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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Musings on APECO: A Story of Two Sides

Last Friday, representatives of the Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB) conducted a voter's education session with the faculty. At some point, however, the speaker presented a video showcasing the issue surrounding the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport, or APECO, for short. While I felt that the video was biased against a particular candidate (Angara), and was out of place in what was supposed to be a voter's education session, the video piqued my interest, compelling me to do my own look into the issue.

In a nutshell, the law creating the APECO was originally passed in 2007, and amended in 2010. According to the GMA Network news story, however, "in October 2011, controversy struck when 200 farmers and fisher folk, collectively called the Casiguran Marchers and led by partylist Anakpawis and Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA), asked the high court to “strike down and declare as unconstitutional” laws that created APECO."

The crux of the matter for the farmers appears to be that the indigenous people living in the APECO area were not properly consulted, and, as a result of the application of the APECO law, these people would be displaced, which would constitute a violation of the laws governing indigenous people.  

However, the SC has not ruled on the issue, which prompted the farmers to march in December 2012, from Casiguran in Aurora province, all the way to Metro Manila, in order to dialogue with the President in the hope that the President would see things their way. However, in their meeting with the President, the President said that he would ask the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) to review the situation. He also noted that there was a law establishing APECO, and he claimed that he couldn't go against the law.

In a May 1 Guidon report, a number of concerned individuals, including economist Solita Monsod and her husband, former Comelec char Christian Monsod, accompanied the farmers in a meeting with NEDA officials to press for updates to the review. While some points were raised, particularly the possible rethinking of the freeport, the group came out of the meeting dissatisfied, and noted that a number of requirements that should have been completed were not met before the APECO was established.

The NEDA review, which came out last Monday, called for a rethinking of the freeport model for the APECO; instead, the NEDA review suggested that APECO be made into an agro-aqua and ecotourism zone, apparently to try to justify the public money already spent in developing the zone. Economist and Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Cielito Habito questioned the NEDA review, pointing out the numerous problems surrounding the development of the economic zone. Fellow economist and Inquirer Solita Collas-Monsod was more direct, calling the NEDA recommendation a "huge mistake".

The issue may have an adverse effect on one of the President's senatorial bets, Rep. Sonny Angara, since it was he and his father, Sen. Edgardo Angara, who helped shepherd the bill through the legislative mill. Sen. Angara has had a number of decidedly nasty debates with fellow Senator Sergio Osmena III over the issue.

In the video presented by SLB, Sen. Osmena III questions the feasibility of the APECO, and asks what the return of investment would be. Sen. Angara then gave an analogy of former China leader Deng Xiaopeng's establishment of a freeport without the need for a feasibility study. That analogy rang false to me, since there are many differences between Xiaopeng and Angara, not to mention China's system of government and the Philippines.

Another clip within the video shows Rep. Angara conceding that not all sectors were consulted regarding APECO.

At the same time, APECO is not without its supporters. Malaya columnist Ducky Paredes casts his doubts on the legitimacy of the farmers' claims. Journal Online's Willie Baun questions the farmers for their march, and claims that APECO will bring economic prosperity to the region. Of course, these columns were written before the NEDA came out with its assessment on the zone, so I'm not sure if the two will continue to sing praises of APECO.

Even the native Dumagats are split on APECO, causing rifts even among family members, as some support APECO, while others oppose it.

The title of the video shown by SLB was "Progress for Whom", which is apt, considering that the two sides of the issue represent two sides of progress: one for the common people, and one for the leaders. While the Angaras promise all sorts of prosperity for their province, unfortunately, I've seen too many politicians promise prosperity for their province, with little or nothing to show. It should be noted that the Angaras have been a power in Aurora for some time, why is development only being implemented now? The same question can be asked of any national leader whose province continues to be poor, despite the high profile of the leader.

The APECO issue also looks to cast doubt on the daang matuwid of President Aquino. If indeed there are anomalies in the establishment of the APECO, how shall the President proceed, considering that one of the people he has tapped to help "build" the daang matuwid happens to be one of the architects of APECO. 

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