MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino seems to have taken the side of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (APECO), which has been accused of landgrabbing and human rights violations, a tribal leader said Tuesday.
Vita Banayad, chieftain of the Agta tribe, told ANC Prime Time that they were hurt with Aquino's cold shoulder in response to their calls over the APECO controversy.
"Napakasakit na ganun ang pagharap sa amin," she said, following their dialogue with the President and Cabinet officials Tuesday.
"Tiniis namin ang paglalakad mula Casiguran para iabot ang hinaing namin na inaasahan naming tutugunan pero parang APECO pa ang pinapanigan," she added.
Lawyer Christian Monsod, a former chairman of the Commission on Elections, said Aurora natives were unhappy with the treatment Palace gave them earlier in the day.
"Ang dating para sa Casiguran farmers, does the President really care for us?" he said.
March from Aurora to Manila
Casiguran residents composed of farmers, fishermen, and indigenous people began their protest march two weeks ago to save their land and livelihood.
They walked all the way to Manila -- 350 kilometers from Casiguran, Aurora -- to air their grievances over APECO.
Sponsored by the Angara political clan, the ecozone was established in 2007 and covers more than 12,000 hectares in Casiguran.
The land is owned by the state but farmers, fishermen, and tribesmen claim it was awarded to them via the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
They said they're being eased out, now that government plans to turn the area into an industrial zone.
"Maraming mamamayan na diyan umaasa sa kabundukan. Dito kami kumukuha ng pag-aaral sa aming mag-aanak... 57-years-old na ako, di ko na kaya magbungkal ng bagong lupa," said Casuguran resident Tatay Andy.
"Ang buhay ng katutubo ay kadugtong ng bundok at kalupaan. Wala pa ang mga Angaras, nandyan na ang katutubo," said Banayad.
Face to face with Aquino, they pleaded to him to repeal the APECO law and withhold its P300-million budget for next year.
They're not against development, as long as their welfare is taken into consideraion.
"Sa haba ng nilakad namin mula November 24, aming nararamdaman ang hirap," Fr. Joefran Talaban said during the Palace dialogue.
"Mahal na pangulo, ang APECO kung tunay ito kaunlaran sana tinanong kami. Anong klaseng kaunlaran? Sa ngayon kung kaya kami nakarating dito ay tugunan po ninyo ang aming daing," he added.
Casiguran Mayor Reynaldo Bitong also told ANC there were no public consultations when lawmakers crafted the APECO law.
"Ngayon lang sila nagkonsulta nung may problema na. Ako'y binaypass nila," he said.
Aquino defended APECO during the dialogue.
However, he said he is open to reviewing the APECO.
NEDA is expected to give initial findings in a week and its recommendations in two months.
While Casiguran natives are not happy with the President's decision, they admit they have no choice but to remain hopeful with the results of the review. - with a report from Jing Castañeda, ABS-CBN News; ANC