The Aurora-Pacific Economic and Freeport Zone (Apeco), a P3-billion 12,900-hectare economic zone in Casiguran, Quezon, was branded by the Guidon, the official newspaper of Ateneo de Manila University, as “revealing an attitude that is insidiously totalitarian and marginalizing.” Apeco was coauthored by Aurora Rep. Sonny Angara, who is running for senator, and his father, Sen. Edgardo Angara.
Apeco promises to displace the local agriculture and fishery sectors that have been nurturing both the Agta Dumagat and Christian communities since time immemorial. Apeco is a misplaced development project that gives to the rich and denies to the poor. It will dislocate about 300 hectares of farm lands, affecting about 3,000 families or 15,000 individuals—but this is only the tip of the iceberg. In the long term, more of the 12,900 hectares and hundreds of thousands of people will be affected.
The Guidon reported that Sonny Angara admitted during a dialogue “inadequate consultation with the people of Casiguran” and “a need for a thorough review.” This is tantamount to admitting that the project is illegal, violating the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (Ipra), which requires proper public consultation and free prior and informed consent (FPIC).
At a dialogue with the protesters at the Ateneo campus in December 2012, President Aquino said he was ordering the National Economic and Development Authority to submit an evaluation report on Apeco. The report was submitted last April 18. But why was P2 billion in funds released even before then? Why was the cart put in front of the horse?
Dumagat and Christian farmers and fishermen conducted one of the longest protest marches in history, walking their slippers to a pulp for 18 days from Casiguran to the Ateneo grounds, for the dialogue. Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle was present to provide support to them. Late last month, they conducted an even longer march to the Supreme Court grounds in Baguio, then to the Department of Agrarian Reform compound in Manila, in the hope that someone would listen. People who ruin a lot of slippers during what seems like a heat wave must have something very important to say.
At the Ateneo dialogue, the President told the protesters to open their minds and listen, but it seemed it was he who needed to open his mind and listen to their desperate pleas. When the protesters asked him to freeze the P1-billion funds not yet released, he replied: “Hindi ako diktador. Bilang pangulo, executive director, ano ba ang i-e-execute ko? Kailangan kong ipatupad yung batas. Kung mali yung batas, papalitan natin. Pero habang batas yan, obligado po akong ipatupad.” (I’m not a dictator. Being the President, the executive director, what will I execute? I have to enforce the law. If the law is wrong, we will change it. But while it is a law, I am required to enforce it.)
In defending the Angara dynasty (Aurora Gov. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo included), the President seemed to be saying he would defend a “development” project for the vested interests of his powerful friends, no matter if the locals would be impoverished.
Talking of “kung mali yung batas,” there is an eerie abnormality in our jurisprudence which created Apeco in 2010 into Republic Act 10083, when it simply “lapsed into law.” The weird logic is, if no one objects, it becomes a law even if Congress does not pass it explicitly. It is a legal maneuver of shrewd lawmakers. Apeco was promulgated with a whimper, not a bang, by a “time lapse,” not by lawmakers.
Apeco actually violates a trilogy of laws, not to mention the Constitution itself (the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program): the Extension and Reform Law (RA 9700), by converting CARP lands into industrial zones; the Fisheries Code (RA 8550), by not having a planned relocation of affected fisherfolk; and the Ipra (RA 8371), by not having the required public consultations and the FPIC.
It is not a matter of amending the law if it is wrong, as the President said, but a matter of following the law. Apeco is a “behest law,” mimicking Marcos’ behest loans. There is a trend today of executive orders and laws supported by the President contradicting other laws, such as Executive Order 79, which contradicts the Mining Act.
The Apeco group was quick to call the protesters “communists.” I suppose it was the red habit of Cardinal Tagle that turned them off. Many other members of the Church are anti-Apeco, including Fr. Joefran Talaba, parish priest of Nuestra Señora de Salvacion in Baler, and Fr. Victor Gascon, SJ, of the Center for Family Ministries.
Agta spokesperson Armand dela Cruz spoke of the contentment, fulfillment, and happiness of his people: “Nabubuhay kami nang malaya (We live free). In the face of such deep happiness, who is the government—or Aquino, or the Angaras—to tell these people they are not truly happy, and their happiness can in fact only be secured through the imposition of this aggressive development project on their lives?”
The invasion of Casiguran by a powerful political dynasty close to the President will go down in history as his legacy. It is an example of vibrant feudalism within our weak democracy.
Bernie V. Lopez has been writing commentaries for the last 20 years, and is a radio-TV broadcaster. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org