Aurora folk march back to Manila to press fight

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MANILA, Philippines—After four months of allegedly unrealized promises,  residents of Casiguran, Aurora province, decided they have had enough and marched back to Manila.

Prelates have also expressed impatience with the delay of the government’s delivery on its promise to thousands of residents allegedly threatened by the operations of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (Apeco), which was described by a bishop as “an example of the evils of a political dynasty.”

On Tuesday, some 150 Casiguran residents occupied the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) head office on Elliptical Road in Quezon City to demand that President Aquino and the different agencies abide by their commitments during a dialogue held in December last year.

In a statement, Pinagsamang Lakas ng mga Casiguranin (Piglasca) president Vicente Convicto said that since they met with President Aquino, there had been very few developments in the delivery of the government’s commitments to them.

“The economic review of Apeco has still not yet been released, even though it was assured to us in December that it would be out in two to three months’ time,” he said.

The review was to be undertaken by the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).

Matter of life and death

“We are growing more and more restless, because even while progress on the government’s promises have been delayed, Apeco has been violating even more of our laws since then. Our government must understand that this is a matter of life or death for us,” he said.

Convicto claimed that several incidents of logging and quarrying operations, and land conversions linked to Apeco had taken place in Casiguran since January.

At a press conference on “Apeco: Why Dynasties and Development are Incompatible” held Tuesday at the DAR office, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo expressed the bishops’ support for the crusade of Casiguran residents.

Pabillo, who chairs the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA)-Justice and Peace, cited Apeco as an example of the evils of a political dynasty.

He said those behind the Apeco had the machinery and hold government funds.

“If there is a political dynasty, there is no system of checks and balance. What the former governor did will not be investigated by the new governor if they are related. But if there is no political dynasty, there are checks and balance and we would see that a project is really for the good of all and not only for the benefit of a few groups and one family,” he explained.

Pabillo also scored the long delay and slow progress of the Neda review findings.

In a dialogue held in December last year at the Ateneo de Manila University, the Casiguran marchers were promised the issuance of ancestral domain titles, the renewal of social forestry contracts, and livelihood for small fisherfolk following the release of an Apeco review by the Neda.

“We left Manila last Dec. 19 trusting that our government would stay true to its word. We will be returning to Manila as it has mostly failed to live up to its promises. We will not leave this time until we are sure that truth and justice prevail in Casiguran,” Convicto vowed.

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