MANILA, Philippines - The budget allocation for Aurora Pacific Economic Zone is in peril as local residents complain of alleged land grabbing and of the loss of their livelihood sources.
At a Senate hearing on Thursday, 2 senators appeared to be at odds on the fate of the special economic zone, which is supposed to be a traditional magnet for foreign investments.
Sen. Serge Osmeña III presented affected farmers from Casiguran in Aurora that hosts APECO in the 12,000-hectare trading hub and freeport, as Sen. Edgardo Angara, who authored the law creating APECO, was around.
The hearing was called to discuss the budget allocation for APECO, which began in 2007.
"Ano pong mangyayari sa amin? Pagpapatung-patungin po ba kami doon? Magugulo po kami," remarked farmer Luz Gonzales.
Victor Abaton, a Dumagat indigenous tribesman, added "Hindi po kami sumasang-ayon sa APECO dahil ang APECO ay nagpapagulo lang sa amin."
But Sen. Angara shrugged off the guests' complaints. "Wala pong pinipilit na umalis. Kung ayaw nyong umalis wag ho kayong umalis. (We are not forcing you to leave. If you don't want to leave, don't go," he said Thursday.
Sen. Angara, who hails from that province, stressed that there were consultations with the leaders of the affected groups before APECO development went full-blast.
"Ang kinonsulta ay ang leaders ng community. Hindi naman bawat Pedro, Juan at Pablo ay kokonsultahin," he said, adding that APECO has actually brought a lot of jobs to the area.
Sen. Osmeña has questioned Sen. Angara's role in APECO and vows to block its budget allocation. "I see a conflict of interest. There's a moral hazard there."
Sen. Angara shrugged off his colleague's allegations. He said only his son, the 34-year old Aurora Rep. Sonny Angara, is involved in APECO.
The younger Angara sits on the board of APECO, the senator said. - with a report from Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News.