NEDA calls for more APECO investments

NEDA says investing more funds in APECO will maximize its economic potential

MANILA, Philippines – Despite calls to stop the development of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO), the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said the government must invest more funds in APECO to maximize its economic benefits. 

In an interview after a meeting with anti-APECO groups on Tuesday, April 30, Balisacan said they are studying whether on not the government should pour more money in the zone.

He said that based on preliminary findings, “the answer is yes, [government should invest more] to realize the benefits.”

Balisacan said NEDA already sent the preliminary findings to President Benigno Aquino III. The final report has yet to be completed. “We just showed the initial results of the ongoing study, APECO’s impact on the local economy.” 

He said the decision on APECO’s development would be a “political” one, however.

APECO was created by virtue of Republic Act 9490 of 2007, which aims to boost social, economic and industrial development in Aurora and nearby provinces.

Spanning 12,923 hectares in Casiguran, APECO is envisioned to operate like other economic zones in the country, attracting businesses or locators through tax incentives provided by government.

Casiguran residents, among them farmers, fishermen and the Dumagat tribe, who fear they would lose their homes due to the development of zone, have asked the government to stop the project.

Initially, APECO only covered 496 hectares in Casiguran. But this was expanded to include the 12,427-hectare San Ildefonso peninsula when the law that created the zone was amended.

‘Scrap the project’

Casiguran residents are not alone in calling for cancellation of the project.

Fr. Xavier Alpasa, the Executive Director of Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan, said the project should be scrapped because it failed to make good on its promises.

Out of the 10 locators approved by APECO, NEDA said 3 have started doing business in the zone. The 3 locators are engaged in seaweed, fish cages, and bamboo processing. 

But Alpasa said the seaweeds that government claimed were produced in APECO have all died. He added none of the businesses in the zone earned profits.

“They violated the Agrarian Reform Law, IPRA, everything. They violated everything,” Alpasa said. “Since 2007, noong nagsimula, hanggang ngayon, wala namang nagtagumpay na proyekto sa loob e, wala namang kumita.”

Balisacan said one of the reasons why only a few companies located in APECO is lack of facilities.

He said APECO still don’t have facilities that will make it economically viable such as power supply, drainage and water systems.

He said this is the reason more investments should be channeled into the zone.

Balisacan said that since 2007, the government has invested around P800 million in APECO. NEDA said this is part of a P2 billion allocation. 

These funds have been used to build an administration building, the roads inside the zone, a hotel, housing for staff members, a 1.2-kilometer runway for small planes, and some housing prototypes for the community. 

Budget moratorium

Former NEDA director-general Solita “Winnie” Monsod however urged that a budget moratorium be imposed on APECO. She said the project has no master plan to date.

She said the P800 million spent for the project so far represents “sunk costs,” paid for by the public and could no longer be recovered.

BUDGET MORATORIUM. Former NEDA Director General Solita Monsod says the government must stop disbursements for APECO before all the kinks in the project have been ironed out. Photo by Cai Ordinario

“As far as I’m concerned, there should be a total suspension until all those things have been ironed out. You cannot say ‘go ahead with it while you’re doing the master plan, etc’ and then making all these cautionary, there are so many cautionary statements, risks of biodiversity laws, they have to take those into account. Supposing they do not, andyan na, you know. In other words, sila ang bahala, tayo ang kawawa. Hindi pwede iyon,” Monsod said. – Rappler.com

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