The Casiguran marchers, who dialogued with President Benigno Aquino III on December 11, 2012 have returned to Manila, their final stop in their Central Luzon caravan. The marchers who vowed to remain in the nation’s capital until their demands for land titles, a credible economic review of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO), and a moratorium on APECO’s budget and activities are finally met by the national government. Since April 16, 2013, around 150 farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous peoples from the municipality have trekked back to the national capital region to demand the accomplishment of the promises extended to them by the president and his cabinet secretaries in a dialogue held December of last year. After enduring a frustrating four-month waiting period, they travelled by caravan and foot throughout Central Luzon, Philippines to declare their growing unrest at the government’s non-fulfillment of most of these promises, and to expose APECO’s continuing violations since December 2012— such as illegal land conversions and illegal logging.
The marchers went back to Casiguran in Aurora province in May 10th when some of their demands were granted by relevant agencies of the government including a public statement by the NEDA, the governments national economic planning body, stating that APECO cannot continue as a free port but instead must develop an agro-aqua scheme in partnership with key stakeholders. Also, the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) agreed that the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) from San Ildefonso peninsula in Casiguran could apply for their own Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT). These were real victories for the Casiguran people.
APECO is a 12,923-hectare freeport which has been shepherded by Senator Edgardo Angara, Congressman Juan Edgardo Angara and Governor Bella Angara-Castillo through the passage of R.A. 9490 in 2007, and vastly expanded by R.A. 10083 in 2010. APECO has since been embroiled in controversy due to the opposition of residents of Casiguran in Aurora province who stand to be displaced by the project, as well as the numerous laws that the ecozone has accused to have been transgressing such as the Indigenous People’s Rights Act, Fisheries Code and Asset Reform Law. An prominent Filipino economist economist who opposed the APECO said, “As NEDA itself has admitted, APECO still lacks a master plan, a land-use plan, feasibility studies for various projects, other operational plans, and coordination between stakeholders, government and civil society organizations. Putting the entire project on hold because of all of these deficiencies is a foregone conclusion”.
“The town of Casiguran is so rich in resources. Huge fishes and protected endangered species like turtles and whales lives in its waters. Now that NEDA has rejected APECO as a Freeport project, ordinary residents like me can hope again that our families, our lands and our environment will be safe and protected for years to come.” These were the words of Marlon Angara, a fisher folk leader among the marchers from Casiguran, Aurora who returned to Manila with the other marchers.
On May 6, 2013, the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) reported that the scandal-ridden Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (APECO) “has veered away from the original plan of establishing a freeport zone, based on the findings of the study conducted by NEDA to assess the economic potential of the controversial project.” “As an alternative to a freeport zone, the establishment of an agro-aqua and ecotourism zone will help in promoting growth and development in Casiguran and other neighboring municipalities,” NEDA said in a statement.
PAKISAMA, a member of ILC in the Philippines was one of the main organizers of the Anti-Apeco Caravan March which started from 16 April to 10 May 2013.