DENR exec denies benefitting from Apeco land deal, hits back at Palafox

By Jason deAsis


CASIGURAN, Aurora, November 19, 2010–A top official of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, who was earlier linked by noted urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. to the alleged anomalous transfer of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone site to favor him, yesterday denied benefitting from the sale of the land and assailed Palafox for making unfair and baseless accusations against him.


Benjamin Miña, DENR provincial environment and natural resources officer, told newsmen here Monday that Palafox, Apeco’s former master planner, was wrong in accusing him of making a money out of the deal, saying he in fact did not want to let go of his land but had to sell it for the sake of development.


“This land property which now houses the Apeco administration building was very important to me, it was a priceless possession. I really didn’t want to have it sold. But I have to let it go and forget about its sentimental value in the name of development,” he said.


Miña was responding to Palafox’s accusations that the location of Apeco was moved to a less advantageous site to benefit a property owner who was a provincial official. He said the new location was worse than last year’s C-5 road extension controversy, referring to the controversial re-alignment of the C-5 road extension project in Paranaque that allegedly benefited Sen. Manuel Villar’s real estate businesses by P400 million.


Palafox, during a budget hearing for Apeco Thursday, said the new location was prone to flooding and liquefaction but Apeco officials went ahead with the change of location, disregarding the better option of building the project closer to the heart of Casiguran. He claimed that the land was purchased from Miña, adding Apeco people directed him farther and farther away from the center so access roads would have to be constructed.      


Mina said Palafox’s claims he benefited from the sale of his land was a misconception since not even a single square meter of land he owned was left since it was all covered by the Apeco site.     


Miña said Palafox failed to acknowledge the sacrifices he made when he was displaced for selling his 12-hectare land in Barangay Esteves to pave the way for the construction of the administrative building of Apeco. He said during a meeting of the various stakeholders on the project, people had been asking why his land was never included in the original plan for the ecozone.


He said he decided to give up the land because he believed this would finally lead to the development of Casiguran which stagnated for more than 400 years. “Before Apeco came in, Casiguran was a sleeping giant and there was no sign of progress and development, with people even cursing government for allegedly neglecting them. Now that government people are trying to develop Casiguran, some quarters and so-called spiritual leaders who are not even from this place are opposing the ecozone for their own ends,” he said.

          “If they succeeded in their attempts to stop the ecozone, and leave this place afterwards, they would leave us miserable and empty-handed,” he said.


Mina said the benefits of Apeco far outweigh the disadvantages, saying for lack of jobs and alternative means of livelihood, people migrate in the high lands where they resort to kaingin (slash-and-burn farming), timber poaching and charcoal-making which is more destructive to the environment.


He added that at the over 12,000-hectare San Ildefonso Peninsula, the expansion area for Apeco, cyanide and dynamite fishing remain a continuing threat within its coastal areas and only progress and development could stop this.      


Miña said those opposing the ecozone never really experienced the hardships of travelling to Casiguran prior to the building of new roads and bridges as part of the development of the ecozone. He recalled that over the past several years, people travelling the Baler-Casiguran road got stranded for up to one week due to the bad road condition, high tide and when deep rivers overflow.

But now, the 120-kilometer long road network takes only two-and-a-half hours because of the road concreting works.”Before, we use to ride in trucks and 4 x 4 weapon carriers but now, we have the luxury of riding air-conditioned buses and vans,” he said.


Asked what he thought was Palafox’s motive in dragging his name to the alleged controversy, Miña said he was puzzled. “In fact, I accompanied him in conducting an on-site survey of the project location. He himself said it is one of the most ideal and beautiful locations for a green ecozone in the Eastern Pacific Seaboard because of Casiguran Bay and Casiguran Sound but he now made a complete turn-around. I’m just as perplexed as anyone can get,” he said.


Miña said it was only proper that Apeco proponents skirted the town proper as the location of the ecozone because it was prone to flooding because of the presence of three major rivers which traverse the metro Casiguran town proper. These rivers – Casalugan, Minanga and Casiguran rivers - however, are already heavily silted and which overflow  during high tide and during prolonged heavy rains and will require dredging to serve as catch basins of floodwaters.


“In the case of Esteves which houses the ecozone, I have lived here for 15 years and there was no single incidence when it got flooded during heavy rains,” Mina said.


Regarding Palafox’s claims that the new location is prone to liquefaction, Miña said there are certain areas which are vulnerable but these are swamplands and there are available engineering interventions that may be set in place to solve this problem.  (Jason de Asis)