Gordon on slow APECO dev’t: ‘I want it done’

Michelle Abad
Gordon on slow APECO dev’t: ‘I want it done’
Indigenous peoples whose ancestral lands would be affected by APECO are ignored in the budget hearing for 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Dick Gordon scolded several officials of ecozone agencies for slow project implementation, including developments for the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport (APECO) infrastructure.

Gordon reminded the panel that he sponsored and voted in favor of the APECO law of 2007 because Aurora’s land was “empty.”

The proposed budget for APECO for 2020 is P88 million. The complete breakdown was not disclosed, apart from the P40 million allotted for maintenance and operating expenditures (MOOE).

“The whole idea behind APECO is to generate infrastructure. Kailangan magkaroon kayo ng tourism at investments. Lalapit ba [sa inyo] ang investments kung hindi kayo lalabas (You need tourism and investments. Will the investments come to you first)?” he asked APECO President Israel Maducdoc. (READ: Senate recommends ‘caretaker’ budget for APECO, again)

“I’m not going to tolerate APECO forever,” he said.

Hearing reports from Maducdoc that the freeport’s progress only included an airstrip with no terminal, Gordon pressed for the terminal, saying it would generate tourism. He also said that developing APECO would give way to employment opportunities.

While panel members, including Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority chair Wilma Eisma, updated the senator on current efforts such as partnerships with Air Asia for domestic flights, Gordon shot them down.

“Everybody knows, and you should know, I don’t like present progressive tense: ‘We’re talking with them, we’re working with them, we’re fixing it.’ None of that. I want it done,” he said.

He also suggested opening a baseball field and Japanese retirement homes in Aurora to make it more popular with Japanese tourists.

IPs present, no speaking space

While Gordon acknowledged that the ecozone officials needed to justify the land acquisition because it angered some people, Gordon did not invite the indigenous peoples (IP) present in the room to give their inputs.

IP members of the Pinag-isang Lakas ng mga Samahan sa Casiguran (PIGLASCA) and Task Force Anti-APECO sat at the session hall, hoping for an opportunity to speak. Some groups had been given the chance to speak in previous budget hearings, and had asked for zero budget.

Armando dela Cruz, IP representative from Task Force Anti-APECO, told Rappler after the budget hearing that if given the chance, he would have asked how the project would affect the surrounding IP communities.

However, there were other IPs in the room reportedly invited by APECO authorities. Representatives from the Task Force said that some of them are pro-APECO because of the compensation they receive from guarding the lands to be used for development.

Dela Cruz said it saddened them that some IPs were led to support APECO.

“‘Yung masakit din sa kalooban namin, nandoon din sa kabila ‘yung ibang mga katutubo, so siguro, karamihan sa kanila hindi lubos na naiintindihan ang APECO. Kung lubusan nilang naintindihan, mauunawaan nilang maling-mali ang napili nilang panig,” he said.

(It hurts that there are other IPs in the room that probably don’t fully understand APECO. If only they knew better, they’d realize that the side they chose is wrong.)

Sa aking obserbasyon, hindi naman talaga nila gusto ‘yung APECO. Parang naiipit lang ‘yung mga katutubo kasi wala silang kabuhayan. Mas naiisip nila ang pansarili nila, kasi may trabaho. Pero may panahong darating na aalisin din sila ng ecozone kasi di naman sila pasok doon sa mga plano. Kundi ginagamit lang nila para matuloy lang ‘yung plano nila. Sa pang-matagalan na plano, aalisin din nila. Pero kulang pa sila sa kaalaman,” he added.

(In my observation, they don’t actually want APECO. The IPs are just caught in the middle because they don’t have livelihood. They think more of themselves because there’s a work opportunity. But there will come a day that they’ll be asked to leave the ecozone because they aren’t part of the plan. They’re just being used so the plan pushes through. In the long-term plan, they’ll be removed. But they don’t have enough knowledge to understand that.)

Dela Cruz said that even though the government looks set on pushing its plans for developing APECO, they remain hopeful about keeping their ancestral lands.

The APECO law was passed with allegedly no consultation with the IPs from the affected ancestral lands. Since 2013, there has been a pending case at the Supreme Court for the law’s alleged unconstitutionality.

The project has also had reports of millions of unaccounted funds and irregularities recognized by the Commission on Audit. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer with the investigative unit of Rappler. She also covers overseas Filipinos and the rights of women and children.