ACTING like an unrepentant Grinch – unlike the remorseful one in Dr. Seuss’ story – who stole
the Christmas of impoverished residents, President Aquino rejected the demands of farmers,
fisherfolk and indigenous people who marched at the height of Yuletide season from Casiguran
to Manila to protest the dubious ecozone in Aurora province.
This was how the Alliance of Progressive Labor portrayed the meeting last Dec. 11
between Aquino and about 120 marchers and their supporters, since it was more of P-Noy’s
staunchly defending the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (Apeco) than
listening to the grievances and pleas of the protesters who represent 2,983 families.
Apeco, which covers 12,923 hectares of land and coast facing the Pacific Ocean, is being
charged by the protesters with alleged large-scale land grabbing of prime agricultural lots
owned or tilled by poor farmers, unauthorized incursions into the communities of indigenous
peoples (IPs), especially the Agtas, and uprooting fishermen’s village.
Apeco is also accused of threatening to destroy the lush forests in Aurora when it
supposedly granted P120 million for “logging rights” to a Quezon City-based company.
The anti-Apeco movement disclosed that Republic Act No. 9490 in 2007 and RA 10083
in 2010 – the law that created Apeco and its amendments (which lapsed into law), respectively
– were devoid of genuine consultations.
Protesters further claimed that RA 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991 was
violated because Apeco was established without the Casiguran municipal government’s official
Apeco and the Aurora province are closely related to the Angara clan: The main authors
of RA 9490 and RA 10083 are Sen. Edgardo Angara and his son, Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara of
the Lone District of Aurora. The congressman is included in the ruling Liberal Party’s senatorial
slate in next year’s elections. The provincial governor, Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, is the senator’s
RA 9490 and RA 10083 have provided P350 million annual budget for the Apeco
project, which Sen. Angara depicted as “transparent” and backed by a “silent majority in Aurora
who stand to gain from the employment, livelihood, investment and tourism that Apeco will
However, an anti-Apeco supporter bared that even Sen. Angara acknowledged that the
“locators” for the Apeco project “have no feasibility studies” yet, thus giving uncertainty to its
In the end, after a 350-kilometer and 18-day march that started on Nov. 24 in
Casiguran, Aurora, the core demands of the protesters to withhold the Apeco funding and
helped cancel this project were squarely rebuffed by Aquino. Their march was not even
allowed to reach Malacañang – they were deprived of that symbolic climax – when they were
hastily met by Aquino and his Cabinet in a seminary gym in Quezon City. The usual and vague
“review” of the project was all Aquino could promise – again.
After all, APL lamented, Aquino voted for the bill creating Apeco when he was still a
senator; the Angaras are stalwarts of his administration; and his “concept of development” is
different from that of the vast majority of people he is supposed to uphold, as an IP
representative in that “dialogue” eloquently noted.