Church pushes moratorium on Apeco

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MANILA, Nov. 22, 2012— A group of indigenous peoples, farmers and fishermen are marching across central Luzon to demand a moratorium on the ecozone’s operation in Aurora province.

Previous protests hounded the 12, 923-hectare Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (Apeco), though it remains operational.

More than a hundred people are taking part in the 20-day march from Casiguran, Aurora to Malacañang Palace, roughly 370 kilometers north of Manila.

Dubbed “Lakad Katarungan, Lakad Matuwid na Daan”, the walk from Nov. 24 to Dec. 14 will cross through treacherous mountainous areas, rainforest and coastal zones, rural flatlands and peri-urban landscapes.

The protesters, backed by the Catholic clergy and several civic organizations, will be representing the more than 3,000 families, whose land and livelihoods have been threatened by the megaproject.

Among their demands is for President Benigno Aquino III stop the budget allocation for Apeco for 2013. They also want the government to push forward the creation of an independent body to undertake review “towards a possible review of the Apeco laws.”

Fr. Joefran Talaban, Task Force Anti-Apeco spokesperson, claimed that for five years already, the lands and livelihoods of Casiguran’s poor and the Agtas have been endangered by the Aurora ecozone.

“Dozens of fisherfolk families have been displaced by the creation of Apeco’s airport without any kind of relocation, and numerous farmers have been harassed and deceived by Apeco’s land buyers,” he said.

“Agtas’ rightful claims to their ancestral domains have been consistently disrespected by the Freeport authority, and various incidents of environmental degradation such as illegal logging, mangrove clearing and river quarrying have taken place,” said Talaban.

Critics claimed the laws that have been violated by the project have been legion— not least because of the massive land displacements “that it has threatened to orchestrate”.

“Disturbingly”, they said, the ecozone authority has yet to be held accountable for these lapses.

“Apeco has been a waste of public funds, a danger to the livelihoods of Casiguran’s poor, and a disgrace to the good governance thrust of the present administration,” Talaban said.

“If President Aquino truly wishes to see the genuine upliftment of Aurora’s people and the pursuit of his ‘straight path’, his task today is crystal clear: he must suspend the activities of Apeco, while protecting the lands and resources of the farmers, fisherfolk and IP’s of Casiguran,” he added.

In June 2010, Talaban escaped unhurt when unidentified men strafed the rectory of his parish convent in Casiguran. The attack, he claimed, was tied to his lobbying against the ecozone.

The CBCP’s National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace (Nassa) said they are one with the protesters in calling for the repeal of the RA 10083 that declares the vast private and public land in Aurora as privileged territory of the Apeco.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Nassa chairman, said that aside from the non-consultation on the eco-zone, he also lamented alleged widespread human rights violations and displacement of residents in the project’s impact zone.

He stressed that it is high time for Aquino, who ran on the platform of good governance, to act on the many concerns raised against the Apeco.

“We challenge the sincerity of this government to effect promised changes and we hope it starts by upholding the well-being of the poor and marginalized over the designs of the powerful politicians behind questionable legislations like Apeco,” Pabillo said. (RL/CBCPNews)

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