By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Residents of Casiguran municipality, Aurora province are urging President Benigno Aquino III to stop the development of Aurora Ecozone, which they said had resulted in human-rights violations.
A vocal critic of the project survived an attack last June 26. At around 2 a.m. that day, unidentified men fired guns at the Nuestra Senora de Salvacion Parish in Bgy. Bianoan, Cagisuran. Luckily, the parish priest, Fr. Joefran Talaban, was not hit.
Eddie Pujeda of the Justice and Peace Action Group (JPAG) said the perpetrators fled on board a black van toward the direction of the office of Aurora Special Economic Zone Authority (Aseza). Pujeda believes the attack was meant to compel the priest to stop his opposition to the Aurora Ecozone.
The Aurora Ecozone would cover the barangays of Esteves, Dibet and Dibacong, all in the municipality of Casiguran and would be managed and operated by the Aseza. The area has access to both the Pacific Ocean and China Sea.
Aseza is also envisioned to be a model agro-marine center with a fish port, processing and canning facilities. Reefer facilities and the mariculture of high value marine products would also be the key features of the ecozone. Aside from its agriculture and natural resources, the province is also promoting it as a tourism attraction.
In August 2009, during her visit to Baler, Aurora, then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said the economic zone would hasten the influx of investments. To be able to do so, Aseza would be granting tax and fiscal incentives similar to that being offered by the Philippine Economic Zone Authority such as income tax holiday incentives and duty-free importation of capital equipment.
Pujeda said no consultations were made before Republic Act 9490 was enacted. The said law, which was pushed by the Angaras who are landlords in Aurora, provided for the establishment of the ecozone.
Elmer Dayson, leader of Panlalawigang Alyansa ng Magsasaka sa Aurora (Pamana or the Provincial Alliance of Farmers in Aurora) said the ecozone would displace thousands of farmers. Casiguran, he said, is the rice granary of the north, and the areas covered by the ecozone are the most productive rice fields.
Dayson said the ecozone would cover 13,000 hectares from the original 1,000 hectares earlier identified by Aseza. These areas, he said, include the ancestral domain of the Dumagat tribe.
Pujeda said four battalions of the Philippine Army, the 48th, 70th, 71st and 56th Infantry Battalions, have been deployed in the province since the start of the project. In a dialogue with the military at the Commission on Human Rights office in Region 3, Pujeda said the officers of the 48th IB explicitly told them that the soldiers are in Aurora to protect the Aurora Ecozone.
Pujeda urged Aquino to pull out the troops from Aurora and stop the implementation of the Aurora Ecozone. (Bulatlat.com)