Senator wants P40-M Apeco ‘caretaker fund’
MANILA, Philippines—Senator Serge Osmeña III is again pushing for a sparse budget for the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (Apeco) for 2015, insisting that giving it the full allocation it had sought would be a “total waste of money.”
Apeco has sought a P250-million budget for next year, but Osmeña said he would rather give it a P40-million caretaker budget. According to him, he believes there’s no chance for a free port to develop in Apeco’s area in Casiguran as it envisioned given its location.
Even ports nearer to Manila had not been fully utilized, because shippers were reluctant to use these, he told reporters after the Senate’s hearing on the Apeco budget.
“Without critical mass, with nothing to load or unload for the ships, ships would not go to the port. They will not use that as an alternate port to Manila because they have nothing to pick up,” he said.
Apeco president Gerardo Erquiza Jr. said the zone should be given a chance to thrive. He told reporters that Apeco was very promising and that there were many interested parties seeking to do business there.
Once the proper infrastructure and facilities have been set up, businesses would flock to the area, he said. Completing these facilities would cost about P9 billion, and so far just P470 million has been spent, and the power and water lines have yet to be set up.
“Investors will come when everything’s complete,” Erquiza said.
Apeco officials have been saying year after year that there were interested parties seeking to become locators there, but despite this, there remain no companies setting up shop there, Osmeña said.
For the free port to become a manufacturing hub, it has to have access to the kind of labor it needs, as well as resources and a market, he said. But these are lacking, he said.
Christian Monsod of Task Force Anti-Apeco appealed to the Senate on Friday to provide funds only for the caretaker functions of the authority until a new developmental plan for the area has been approved by the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda).
Apeco should also be denied a full budget until legal and constitutional issues concerning it have been resolved, Monsod said.
Aurora residents have petitioned the Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional the laws creating Apeco on the grounds that it was given unprecedented sovereign power and that the measures were approved without consulting affected communities.
Apeco critics have also pointed out that it failed the Neda’s economic viability assessment.
Reacting to calls to slash Apeco’s 2015 budget, Erquiza said this was coming from political opponents of the people who had set up Apeco.
Many people have actually expressed support for it, he said, because it has led to the improvements of the road network in Aurora, which has benefited many.
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