By Gerry Albert Corpuz and Katrina Heredera
MANILA, Philippines- A group of small fisherfolk in the Philippines had asked members of the Philippine parliament to investigate the role of their colleague on the ambitious free port project in Central Luzon ,which it said is inimical to people’s interest.
Leaders of the activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) went to the Philippine Senate yesterday to personally deliver its letter of appeal to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to have Senator Edgardo Angara investigated on the controversial Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Free Port Project (Apeco) in Casiguran, Aurora province.
Pamalakaya vice chairperson for Luzon Salvador France also furnished copies of their letter of appeal to the Senate President to Senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Alan Peter Cayetano, Chiz Escudero, Francis ‘Kiko” Pangilinan, Gregorio Honasan and Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
In their two-page letter of appeal to Enrile, the militant group said the affected farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people of Aurora province urge honorable office of the Senate President to conduct a thoroughgoing investigation on the life-threatening impacts of Apeco project to these sectors.
“Honorable Senate President, the APECO project is a total menace to the rights to land of the farmers, even fisherfolk and other sectors residing on the affected barangays of Casiguran. If not stopped, this project might lead to the whole destruction of Casiguran and nearby towns in Aurora province,” France said in the appeal.
The letter further reads: “The APECO project is the brainchild of Senator Edgardo Angara, his son Rep. Sonny Angara and the senator’s sister Aurora Gov. Bella Angara-Castillo and they should be blamed for the current chaos and chronicles of land grabbing in the Casiguran.”
According to a report filed by organizers of a recent fact-finding mission held in Casiguran from June 22-25, the Apeco project also affected farmers include those who have actual titles like Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs) and Integrated Social Forestry certificates (ISF).
“Mr. Senate President please take into account that generations of farmers have been cultivating lands under President Manuel Quezon’s Proclamation 467 and Proclamation 723 of Governor-general Frank Murphy during the American occupation, and they too are objects of landgrabbing and displacement,” Pamalakaya noted.
According to the group, to fast track the eviction of farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous communities opposed to Apeco project, the proponents employ the military under the 48th Infantry Battalion, Bravo Company to harass the opposition to Apeco and create a culture of fear among the residents. The military base in barangay halls and blend with residents to serve their purpose for Apeco project.
Pamalakaya said a case in point took place in Brgy. Esteves, where a PENRO’s official known as Miña harassed an elderly peasant woman when he arrived with armed police on February 10, 2010 and coerced farmer residents to vacate their farms. Miña also poked a gun at a woman on March 11, 2008 at Brgy. Dibet.
“The military elements also harassed upland farmers at Brgy. Cozo on September 27, 2010. Farmers also believe that some of their barangay officials, particularly Brgy. Cozo and Esteves are being intimidated by APECO officials thus, abdicating to help those threated to be displaced,” the group said.
The national fact finding mission which Pamalakaya joined last month had reported that residents from the 5 barangays are usually opposing the APECO project. Some residents such as in Brgy. San Ildefonso and Culat said they are not familiar with the project as there were no consultations held before the enactment of the law and they oppose it as they concern about their sources of livelihood such as their farms and fishing.
“We are willing to provide more information about the impacts of the projects, and the leaders and residents of affected farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people are willing to come out in the open and testify on the increasing difficulties they suffered once the Senate approves the call for the investigation of the Apeco project,” said Pamalakaya.
The militant group said the project is being rushed by the proponents led by the Angara family as indicated by the recent action of the Aurora office of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) where the agency pursued a P 418-million peso worth of construction and road projects to pave way for Apeco project which it said is the ambitious project of the ruling Angara dynasty in the province.
Pamalakaya asserted the DPWH-Aurora is set to complete infrastructure projects necessary to jumpstart the free port project in Aurora. The group said the P 418-M funds allocated by DPWH in Aurora was meant to complete 71 projects and the completion of 9.16 kilometers of national roads that include the Baler-Cemento Road, the San Luis-Maria-Aurora-Castaneda road and the Baler-Dicolayungan road.
The group noted that the P 418-million Apeco driven projects were carry-overs of previous projects which were unfinished in 2009 and were continued in 2010. There were 66 carry-over projects, 26 were completed, 17 still ongoing and 23 are yet to be started. #