The regional farmers’ group Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL, Peasant Alliance in Central Luzon), Panlalawigang Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Aurora (PAMANA, Provincial Peasant Alliance of Aurora) and their national organization Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) led the National Fact-finding and Solidarity Mission on APECO in Casiguran town in Aurora. The mission was joined by national-based groups, the militant fisherfolk group Pamalakaya-Pilipinas, church group Promotion of Peoples’ Response (PCPR), Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), Pagkakaisa para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (PATRIA), government employees’ group Courage and Government Employees for Genuine Land Reform (GE4GLR), indigenous peoples’ group KAMP and Katribu Partylist and Karapatan human rights group. From Central Luzon, groups such as Bayan-Gitnang Luson, Karapatan, ACT, Agham, LFS, Hacienda Luisita farmworkers’ group AMBALA, Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Tarlac (AMT) and AMGL-Nueva Ecija joined the activity.
The groups said that the activity was to identify the effects of Republic Act 10083 or the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Act (APECO) on the residents of Casiguran and nearby towns as the law provisioned to cover 13,000-hectares of land. APECO was sponsored by the Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara and his father Sen. Edgardo Angara at the House of Representatives and senate, respectively. It was enacted on April 22, 2010, about a year after it was filed on the lower house on April 20, 2011.
“Initial reports and previous results of information gathering illustrate that 5 barangays with a population of 5,430 are directly affected by APECO. The lands and homes of farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous people are threatened to be converted by the project,” said Joseph Canlas, AMGL chair.
“APECO is a classic model of a legislated program that is only to serve the interest of big landlords and bureaucrat capitalists such as the Angaras and their foreign partners at the cost of destroying the lives and livelihood of the Casiguran farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous peoples,” Canlas added.
APECO is a blown up version of Republic Act 9490 or Aurora Special Economic Zone Act of 2007 (ASEZA). Then, ASEZA only covered 493-hectares of land involving Brgy. Estevez and Dibet. Subsequently, APECO classified the ASEZA coverage as Parcel 1 and adding Parcel 2 covering 12,427-hectares, involving an additional 3 barangays mainly along the peninsula of Casiguran. The APECO program is composed of residential, commercial, industrial, eco-tourism, highways, ports and airport projects.
“The communities’ shorelines are comparable to Boracay beach resorts, thus, the Angaras are very eager to convert them into eco-tourism sites and to rake up profits from investors. APECO also include the construction of the international port at the Casiguran sound that would definitely destroy the marine environment and source of livelihood of the local fisherfolk,” Canlas said.
The Aurora-based farmers’ group PAMANA reported that the APECO project is threatening to affect farmers who have been cultivating the lands since the 1960s; farmlands at Brgy. Esteves; farmers who have Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA), Certificate of Land Transfer (CLT), Emancipation Patents (EP) and Integrated Social Forestry (ISF) certificate; home and livelihood of fisherfolk communities; Dumagat tribal communities and ancestral domain; conversion of barangay site; land grabbing and conversion of private lands of residents and public lands.
PAMANA and AMGL said that the Angaras engaged in massive land grabbing and coercion among farmers to sell their lands.
The groups said that the residents clearly oppose APECO as established by the presence of the military at the area. Elements of the military and their agents are believed to be the perpetrators of various human rights abuses committed at the area.
PAMANA reported abuses such as 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; 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 and strafing of parish priest’s house at Brgy. Bianoan, Casiguran.
In addition, the church group PCPR added that they have recorded various rights abuses during their fact-finding mission last year. They cited the strafing of the house of a parish priest at Brgy. Bianoan on June 26, 2010; harassment on a human rights advocate on October 8, 2009; harassment on a lay minister of Brgy. Bianoan on July 2010; red-tagging by the military at their radio program on an executive director of a church-based institution; attempted demolition and deceptive relocation efforts.
“This would be the start of a sustained campaign to expose the anti-farmer and anti-people political dynasty of the Angaras. The result of this mission would describe how they swindled and snatched the people of their sources of livelihood. They should rethink their plan of Aurora as this would reach as far as edges of the world with the sound of the people’s scream to protect their rights to land and livelihood, protect the environment and the future of Aurora,” Canlas said. #