatize their opposition to the pet project of Sen. Edgardo “Edong” Angara.
Much longer than 1 week
Jerik Cruz, communications coordinator of the Church-backed Task Force Anti-Apeco, said the extension of Malacañang’s review period was announced on Dec. 17 in a preliminary dialogue with Neda Director General Arsenio Balisacan.
“We were expecting this would take much longer than one week from the very start. At any rate, it’s impossible to have a credible review of such a complex entity as Apeco in one week,” Cruz told the Inquirer.
Severino Santos, regional Neda director, said: “It will be up to the President to set the final deadline required for the review. We made a quick evaluation to help identify, among others, the next steps and guide the scope of the review to be done in the next three months.”
Santos said Balisacan would oversee the review of the project covering 12,923 hectares of land in Casiguran, including the ancestral domain of Agtas in the San Ildefonso Peninsula.
The Neda Central Luzon office has been asked to provide information about Aurora and its neighboring areas.
Malcolm Sarmiento, Apeco president and chief executive officer, said the extension of the review was a “positive development for Apeco.”
“We feel we don’t have anything to hide. The more comprehensive the review is, the more favorable it is for us. The past has been clouded with lies and misinterpretations,” Sarmiento said in a telephone interview. “We are grateful for a fair opportunity to present our side.”
The marchers returned to Casiguran on Dec. 18.
According to Cruz, the marchers secured other pledges from government agencies: The grant of a certificate of ancestral domain title over 11,900 ha in the San Ildefonso Peninsula; the renewal of the integrated social forestry contracts covering 288 ha for another 25 years starting in 2014; a promise to respect the fishing rights of fisherfolk within Casiguran Bay, and the establishment of livelihood projects.
Angara on Friday denied that his decision to withdraw his candidacy for governor of Aurora was prompted by the Apeco controversy in his home province.
He cited his commitments as a leader of the Centrist Democrats International (CDI) for the withdrawal on Thursday in favor of his brother Arthur, the mayor of Baler town.
Angara is vice president for Asia and the Pacific of CDI, an alliance of political parties from Europe and Latin America. The Philippines will host the group’s next meeting in May or June 2013.
“I don’t want to go into local politics after 34 years of public service. I think that’s enough service to our country and I have plenty of projects,” Angara told reporters.
“So, I’d rather do that than be a local official, but the officials of Aurora had wanted me to run and I had accepted that reluctantly.”
He said he was ready to help in the senatorial campaign of his son, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara. Congressman Angara’s rating in the preelection surveys reportedly suffered a dip recently.