Brief Background of APECO
The Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Act of 2010 or APECO was enacted on April 22, 2010. This is a revised and enlarged version of the Aurora Special Economic Zone Act of 2007 or ASEZA that was enacted on June 29, 2007. Both programs were passed under the Arroyo government and the Angaras are seated at the House of Representatives, Senate and provincial government.
APECO based on the laws passed by former administration such as the Special Economic Zone Act of 1995 during the Ramos government and particular for Aurora Estrada’s Proclamation No. 233 on January 27, 2000. In 2000, land speculator Atty. Romeo G. Roxas of Green Circle Properties planned the Pacific Coast City project covering 80,000-hectares in Aurora and Quezon boundary. On December 10, 1997, the Angaras, then Rep. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo (sister of Sen. Angara) and Sen. Edgardo Angara proposed a special economic zone for Aurora that reached its third reading only in 8 days. The people of Aurora opposed this bill and subsequently Roxas’ land grabbing was exposed.
After this period, the Angaras launched their systematic purchase and control ov vast lands, coerced farmers to sell lands including those who have Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA). Unknown to farmers, the Angaras also maneuvered to titling of lands named after the dummy corporations they have set up.
The passage of ASEZA was controversial because there were no public consultations with those affected held. This was filed by Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara as House Bill 10293 in congress, alongwith Sen. Angara’s filing of the senate version. At the local level, Aurora governor Bellaflor Angara initiated a resolution supporting the bills on January 29, 2007. The bills were speedily approved at both chambers during the special sesssion on February 19 to 20, 2007. The bill was signed by Arroyo on June 29, 2007. The enactment pushed through amidst the opposition of the people of Aurora.
The ASEZA targetted the 500-hectares at Brgy. Estevez and Brgy. Dibet of Casiguran town, with a population of 2,300 residents. In addition, the law planned the coverage of 2,000-hectares of public lands.
On April 20, 2009, Rep. Angara filed the House Bill 6213 to revise ASEZA to being APECO. Likewise, Sen. Angara filed the Senate Bill 3408 and 3430 on August 25, 2009 and September 8, 2009, respectively. The major difference of APECO is the coverage of a total of 12,923-hectares in Casiguran. This was hastily enacted on April 22, 2010, only 1 year from its filing at congress.
Effects of APECO
APECO is composed of 2 parcels, Parcel 1 (from the ASEZA provision) involves 493-hectares in Brgy. Estevez and Dibet, while Parcel 2 involves 12,427-hectares covering Brgy. Cozo, Culat and San Ildefonso as special economic zone. The program is composed of residential, commercial and industrial projects, ports, eco-tourism, highway, airport and more. The affected 5 barangays have a population of 5,430 residents.
At present, APECO affects the following:
- Farmers who have been cultivating the lands since the 1960s
- Farmlands at Brgy. Esteves
- Farmers who have CLOA, EP and ISF certificate
- Home and livelihood of fisherfolk communities
- Dumagat tribal communities and ancestral domain
- Conversion of barangay site
- Private lands of residents
- Public lands
Rights abuses also worsened to those who oppose APECO:
- Filing of trumped up charges and coercion of tribal leaders to support the program
- Coverage of ancestral lands of Dumagat, instigating conflict among indigenous people
- Criminalization of upland farming
- Threats of cancellation of CLOA, EP, ISF certificates
- Forced and deceptive buying of private lands
- Fencing of bay areas of fishing communities
- Harassment of barangay officials
- Military deployment including 48th Infantry Battalion of the Phil. Army, Navy and Marines
- Harassment of sectoral leaders opposing APECO
- Strafing of parish church at Brgy. Bianoan, Casiguran
Presently, the administration building, airport is under construction, surveying and fencing are implemented, drawing in of foreign investors and deception to people such as guarantee of fish cages to the fisherfolk.
Amidst the big challenge, the Panlalawigang Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Aurora (Provincial Peasant Alliance of Aurora, PAMANA – Aurora) is active with the general people’s opposition of APECO. PAMANA-Aurora has led mobilizations, dialogues, lobbying, petition signing and media work to gather support. Although there were initial efforts, the campaign against APECO, protection of people’s rights and environment needs more support of different sectors from the province, region and national center.