Sponsorship Speech – HR 417
Rep. Kaka J. Bag-ao, AKBAYAN Partylist
January 19, 2011
Committee on Agrarian Reform, Committee on National Cultural Communities
R.V. Mitra 6
Economic zones have been regarded as a popular trade policy by many countries. In some countries, EZs have proven to be a powerful economic tool for attracting foreign investments. However, the success of EZs is not a static phenomenon, in the sense that the business environments in the different countries where the EZs operate are entirely dissimilar.
Republic Act No. 10083 was passed establishing the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport or APECO within the territory of Casiguran, Aurora. It was established with the grandiose purpose of attracting foreign investments and increasing employment opportunities by granting numerous fiscal incentives to investors. It covers more than 12,400 hectares of public and private lands which include sprawling areas devoted for agriculture and vast tracts of ancestral lands belonging to the Agta-Dumagats, the indigenous peoples of Casiguran.
This representation, together with Rep. Walden Bello, was prompted to file the resolution calling for the Committee on Agrarian Reform and the Committee on National Cultural Communities in behalf of the farmers, fisherfolks and indigenous peoples of Casiguran, Aurora who have encountered a number of issues and problems in relation to the establishment of APECO.
Farmers, who have been tilling the lands for decades and who are already vested with rights to own the lands they till under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program are in danger of losing these lands and be dislocated because of APECO.
The Agta-Dumagats who, for years now, have been pushing for the recognition of their ancestral domain under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), are facing uncertainties over the lands and seas that have been their home since time immemorial.
Fisherfolks who have been vested with exclusive rights over the municipal waters of Casiguran Aurora are now threatened not only to lose access of the sea that provide them with livelihood but also their homes as they are to be relocated.
These are not unfounded fears and apprehensions. The threat of losing the land, sea and ancestral domain is very real for the people affected by the establishment of the ecozone. By conducting this congressional inquiry both committees of the House of Representatives are providing them with a venue to air their grievances and articulate the issues and problems that they are facing and hopefully find redress.
But this is not just an ordinary inquiry, this is an inquiry of the House of Representatives that seeks to delve into the issues and problems of the people in aid of legislation.
Mr. Chair, distinguished colleagues, in this investigation, we will hear how a law, RA 10083 has affected the rights and welfare of ordinary people which are vested and protected by other laws such as the CARP Extension with Reforms Law, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act and the Fisheries Code to name a few. The issues that the committee will hear in this inquiries are real and actual issues and problems that people encounter as a result of legislations passed by Congress. It our hope that this inquiry will provide both committees with insights on these issues and problems that will lead legislative action in making the laws more responsive to the real life conditions of the people affected by them.
Finally, it must be remembered that ecozones are funded by public funds. In the case of APECO, its initial proposed budget of P145million was increased to P800 million in 2009. These government funds are intended to spur development in the area.
It is therefore incumbent upon the House of Representatives, who holds the power of the purse, through the Committees on Agrarian Reform and National Cultural Communities to look into the kind of development that government funds are being invested in.
Do the development funds being spent by government help the farmers become better farmers and increasing their productivity? Do they help the fishermen become better fishermen? Are these funds being used to strengthen the claims of the indigenous people over their ancestral domains?
In January 2008, when I was still working with the Sumilao farmers, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales said that development cannot be built on injustice. The good cardinal further said: “When justice is violated, don’t put up the next block of stone to build. Address first the injustice that was done.”
It is my hope that this inquiry will contribute to that process that the Cardinal speaks of. Thank you.