Aquino meets with Casiguran marchers; orders APECO review
MANILA, Philippines - Residents of Casiguran, Aurora arrive in Manila after a 17-day march to protest the Aurora Pacific Ecozone and Freeport Authority.
In a surprise move, President Benigno Aquino meets with the farmers.
Bea Cupin reports.
The Casiguran marchers start out the day on an optimistic note.
The night before, they were told the President would come to the San Jose Seminary inside the Ateneo de Manila Campus to listen to their plight.
The marchers are asking the President to stop the Aurora Pacific Ecozone and Freeport Authority or APECO. They also want him to deny the project of funding from government. The marchers accuse APECO of land grabbing, harassment. They say the development APECO will bring is not the kind of development they want.
But this is the answer they get:
Sabi nila tigilan ko yung budget, bigay mo to. Hindi ako diktador eh. Bilang Pangulo, Chief Executive, ano ba ang eexecute ko? Batas. Kailangan po ipagtupad ang batas. Kung mali ang batas, papalitan natin ang batas. Pero habang batas yan, obligado akong ipatupad.
(They asked me to stop the budget for APECO. But I am no dictator. As the President, the Chief Executive, what do I execute? Laws. We need to execute laws. If the law is flawed, we change it. But while APECO is a law, it is my obligation to follow it.)
BENIGNO AQUINO III, PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT
The 120 farmers, fisherfolk, and Agtas from Casiguran, Aurora are dejected and frustrated.
They marched 350 kilometers over 17 days to protest APECO.
Frustrated yung mga marchers eh. Talagang una, hindi nila narating yung Malacanang, first time nila sa Manila. Pangalawa, hindi malinaw yung tugon ng ating Pangulo para sa nilakad namin na hanggang dito.
(The marchers are frustrated. First, they didn't get to go to Malacanang. Second, the President's response to our demands is unclear.)
MARLON ANGARA, FISHERFOLK LEADER
The President instead orders the National Economic and Development Authority, to start an independent review of the project.
The marchers are assured that they will be consulted during the review. Fr Joefran Talaban, Casiguran parish priest and lawyer Christian Monsod will also represent the marchers.
An APECO representative will be part of the consultations.
In a statement after the dialogue, APECO says it welcomes the review.
"This is a development for the people of Aurora, supported by the people of Aurora. We appeal to certain groups with vested interests to stop spreading lies.”
But Christian Monsod cautions against ecozones, particularly APECO.
This is a good time to check APECO. Whether this is just the same mold of economic zones that by the way have a very questionable... whether it is totally a benefit or not for the people.
CHRISTIAN MONSOD, SULONG CARPER CONVENOR
Despite the setback, the marchers are determined to fight for the land.
Bea Cupin, Rappler, Manila. -Rappler.com