Aurora ecozone marchers’ target: Meeting with Aquino
CABANATUAN CITY—With only about 150 kilometers left in their journey, more than 100 farmers, fishermen and indigenous peoples who have been marching from Casiguran, Aurora, since Nov. 24, are hoping to meet President Benigno Aquino to plead for his help to save their land and livelihood from an economic zone.
The marchers’ leaders said they wanted an independent review of the laws that created and expanded the scope of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (Apeco).
Congress, through Republic Act Nos. 9490 in 2007 and 10083 in 2010, created the 12,923-hectare Apeco. The main proponent, Sen. Edgardo Angara, foresees this as an engine of development for his home province and a gateway in the Pacific for investments to the Philippines.
After 10 days of walking at least 220 km, the group reached this Nueva Ecija city on Monday and held a forum on Tuesday to air their grievances against the project.
They said that with the operation of Apeco, at least 3,000 families would lose their lands and livelihood in areas covered by the 12,993-hectare special economic zone.
The marchers rested on Tuesday at Maria Assumpta Seminary, talked to reporters and shared their experiences with students of the College of Immaculate Conception here.
They also met with Cabanatuan Bishop Sofronio Bancud and Fr. Aldrin Domingo, executive director of Diocesan Social Action Center.
The youngest participant, Norman Abajon Bitigan, 8, vowed to finish the march.
“I will not stop marching until I reach Malacañang. I want to talk to the President and ask him, as a Christmas gift, that I and my mother are not evicted from the land I inherited from my late father. My legs are aching, but I can still go on,” said Bitigan, an Agta.
Bitigan is a Grade 1 pupil at Sariling Paaralan ng mga Agta in Barangay San Ildefonso in Casiguran. He skipped class to join the marchers. He is accompanied by his mother, Erlinda, 46.
Florentino Gapel, 75, the oldest marcher, said he wanted to tell Mr. Aquino that he would soon be evicted from land he has been tilling for decades.
“I will tell the President about the forthcoming order for my family to vacate the land I having been tilling for a long time because of Apeco,” said Gapel, a resident of Sitio Reserba in Barangay Esteves.
“I was hoping we can have a title for our land but what we are about to get is an order to vacate the property,” he said. Anselmo Roque, Armand Galang and Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon
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