Friday, December 14, 2012

1,000 Aurora ecozone workers hold 120-km protest march; Apeco exec accuses foes of deceiving P-noy with ‘lies’

BALER, Aurora, December 14, 2012-Some 1,000 workers of the controversial Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (Apeco) today embarked on a 120-kilometer march from the ecozone’s site in Casiguran town to this capital town to dramatize their protests against a Church-backed group of 120 farmers who have opposed the project.

          The placard-bearing protesting workers - composed of farmers, fisherfolks and indigenous peoples - traveled through rough terrains and earth roads aboard 10 vehicles and ended their rain-drenched trip at the provincial Capitol grounds in Barangay Buhangin.

They said Apeco had alleviated their living conditions, contrary to allegations by anti-Apeco groups it will drive them out of their homes and keep them poor.
“Oportunidad para sa Mamamayan huwag ipagkait sa Casiguran, Apeco Suportahan (Opportunities for the People don’t deprive Casiguran, Support Apeco).” “Ang Karapatang Pangkaunlaran ay Karapatang Pantao (The Right to Development is a Human Right),” read some of the placards.
The pro-Apeco groups were led by Conchita Descarga, president of the Samahang Katutubong Dumagat sa Aurora, her sister Nora Gutierrez and Dumagat chieftains led by Joel “Katol” Guerra.
The protesters, accompanied by the media and ecozone staff members, were later joined by Apeco president and chief executive officer Malcolm Sarmiento Jr. and deputy administrator Kent Avestruz at the Capitol.    
The protest march came after President Aquino ordered last Tuesday an investigation into the operations of Apeco following a dialogue he held at the Ateneo de Manila University with 120 farmers who just finished a 18-day, 350-kilometer protest march from Casiguran to Manila. The oppositors demanded that the law creating Apeco be repealed and that its funding be scrapped.
Earlier, the Senate approved the P353-million allocation for 2013 for Apeco which was created through Republic Act 9490 authored by Sen. Edgardo Angara who hails from this town. The law was amended through RA 10083 sponsored by Angara’s son, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo. It was not vetoed by President Aquino in 2010 and lapsed into law on that same year.
Among the issues raised by the oppositors of the project were the alleged non-consultation with affected residents, massive displacement and economic dislocation by banning fishing in the area. They said the development of the ecozone had encroached into their ancestral lands and led to the seizure of large tracts of prime agricultural lands.
Sarmiento told reporters that the anti-Apeco groups have been peddling lies to have the project stopped, going to the extent of “fooling and deceiving the President” with misinformation and black propaganda.
He said the alleged non-consultation of local residents is farthest from the truth since folks were consulted on the project as early as in the 1990s when the project was still being conceptualized.
“In every law passed by Congress, there is always a public hearing. The residents of Casiguran were consulted and heard when the bill on Apeco was being deliberated upon. Even President Aquino admitted he participated in the debates,” he said.
He said that in Casiguran, consultations were held as early as during the term of then-mayor Fidel Salamera in 1992.
Sarmiento said the issue of land-grabbing and displacement of Dumagats has no solid basis. He explained that the subject of these complaints, Parcel 1 involving 496 hectares and Parcel 2 covering 12,000 hectares is proof of this.
“In Parcel 1, there are no Dumagat settlements and this parcel is covered by tax declaration. No one was driven away. In the case of Parcel 2, these are where the Dumagats are and we have no development plans there. They are also not driven away,” he added.
Regarding accusations of land-grabbing, Sarmiento said Apeco has always adhered to the sanctity of private ownership.

Ben Mina, former provincial environment and natural resources officer, whose 22-hectare residential compound was purchased by Apeco, said that on the contrary, some individuals opposed to Apeco were the ones who grabbed lands, citing a certain Paz Ramos who fenced off a portion of the road inside the ecozone’s administration building.

“If there is anybody who can be accused of grabbing lands, it is them who are anti-Apeco like Ramos,” he said.
Sarmiento said still, Apeco avoided a confrontation with Ramos and did not resort to expropriation.
On the issue of a fishing ban, Sarmiento said Apeco does not have any such plan. “In fact, Apeco is putting up an ice plant for them so they can store their fishing products. We have no design to curtail their fishing rights,” said Sarmiento, a former director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
Regarding allegations Apeco is a white elephant and is a waste of taxpayers’ money as claimed by Sen. Sergio Osmena, Sarmiento said the ecozone is in fact generating unprecedented benefits to local people.
“In fact, we have employed a thousand people, half of whom in the construction sector,” he noted. He said another 160 jobs will be generated in a 10-hectare seaweeds project which will later be expanded to 100 hectares, the equivalent of 1,600 jobs.
“By 2014, we expect to generate 3,000 jobs so no taxpayers’ money will be wasted,” he said.      
“All they (critics) do and say is to tell lies. They are not telling the truth. They are going to prejudice the lives of these people who now are better off economically because of Apeco,” Sarmiento lamented.
Ely Pablo, a former employee of the Office of the Presidential Assistant on National Minorities and a resident of Barangay Calabgan, Casiguran said many of those who participated in the anti-Apeco march that ended last December 9, were non-residents of the town and were merely part of the “hakot crowd.”

Some of them, she said, were from Palanan, Isabela while others were from San Luis town in Aurora. (Manny Galvez) 

Use Geohazard Maps to Avoid Another Pablo - Legarda

MANILA, December 14, 2012-In light of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) on Visayas and Mindanao last week, Senator Loren Legarda advocated a nationwide information campaign on geohazard maps.

"Based on the latest statistics released by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, 906 have died and 900 more remain missing, while we have incurred about P15 billion worth of damages due to Typhoon Pablo. These would have been avoided if our local government units and all our citizens had knowledge of geohazard maps," she said.

Legarda, UN Regional Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation, said that everyone must have knowledge of their geographical location, and whether they are at high risk or not.

During the briefing called by the Committee on Climate Change on the use and implementation of the geohazard maps, the Senator stressed that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources should not only distribute these maps, but also, and more importantly, educate LGUs on how to read the map and how it will help them in their disaster risk reduction and management efforts.

"Am I living on a landslide area? Am I living in a flood-prone area? Filipinos in every barangay in the country need to know this information far before any typhoon signals are raised. Coupled with early warning signals at least seven days before any typhoon arrives, we should be able to radically minimize the casualties," Legarda detailed.
"No mayor, barangay captain, or kagawad will put their constituents at risk by relocating them to danger zones. However, due to the lack of information, many have died because the relocation sites themselves are geohazard areas. We should plan our cities and municipalities accordingly," she remarked.

"Disasters should not happen before we begin to take action. We should arm our local government officials with the right tools to ensure that our nation is always prepared and resilient to disasters," Legarda concluded.


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