Groups urge Aquino to support zero budget for Apeco

VARIOUS organizations today urged President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to support the initiative of administration senator Sergio Osmena III to block the proposed P 353 million budget for next year for the controversial Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (Apeco) project.

In a joint press statement, the activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), Panlalawigang Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Aurora (Pamana), the umbrella allliance Resist Apeco, Defend Aurora Movement and the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) said President Aquino should consider the collective interest of the rural people of Aurora instead of honoring his political conract and alliance with the ruling Angara dynasty in the province.

“President Aquino should break his ties with the Angara which was conceivedc in the name of political horsetrading and political accomodation. National interest is pushing Malacanang to drop this Public-Private Partnership (PPP) inspired large-scale plunder and grandslam landgrabbing in Aurora.

At this point, all the President has to do is certify the zero-budget proposal for Apeco an urgent act of legislation which Senator Osmena has proposed,” said Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France.

At the same time, the Pamalakaya official demand a congressional audit of the P 2 billion taxpayers’ money spent for Apeco over the last six years. “Imagine, P 2 billion had been spent for this white elephant project. That is terrible”, France added.

France said two major protests one in Casiguran, the site of Apeco and another one in Central Aurora will take place on December 8 and December 10 respectively to show the people’s strong opposition to Apeco project, contrary to claims of Senator Edgardo Angara, Rep. Sonny Angara and Governor Bella Angara-Castillo that the ecozone project enjoy the full support of the people.

Osmena yesterday vowed to block the P 353 million proposed budget for Apeco next year. However, some observers said it would be tough task to carry out since there might be enough senators present when he makes the motion because most of them leave the session hall as the debates go on.

On September this year, Pamalakaya and various organizations in Aurora appealed to Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno to expedite the decision on the petion they filed on October 10, 2011 asking the high tribunal to declare laws creating Apeco unconstitutional.

To give you a brief backgrounder, on October 10, 2011, Pamalakaya et al filed a petition at the high tribunal putting to question the constitutionality of laws that created Apeco, first is the Aurora Special Economic Zone Act of 2007 and the amending law by virtue of Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Free Port Act of 2010.

On December 8, 2011 and in May 2012, letters of grave concern addressed to former Chief Justice Renato Corona and 14 other associate justices were sent to appeal for the speedy resolution of the case.

In those letters we expressed a collective grave concernon the court’s lukewarm response to the constitutional challenge against Apeco. Until now, the Supreme Court has yet to decide on the legal inquiry lodged by Pamalakaya and other rural people groups in Aurora province for reasons privy to the Chief Justice and 14 other justices.

Honorable Chief Justice, in our petition, we cited several grounds why RA 9490 (Aseza law) and RA 10083 (Apeco law) should be declared unconstitutional by the high tribunal.

We, the petitioners first argued that the Supreme Court is not precluded by the rule on the hierarchy of courts from entertaining their petition since the issue involved is the constitutionality of the laws and does not involve factual bur legal questions.

The second argument says RA 9490 and RA 10083 violated the constitutional provisions pertaining to agrarian reform and social justice.

In our petition, leaders of Pamalakaya, Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL), Pamana, Resist Apeco, Defend Aurora Movement and Anakpawis party list Rep. Mariano asserted that agrarian reform and social justice were extremely violated by ASEZA and its amendatory law (Apeco). The laws that breathed life to Apeco patently disregarded the agrarian reform beneficiaries of the agricultural lands awarded to them by the national government when Apeco started covering lands already covered and awarded through government land reform programs.

The third argument raised against ASEZA/Apeco is its gross violation of fisherfolk rights as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution and relevant laws. The petitioners maintained that under Section 7, Article 13 of the 1987 Charter it is explicitly defined that “the states shall protect the rights of subsistence fishermen, especially of local communities, to the preferential use of local marine and fishing resources, both inland and offshore.

The groups argued in their petition that provisions of RA 9490 and RA 10083 make no explicit mention of fishermen but the areas these laws subject to the establishment of ecozone cover the residences of subsistence fishermen and their fishing grounds.

They stated that in pursuant to Section 3 of RA 9490 and RA 10083, the following land areas of Aurora are subject for conversion into a free port but are currently lands that adjoin the fishing grounds of fisherfolk such as the shorelines, bays and inland rivers of barangays Esteves, San Ildefonso, Cozo and Dibet.

Pamalakaya also mentioned in the petition that the stretch of land bordering the shorelines of saltwater fishing of Aurora affected with the creation of ASEZA starting from the Southern tip of the peninsula of San Ildefonso going to Casiguran Bay to the opposite shore of the Casiguran sound is around 57.4 kilometers.

The group also argued in our petition the sorry plight of indigenous people another whose rights are also blatantly violated by the ecozone project. RA 10083 covers the areas being claimed by the Agtas and Dumagats in barangays San Ildefonso, Culat and Cozo as part of their ancestral domain.  The Apeco project will cover around 11,900 hectares of the indigenous people’s claim for ancestral domain in Casiguran.
Pamalakaya also asserted that RA 9490 and RA 10083 also violated the due process and the non-impairment clauses guaranteed under the 1987 Philippine constitution.

The group asserted that various features of RA 9490 and RA 10083 which glaringly conflict with other provisions of the 1987 Constitution and other national codes and laws.
a.      The Aurora SEZ can take up land and expand itself without further legislative action.

b.      The APECO can likewise borrow funds from foreign sources and incur indebtedness without need of the concurrence of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas contrary to the express provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

c.       RA 10083 also authorizes foreign investors under the guise of private enterprises to operate public utilities in flagrant contravention of the policies enunciated in the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

d.      RA 10083 also compulsorily acquires productive lands and marine resources for an admittedly unprofitable venture from the standpoint of the majority of the Filipino People and leaves the affected communities with no means of livelihood.

e.       Taxpayers’ money is spent on a non-profitable venture without a clear public purpose but only for the benefit of private business, big corporations and the officers of APECO.

f.       In RA 9490, at Section 23, the powers of government are effectively decentralized and placed within the control and jurisdiction of the Aurora Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA).

g.      RA 10083 likewise provides for a Board of Directors of the APECO that a single politically powerful family can control perpetually.

Named respondents in the petition were Apeco officials as represented by its board composed of Roberto K. Mathay, President and CEO, Aurora Gov. Bella Angara-Castillo, Rep. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, Mayor Victorio Briones of Dilasag, Aurora and Harley Rose Alcantara Daquioag, representing the workers in the board, House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile for Philippine Congress which enacted Aseza and Apeco laws.

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