In the Name of Development: Agta Dumagat people versus the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO) project

Hindi kaunlaran ng nakararami. Kaunlaran lang ng iilan.”

This is what Marlon Angara, a fisherfolk from Casiguran, said when asked about what he thinks of Aurora Pacific Economic Zone or APECO. He is one of the locals who are at risk of losing their land and livelihood to give way for the construction of a development project that is APECO.

Casiguran fishing and farming communities have been self-sufficient for centuries.
Casiguran fishing and farming communities have been self-sufficient for centuries.
APECO, was established by virtue of Republic Act No. 9490, otherwise known as the Aurora Special Economic Zone Act of 2007. It is being supervised and managed by the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority into a self-sustaining industrial, commercial, financial, and recreational center, with a suitable residential area, in order to create employment opportunities around Casiguran, and to effectively encourage and attract legitimate and productive local and foreign investments. It was authored by Senator Edgardo “Edong” Angara and is widely regarded as his “pet project”.

APECO will cover 12,923 hectares of lands in Casiguran, Aurora. The development project promises to boost tourism, employment rate and the economy of the municipality as well as its neighboring areas. However, after about seven years, there are still no observable operations happening in the area; given the fact that the government has already allocated more than P2 billion of the precious taxpayers’ money to APECO.

Parts of APECO’s land coverage are agricultural lands and ancestral lands of the Agta Dumagat tribe. The inhabitants of the land who are the farmers, fisherfolks and the Agta Dumagats would have to face the possibility of being evicted from what they call their home and be deprived of their livelihood means. For the locals who will be affected, the possibility of being evicted is more than just the issue of being displaced; they treat their lands as their life.

This story just shows how much one can do in the name of development. Perhaps, the APECO administration and the anti-APECO movement have concepts of development that are two poles apart.

Get to hear more voices of the people of Casiguran through this video documentary produced by St. Scholastica’s College students entitled Sa Ngalan ng Kaunlaran:

Rumours reported in 2012 suggested that Angara, then running for governor of Aurora province , withdrew his candidacy after residents of Casiguran mounted an “18-day, 350-kilometer march to dramatize their opposition” to the project.

According to Jerik Cruz, communications coordinator of the Task Force Anti-Apeco, “the marchers secured other pledges from government agencies: The grant of a certificate of ancestral domain title over 11,900 ha in the San Ildefonso Peninsula; the renewal of the integrated social forestry contracts covering 288 ha for another 25 years starting in 2014; a promise to respect the fishing rights of fisherfolk within Casiguran Bay, and the establishment of livelihood projects.”

Senator Sergio Osmena III continues to push for budget cuts to APECO citing that one of the key components of the program, the construction of port facilities in Casiguran, is not likely to be viable considering that even “ports nearer to Manila had not been fully utilized.” He also cited “constitutional issues” surrounding the overall project that have yet to be resolved.

[Photo courtesy The Casiguranin Pride.]

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9 Comments on “In the Name of Development: Agta Dumagat people versus the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO) project”

  1. I’m no lawyer so I would like to ask how the IPRA cannot uphold the rights of these tribesmen. I mean, if there’s a law that can be use to protect their rights unless otherwise that law was nullified, revised or overruled by another law, and if majority of the residents are against the APECO project in that it will seize their ancestral land (that is their habitation and source of livelihood), how come APECO was still approved?

  2. Instead of teaching the old dogs new tricks, wouldn’t it be more helpful and beneficial to them if they’d be given the right tools and harness what they already know so they would excel in their field? What’s a development project anyway? If it’s for the sake of the regular local citizens, it is but right that these people be the main player in leading their own progress where in a long run their productivity become one of the main contributor in the country’s progress naman.

  3. Not to worry. The project was/is just a way for this Angara guy to funnel tax-payer funds into his pocket. He was never going to implement the changes, they were mere ‘figments of his imagination’ and a way to present his justifications for pocketing the CA$H !.

    and to think people took the ‘proposal’ seriously. As if they are not aware that Filipino’s are constantly saying they will do something, and then NEVER do it ! In the West this is a sure way to zero-credibility, but in S.E.Asia it is normal?

  4. Who will benefit in the development? There are lots of developments in our country. However, I have yet to see a true development…Funds are allocated; then funds disappear mysteriously. The projects are left half finished; or never started, at all…

    The Dumagats are the indigenous people in the area. And now, they deprive them of their ancestral lands…

    1. Then it shouldn’t be called a development project but an experiment. Such project especially if it meant to make a difference in a larger scale should not only be composed of plans no matter how precise the plans are or how good the intention is. It should also be backed up by successful results. Heard about the deworming or water project in India and Africa? Sure it benefited some place but it didn’t work to most (the resources just got neglected then goes to waste). They think what’s good in one place is also applicable to the other but different places have different problems and unless you understand how the locality live, you’ll waste a lot of budgets first before you learn and succeed in giving them what they really need (if their progress is really your major concern). So what we have here again is a new devise for development hoping to succeed because the ones before it failed. But I guess the only key for a big project to be approved in our country is 1) it’ll attract foreign investors, 2) it will give more jobs to the local citizens (even if it doesn’t fit at least you’ll have a job), 3) it will boost tourism 4) the promulgator think he have his constituents first and foremost in his mind when he thought of his project 5) we’ll be able to compete globally if it succeed. IF.

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