Pro-Apeco rallyists dwarf antis in clash of ecozone rallies
By Jason de Asis

CASIGURAN, Aurora, December 16, 2010–Supporters and opponents of the controversial Aurora Pacific Special Economic Zone (Apeco) took to the streets to rally support to their respective causes with pro-Apeco rallyists easily outnumbering their anti-Apeco counterparts – 3 to 1 - in a clash of rallies in this coastal town.

The two factions of demonstrators held their respective rallies Friday as a “show of force” but it led to an anti-climactic ending after only 80 anti-Apeco rallyists gathered at the Agricula Hall compared to some 300 pro-Apeco supporters who held a program at the public market.

Among those who joined the pro-Apeco rally were Dumagat tribesmen who, anti-Apeco supporters claim, would be driven away from their ancestral lands to give way to the construction of facilities inside the ecozone.

The sparse crowd at the anti-Apeco rally prompted a staunch supporter of the ecozone to challenge the oppositors to a referendum on the issue to feel the people’s pulse.   

Former mayor Fidel Salamera, a pro-Apeco supporter, said the number of rallyists on both sides reflected the sentiments of the people of Casiguran about the ecozone. “Through this rally, the people have spoken and I think this shows their strong support for the ecozone,” he said.

In the anti-Apeco rally, Fr. Joefren Talaban of the Bianoan Parish was nowhere to be found. He was said to have holed himself inside his parish instead of addressing the small crowd that gathered for the anti-Apeco demonstration.

Salamera said Talaban “chickened out” of the rally in shame because only a handful showed up for the rally he organized. He said the number of Talaban’s parishioners was also dwindling because of his opposition to Apeco and for using Masses and homilies to attack the project.

Salamera said he would support a proposal to subject the ecozone project to a referendum to determine its acceptability to the people of Casiguran. “We are confident that if we hold the referendum now, those supporting Apeco would win hands down,” he said.

Salamera also dared Talaban and Mayor Reynaldo Bitong to a debate on the pros and cons of Apeco. “Anytime anywhere I will engage them in a debate. Let them explain why they oppose Apeco and I will defend why I support it,” he said. 

Talaban’s group has been claiming that the local residents were not consulted before the ecozone was constructed among other allegations.

Salamera said he used to oppose the ecozone and the Angaras but changed his mind after seeing the massive road construction in Casiguran leading to the project site. “It is only now that we are experiencing this kind of development in our place so why block it?” he said.  (Jason de Asis)