Solon defends Angaras’ interests in Apeco

By Jason de Asis



BALER, Aurora, November 25, 2010–Rep.  Juan Edgardo Angara yesterday defended his clan’s interests in the development of the Aurora Special Economic Zone, saying it’s a natural position taken by somebody who wants to see his place flourish and be developed.


“It’s a given. Wasn’t (Senate President Juan Ponce) Enrile interested in Cagayan? Wasn’t (former) Senator (Richard) Gordon interested in Subic and Clark? It’s but natural,” he said amid accusations that his father, Sen. Edgardo Angara was guilty of conflict of interest by allegedly lawyering for Apeco.


Earlier, Sen. Sergio Osmena III criticized the senator during a budget hearing of the Senate finance sub-committee for allegedly serving as Apeco’s chief executive officer. Osmena also cited the “moral hazard” on the issue of setting aside budget for Apeco through the General Appropriations Act particularly as the senator’s sister, Gov. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo and his son, Juan Edgardo sit as members of its board.


Congressman Angara said that as the ones who pushed for Apeco in the Senate and the House, it is understandable that the Angaras would advocate the project and that their lobbying for funds for its operations is a non-issue.


At the same time, the congressman answered point-by-point the issues raised by the oppositors of the ecozone, including the alleged lack of consultation, lack of audit of Apeco funds, fund diversion, and violation of indigenous peoples’ rights to ancestral domain.


Earlier, a number of anti-Apeco groups wrote President Aquino asking him to suspend the release of the Apeco budget until the issues raised against it are resolved. They said they reject Apeco as the law was enacted without consulting the 3,000 families who will lose their homes and livelihood and without public hearing.


They added that P650 million in additional funding was provided to Apeco without an audit by the Commission on Audit of the P150 million that was released earlier. Funds from other budget items have also been diverted to it, they said.


They added that the Apeco is a virtual “republic” of the Angaras where the affected people are powerless.


Signatories to the letter-complaint to Aquino were the Citizens Organization Concerned with Advocating Philippine Environmental Sustainability, Consumer Rights for Safe Food, Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns, NGOs for Fisheries Reform, Sagip Sierra Madre Environmental Society, Inc.; Save Sierra Madre Network, Xaverian Missionaries and the Tribal Center for Development Foundation Inc. 


Angara said the claims of lack of consultations were not correct in the sense that leaders in the affected areas have been consulted on the matter. “Of course, you cannot possibly consult each and everyone like for example in Barangay Cozo which is very remote. In a democracy, you really work through your leaders, like the barangay captains,” he said.


With regards to lack of audit by COA, he said the auditor can always conduct an audit of Apeco funds. He clarified that so far, only P120 million was released as Apeco’s funds for 2010, nothing more and nothing less.


On claims of fund diversion, he said that they were glad that the national government prioritized the development of Casiguran. “Even those who opposed the project will admit that they were benefited by it,” he said.


 He said that critics of Apeco should firmly establish their claims that ancestral lands would be invaded by the ecozone.


Angara said that majority of those occupying lands in Apeco were not there when the ecozone was being proposed but they suddenly mushroomed. He said that three Congresses have already passed and the ecozone has been the subject of a long debate, even becoming an election issue. (Jason de Asis)