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Apeco’s story of failures and betrayal

05:03 AM October 31, 2018

On Oct. 9, Sen. JV Ejercito held deliberations on the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority’s (Apeco) 2019 budget. Apeco had initially requested an allocation of P58,721,000; Apeco deputy administrator Edward Pineda was quoted as saying: “[i]t is the right of Apeco to be funded.”

But, when it comes to Apeco and its track record so far, questions must be asked: Is it not the right of farmers to have ownership over the land they till? Is it not the right of fisherfolk to have access to the seas? Is it not the right of indigenous peoples to provide free and informed prior consent when it comes to the use of their land? And is it not the right of the Filipino people to demand that our money be put toward projects that are productive for all?

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Apeco seems to think otherwise.

Task Force Anti-Apeco — a public interest coalition consisting of farmers, fisherfolk and the indigenous peoples of Casiguran, supported by prominent civil society groups and organizations—maintains that the following reasons are enough to stop the funding and operations of Apeco: violations of multiple laws and provisions in the 1987 Constitution, the project’s history of financial irregularities and wastage of the people’s money, a lack of any significant benefit over 11 years, and the harm it has brought to members of the community.

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Apeco’s problems can be traced to its roots in 2006, when then Rep. Sonny Angara and former senator Edgardo Angara filed bills to create a 500-hectare free-trade zone in Aurora. Amended three years later, the area coverage increased to 12,923 hectares of land and water, and was renamed the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority — all without consultation with the people living in the area.

The law violated the Local Government Code, the Philippine Fisheries Code, the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, and various agrarian laws, while also proceeding without a comprehensive master plan, a comprehensive land use plan, and any assurance of the project’s feasibility.

Apeco’s history of failures and violations was conveniently left out during the budget deliberations, but official records bear testimony to it. For instance, environmental studies had suggested that the storm-stricken area was not geophysically fit to host industrial development. Over the years, Apeco’s stubbornness has cost the Filipino people over P31 million in repairs on facilities alone.

The National Economic and Development Authority recommended in 2013 that Apeco focus instead on developing the agro-aqua industry. Apeco also failed in this regard, and wasted money on an inoperative ice plant and on ineffective fish cages and seaweed cultivation efforts.

An airport that is regularly touted as an achievement has not hosted any commercial flights to Casiguran in its entire history. Instead, it has brought displacement and flooding to fishing communities.

The 2017 Commission on Audit (COA) report put it simply: Apeco “has yet to present significant desirable outcomes” despite already having used up P1.7 billion of taxpayer money.

Its records also show that Apeco is facing unsettled notices of disallowance amounting to almost P417 million — the people’s money spent on “illegal, irregular, unnecessary, excessive, extravagant, or unconscionable” expenses that Apeco has yet to explain. Still, they ask to be given more.

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Task Force Anti-Apeco asks that no more of the Filipino people’s money be granted to Apeco, that a COA special audit be conducted, and that Apeco’s operations be halted. Apeco has betrayed the Filipino people more than enough.

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Tristan Angeles and Manuel Angulo are members of Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan, a part of the Task Force Anti-Apeco (TFAA) network, and of the TFAA national secretariat.

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TAGS: apeco, Inquirer Commentary, jv ejercito, Manuel Angulo, Task Force Anti-Apeco, TFAA, Tristan Angeles
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