3 years after 352-km march, Casiguran farmers still fighting APECO

Amyl De Gala, Ana Vasquez

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3 years after 352-km march, Casiguran farmers still fighting APECO
People affected by APECO troops to the Ateneo de Manila University to commemorate the third anniversary of the march and to continue their protest

MANILA, Philippines – In December 2012, local fisherfolks, farmers, and members of the Agta community were threatened to leave their homes in Casiguran, Aurora to make way for the construction of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (APECO).

They braved different terrains and marched from Aurora to Manila, hoping this would make their opposition to APECO heard and would push President Benigno Aquino III to act on their plight. 

Three years later, their fight still continues.

Some 40 people from Aurora assembled at the Ateneo de Manila University on December 10 to commemorate the third anniversary of the 352-kilometer protest march from Casiguran to Manila.

The marchers were welcomed by the Ateneo community and the president had a dialogue with the farmers. Aquino assured the natives that APECO will be put under thorough investigation.

Small victories

On October 27, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) filed a cease and desist order against APECO. The order suggests the need to protect the lands from “acts that would alter or change the use of the subject property.”

The marchers hoped to cut off the project’s funds. Fr Xavier Alpasa, SJ, executive director of Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB), an anti-APECO support group, talked about the current APECO situation.

Alpasa asked the audience: “Did you know the money for APECO has no contract? Did you know the money coming from APECO has no disbursement voucher? Did you know these expenses have no foundation, no basis, no supporting documents?”

“APECO just keeps spending money. COA’s the one saying that. And what’s worse is that these irregularities go all the way back to 2010. They haven’t liquidated money from 2010,” Alpasa added, referring to the Commission on Audit’s (COA) investigation.

COA’s report found several discrepancies including unliquidated cash and undocumented expenses. (READ: 23.8M APECO funds unaccounted for – COA)

Taskforce Anti-APECO (TFAA) is now asking the project’s team for a special audit that gives a more detailed account of the money spent in the project.

Affected livelihood

Antonio Angara has been getting his family’s food and basic needs by farming the fields of Casiguran for the past 40 years. But with the rise of APECO, he found his farmland was smack in the middle of the area slated for housing development. (READ: A ‘small-time’ Angara faces the skeletons of APECO)

The recent storms that hit his land also worsened his family’s situation.

When Typhoon Labuyo and Typhoon Lando hit, our farm and house were overflowing with water because of the sewer they made. The water they were pumping out spilled over to our field,” he recounted.

Angara compared this to the time before APECO and said the development caused flooding, and ruined what used to be good harvests. “Before APECO, we didn’t get flooded. But now, with only a little rain, our fields become like the sea,” he said.

Angara later jokingly, albeit sadly, added that he might turn his farm into a fish pond if the floods continued.

Problems with APECO

APECO, headed by the Angara family, namely Senator Edgardo Angara, aimed to turn 12,923 hectares of land into a trading agro-industrial center. With the municipality of Casiguran, Aurora situated in the northeastern edge of the country along the Pacific Ocean, it will follow the example of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.

The plan promised to provide a new home and a new way of life among the natives. However, a small detail was left out: throughout the process, project managers failed to consult the locals. Some parcels of land, once a source of livelihood for the farmers, were turned into a residential area for APECO.

The marchers know this is not the end of their APECO woes, but they also know they have the strength to continue the fight.

We are here to continue reminding you to not support APECO. Our land is being taken — but we will continue fighting for it,” they said. – Rappler.com

Amyl De Gala and Ana Vasquez are Rappler interns. Amyl is a graduating Communication student in De La Salle Lipa. Ana is a Psychology graduate from De La Salle University.

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