Sen. Edgardo Angara believes the proposed Aurora Pacific Ecozone and Freeport Authority (Apeco) has taken on a regional strategic value following China’s recent announcement of new rules banning foreign vessels from waters it considers its territory in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Angara, author of the law creating the controversial free port in his province, said Apeco’s air and sea ports are the closest to the potentially mineral and natural gas-rich Benham Rise.
“So Apeco is the only pier and airport on the Pacific [side of the Philippines], the only free trade zone in the Pacific,” Angara said at a news conference on Saturday. “There’s no other. That’s why it acquired a very strategic value.”
Angara said Apeco’s air and sea ports have acquired “strategic value” as a result of China’s “closing off” the South China Sea.
They claim even our Kalayaan [group of islands] as part of their [territory] and they have issued a regulation that they can board any ship that enters that area,” Angara said.
“In effect, they have put up a tollgate in that area,” he added.
Since the principal navigation route for transporters of crude oil from the Middle East to Asian countries like Japan, Korea and the Philippines has been closed off, Angara said, the Pacific Ocean will again be the main route for shipping fuel.
“So the Pacific is the most important maritime route again as it was in the galleon days and that’s why the Americans are deploying practically more than half of their military, as well as their naval and air forces, to the Pacific,” Angara said.
The United Nations earlier this year approved the Philippines’ claim to the 13-million-hectare area in the Pacific off the coast of Aurora known as Benham Rise.
“If there’s much gas in the Benham Rise and Benham Rise is an island submerged in the Pacific and the closest province to [it] is Aurora, then this port—both air and land—will become even more important,” Angara said.
He said those factors weren’t considered when the Apeco was being conceptualized.
“We only thought that Aurora is an underdeveloped area. It [is one of] the poorest 20 [provinces] and [Apeco] will benefit not just Aurora but also the landlocked provinces of Quirino, [Nueva] Vizcaya and southern Isabela,” Angara said.
President Aquino has been reported to have extended the review of the Apeco.
Mr. Aquino ordered the review after residents of Casiguran, Aurora, marched to Manila to protest the project whose development was depriving them of their land and degrading the environment.
Angara said the controversy had nothing to do with his decision to withdraw from the gubernatorial election in Aurora next year.
He said most of the opponents of the project are not from Aurora.
Angara’s brother, Baler Mayor Arthur Angara, is running for governor in his place.
Angara’s son, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, is running for the Senate under President Aquino’s Liberal Party.