President Benigno Aquino III has classified Apeco as a flagship project under his government’s public-private partnership program. Critics point out that Aquino supported the project to clinch the support of Angaras.
By RONALYN V. OLEA and INA ALLECO SILVERIO
MANILA – Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano filed a bill seeking the repeal of the Aurora Pacific Economic and Free Port Act of 2010 creating the Casiguran-based economic zone.
Mariano filed Feb. 21 House Bill 5879 or An Act Repealing Republic Act 10083 otherwise known as the Aurora Economic Zone and Freeport Authority, describing the Apeco law as “highly inimical to the collective interest of the Aurora people.”
Leaders of people’s organizations and support groups led by Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), Resist Apeco, Defend Aurora Movement, Alyansa ng Magbubukid ng Gitnang Luzon (AMGL), Panlalawigang Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid ng Aurora (Pamana), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Bataris and Justice and Peace Group (JPAG) accompanied Mariano in filing the bill calling for junking of Apeco law.
Mariano argued that Republic Act No. 10083 has violated numerous Constitutional provisions and other laws.
The ecozone project will cover the villages of Dibet, Esteves, San Ildelfonso, Cozo and Culat, all in Casiguran municipality of Aurora. The municipality is rich in agriculture, marine and forest resources.
Mariano said farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous peoples are in danger of being displaced by the project, which the Aquino government classified as a flagship project under the Public-Private-Partnership (PPP).
In his explanatory note, Mariano said the Apeco law violated the 1987 Constitutional provisions on agrarian reform and the Republic Act No. 6657, as amended otherwise known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988. Mariano said that among those covered by Apeco are farm lots awarded to farmer-beneficiaries under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
The party list lawmaker asserted that the Apeco law also violated fishermen’s rights enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution and related law (Republic Act No. 8550 otherwise known as the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998. Under Section 3 of the law, the lands in Aurora that adjoin the fishing grounds of fisherfolk, such as shorelines, bays and inland rivers, which can be found in the villages of Esteves, San Ildefonso, Cozo and Dibet are subject for conversion into the Freeport.
Mariano also said that the Apeco law violates the rights of indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands provided in the 1987 Philippine Constitution and related law (Republic Act No. 8371 otherwise known as Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997.
According to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), there are about 873 indigenous peoples composed of Agta/Dumagats in the municipalities of Dinalungan, Casiguran and Dilasag who have filed applications for Certificates of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADT). The Apeco law will cover around 11,900 hectares of the indigenous people’s claim for ancestral domain.
Mariano pointed out that the Apeco law contravenes Article 12 of the Philippine Constitution, which protects the national economy and patrimony.
According to Section 12 of the Apeco law, the Aurora ecozone can borrow funds from foreign sources and incur indebtedness without need of the concurrence of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). This provision is contrary to Section 21, Article 12 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which states that, “Foreign loans may only be incurred in accordance with law and the regulation of the monetary authority. Information on foreign loans obtained or guaranteed by the Government shall be made available to the public.”
The Apeco law also authorizes foreign investors under the guise of private enterprises to operate public utilities. This, according to Mariano, is in flagrant contravention of Section 11, Article 12 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. The provision states that no franchise, certificate or any other form of authorization for the operation of a public utility shall be granted except to citizens of the Philippines or to corporations or associations organized under the laws of the Philippines, at least sixty per centum of whose capital is owned by such citizens…”
The Anakpawis lawmaker said it also violates the non-impairment clauses enshrined under the 1987 Philippine Constitution as stewardship agreements are in the nature of contracts between the grantee and the government. Hence, it is protected by the law on contracts, most specifically the non-impairment clause provided under the Constitution.
Under the Social Forestry Program, forest occupants enter into stewardship agreements with the government where they are allowed to occupy and possess a certain area subject to conditions. It gives participants a measure of security of tenure over the land within the usual period of 25 years. The Apeco law, according to Mariano, effectively modifies the terms of the original stewardship agreements and thus impairs the obligations of the parties thereto and restricts the exercise of their vested rights under the said original agreement.
“Finally, the right to due process of affected sectors guaranteed under the 1987 Philippine Constitution was also violated as the people of Casiguran, Aurora were not consulted before the passage of the laws for the establishment of the Aurora Ecozone,” Mariano said
The Anakpawis congressman argued that no public hearing at the House of Representatives was conducted in which the affected sectors were invited to air their side on the proposed creation of Aurora Ecozone and therefore, there was no forum for the affected sectors to thresh out and address possible problems and issues involving the creation of the economic zone.
“Had there been public hearings, the proponents of the Aurora ecozone would have at once known that they would be unjustly dispossessing the agrarian reform beneficiaries of their farm lots. More importantly, farmers would have been adequately consulted on the proposed legislation,” Mariano said.