Group files new SC petition vs Aurora ecozone

MANILA, Philippines – Those opposed to the controversial ecozone in the province of Aurora went to the Supreme Court (SC) again Monday, August 12, even as reports of damage in the province caused by Typhoon Labuyo came trickling in.

Casiguran locals, with University of the Philippines students and Catholic church leaders, filed a petition before the SC to revoke the law that created the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO), an initiative of the Angara family. 

“Instead of allowing the Angara dynasty’s APECO project to continue trampling on the rights of the marginalized, we urge the Supreme Court to side with Casiguran’s poor farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous peoples," said Manila Auxillary Bishop Broderick Pabillio in a statement.

Those opposed to the project accused APECO of "legalized land grabbing" and human rights violations. They also argue that Casiguran isn't the right place to house a freeport, being typhoon-prone. Latest reports show severe damage in Aurora, where typhoon Labuyo made landfall. Some 600 houses and 12 school buildings were destroyed in nearby Dinalungan town.  

APECO was created by Republic Act 9490, sponsored by former Senator Edgardo Angara in the Senate and his son then-Aurora congressman Sonny Angara in the House of Representative. It was later amended by RA 10083, which expanded the project site from 500 to 12,000 hectares.

According to the petitioners, RAs 9490 and 10083 are laws "even greater than the 1987 Constitution," at least in Aurora.They transgress constitutional provisions on "social justice, local autonomy, agrarian reform, indigenous peoples, subsistence fishers, and economic viability of government-owned and controlled corporations."

APECO spokesman Kent Avestruz told Rappler that they will "wait and abide" with whatever decision the SC makes.

The Monday petition is not the first against APECO before the SC. A month shy of the 2013 elections, groups urged the SC to decide on a 2011 petition against the ecozone

"This is just a mass mobilization to pressure the SC," Avestruz said. "The SC will stand on its own judgment as an independent branch of government. It will not succumb to any kind of pressure," he added.

Image from a video by Rappler/Charles Salazar

Late last year, some 120 members of the anti-APECO movement marched to Manila from Casiguran to ask the president to stop the ecozone. The President met with the locals, and promised an independent review of the project, although the younger Angara ran for senator under the administration banner.

Four months after the president made his promise, the National Economic and Development Authority called on government to pour more funds into the zone and recommended that it be turned into an agro-aqui and ecotourism zone instead of a freeport– Rappler.com