Osmeña proposes zero budget for APECO

SENATOR Sergio “Serge” Osmena III asked the Senate to give zero budgets for Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (APECO), located inside farm and forest lands grabbed from indigenous peoples, because after 7 seven years of existence, P2 billion good money spent, but until now, there was no investors.

“Can you imagine, they spent P2 billion on a Freeport with no commercial activities, no investors. Practically, no business happening in the area after seven years of existence,” Osmena said.

According to Osmena, APECO was the brainchild of Senator Edgardo Angara, which asking for P353.5 million 2013 budget, started on a 500 hectares agricultural land until it expanded to the whole Casiguran Peninsula.

Apeco was created through RA 9490 in 2007 and amended through RA 10083 in 2010, sponsored by Angara in the Senate and Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara in the Lower House, with the endorsement of Governor Bellaflor Angara Castillo, aimed to attract foreign investors into Casiguran by offering tax incentives and infrastructure building projects.

Primarily, the land used in the building of APECO infrastructures and facilities were allegedly grabbed from local indigenous people where some were paid P45, 000 per hectare but sold later to APECO for P650,00 per hectare. Other lands were allegedly grabbed by “group of people” without just compensation.

“APECO paid more than P650, 000 per hectare for a coconut land previously purchased by Provincial Environment and Natural Office (PENRO) chief Benjamin Mina to local farmers for P45,000 per hectare,” Osmena said.

He added that APECO has been seizing large tracts of prime agricultural lands (520 hectares), and forest stewards arrangements (288 hectares) from farmers of Casiguran – The first of which is a clear violation of the CARPer Law or RA 9700.

Aside from this, APECO has intruded into the ancestral lands (11,900) hectares of Casiguran Agtas without their Free, Prior and informed Consent (FPIC), a violation of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act Law.

According to Osmena the free port now sits in a 12,000 hectares forest lands in Casiguran Peninsula, after APECO bought for P120 million the logging rights of Industries Development Corporation (IDC) owned by a certain Jojo Ong, who sits as a member of the five-man board.

“It was started as free trade zone with 500 hectares of lands, but it was upgraded into a free port, when Sen. Angara amended the law in 2010, then they bought the logging rights of IDC on 12,000 hectares of Integrated Forest Management Area (IFMA). So, the whole free port zone was practically a forest land,” Osmena said.

P200-M airport but no airplane

Osmena enumerated some unwarranted projects in the area is the P200 million airport but until today there is no traffic activities in the area. “The government spent P200 million to build the airport, but until now there was no traffic, no investors coming in.”

“Sa itinayong airport, walang investors or turista na lumalapag kundi kanilang (Angaras) chartered plane,” Osmena said.

Aside from the P200M airport, the government also built a P1.8 billion paved road from Baler to Casiguran, P500 million highway in Casiguran , anomalous P35 million San Ildefonso Core Housing Project, P30 million Calabangan River Flood Control Project, P10 million Casiguran Mriculture Park Project, P25 million Eco-Market Biomass Gasifier Plant, and P120 million purchasing of IDC IFMA rights,

“If you will look again on the first paragraph of the explanatory note in the proposed measure introduced in 2006, akala mo talagang in three years time, magkakaroon ng boom sa lugar, but after 7 years in 2013, nothing happens,” Osmena said.

“Now, they want to build another manufacturing sites in the area to build factories and plants but there was no investors coming in,” Osmena said.

Zero budget for APECO

With this, Osmena said he will opposed to give another P353.5 million to APECO which Angara is now defending in the plenary. “Congress can give any agency a zero budget. They can do that in the House, I can do that also here in the Senate.”

“Why build a manufacturing site when no one in interested in putting up a factory in the area? Sinong investors ang magpupunta sa Casiguran na sobrang layo,” Osmena said.

With Osmena are representatives from the IPs in the area led by Fr. Edwin Gariguez of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines –National Secretariat for Social Action (CBCP-NASSA).

“Unknown to most, however, much of the budget shelled out for the Aurora ecozone since 2007 has been funded into irregularity-riddled enterprises and subprojects. Often shrinking the most basic standards of transparency, accountability and grassroots participation, these ventures have mostly produced bungled outcomes,” Gariguez said

Meanwhile, 125 marchers representing 3,000 farmers, fishers and indigenous families from Casiguran, Aurora have recently begun undertaking a 21-day march from Casiguran to Metro Manila.

The march dubbed as “Lakad Katarungan”, lakad Matuwid na Daan” started last Saturday, November 24, 2012, and will culminate on December 13 with hopes to have a dialogue with President Benigno Aquino III in Malacanang Palace.

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