Press Release
November 27, 2012

APECO critics urge Zero 2013 Budget for Aurora Ecozone

On the same day as a possible Senate budget approval of the scandal-ridden Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO), various critics of the megaproject have called upon President Aquino and forward-looking lawmakers to block its government funding for 2013. An approval of APECO's proposed P353.5-million budget, they said, will continue to waste untold sums of public revenues.

"The Philippine government has already shelled out more than P800-million to fund APECO's construction, even though the ecozone has brought almost no benefits to the marginalized sectors of Casiguran," said Fr. Edwin Gariguez of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action (CBCP-NASSA). "The Aquino administration must instead hold it accountable for its incompetence and past mishaps, rather than enlarging APECO's budget for 2013."

APECO's proponents have long alleged that the construction of the 12,923-hectare ecozone in the town of Casiguran will usher in a new era of economic progress and industrial development for Aurora province.

Unbeknownst to most, however, much of the budget shelled out for the Aurora ecozone since 2007 has been funneled into irregularity-riddled enterprises and subprojects. Often shirking the most basic standards of transparency, accountability and grassroots participation, these ventures have mostly produced bungled outcomes.

"APECO has been spending millions of pesos, but it still has no feasibility studies for all its proposed businesses," asserted Senator Sergio Osmena, who has been tightly questioning the budget allocations of APECO since 2010. "What APECO has been doing--these are all pies in the sky!"

For example, the Freeport authority has claimed that a P10-million mariculture project in the Casiguran bay would boost the livelihoods of the town's native Agtas and fisherfolk. In early 2011, APECO, backed by the Bureau of Fisheries, established an entire chain of milkfish-cultivating fish cages spanning more than 300 hectares of the Casiguran bay--as an alleged affirmation of its municipal development agenda.

Yet these fish cages have actually been widely opposed by most of Casiguran's local fishers, explained Pio Tresvalles, a local fisherfolk leader from Casiguran. Moreover, the very same mariculture project proved to be vulnerable to the storms that usually buffet the province of Aurora. After the devastation wrought by Typhoon Pedring in September 2011, most fish cages put up by APECO were damaged beyond repair by a sudden onslaught of sea surges.

At present, the P10-million project lies unused and neglected. Yet APECO, in its 2013 budget proposal, has requested yet another P10-million to revive and expand the already-botched venture.

"The fisherfolk of Casiguran have had enough with APECO's promises," said Tresvalles. "Despite the money that it has received since 2007, APECO has still failed to provide relocation homes for the 28 fisherfolk families that it has already evicted due to the creation of its airstrip. Most of these funds have instead gone to supporting wasteful initiatives like the mariculture fish cage project. We absolutely refuse to call this 'development.'"

Meanwhile, 125 marchers representing 3000 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, and will culminate on December 13 with hopes to have a dialogue with President Benigno Aquino III in Malacañang Palace.

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