(Article published in the
issue of Manila Standard Today)
As if the voice from my church (as articulated in my piece last week) were not persuasive enough, the oppositors to the APECO (which, I must insist, does NOT stand for Angara’s Pacific Enterprises and Commercial Organization) presented the views of my compañero, Atty. Ayson Garcia who was asked to make his assessment of the legality of the APECO.
And in line with res ipsa loquitor which is a revered principle of the law on evidence, I let his testimony on November 11, 2019 before Subcommittee “B” of the Senate’s Committee on Finance speak for itself, to wit:
“So in our humble study, sir, we assessed RA No. 9490 in relation to RA 10083…we found the following issues, I think, questionable about the law.
“First, RA 10083 or the APECO Law creates a territory within the Philippines, but it’s beyond the powers of the national government and local government units. The law creates separate customs and taxation territory with the Philippines, and consequently, national and local laws—labor laws, fisheries laws, agricultural laws, especially those pertaining to tax and customs also, generally do not apply inside the SEZ. Secondly, we found out that RA 10083 uses taxpayers’ money for private purposes.
First of all, it is
categorized as a non-profit government corporation. Under the law, if it’s
non-profit, then it does not create any revenue. And for tax purposes also,
it is exempted from tax but it is using and utilizing taxpayers’ money for
its defense, for its maintenance and, as you can see from the General
Appropriations Act, it also uses taxpayers’ money.
Thirdly, RA 10083 violates at least four national legislations, namely: RA 7160, the Local Government Code; RA 8371, the IPRA Law; RA 8435, the AFMA Law; and RA 9700, the new CARPER Law or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
The creation of the SEZ underwent no consultation. It’s a clear violation of the Local Government Code. Worst, it did not have any approval from the local government unit affected which is the Municipality of Casiguran. This is also required under RA 7160.
A number of farmers we interviewed were displaced by the construction of the airport airstrip and have not been given any assistance or relocation sites. This is also another violation of RA 7160.
RA 10083 violates the IPRA, the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, because the Dumagats-Agta/Dumagats here were not consulted. They did not know—they did not give their free, prior and informed consent when the law was passed and when this project was conceived. The SEZ also covers prime agricultural lands. We were there and we saw irrigated, productive prime agricultural lands where the SEZ will be—or APECO will be placed. So again, this is the violation of the AFMA or the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act.
Fourth, RA 10083 contradicts public policy. First, RA 9490 said that it will just cover public lands but when it expanded into 12,923 hectares, it now did not distinguish between public and private lands. And most of these lands, as we know, are private lands that were distributed either under Agrarian Reform or under CA 141 which is the Free Patent Law. There’s also a consolidation of ownership ng—I believe that when you cover 12,923 hectares of land, you are consolidating ownership which is against the public policy that we distribute national wealth, we distribute equitably our resources to farmers, to fishers and to indigenous peoples.
RA 10083, we believe, was not given enough time for discussion amongst stakeholders. So we believe that it was fast-tracked, railroaded maybe, because we found no committee hearing in both the House and Senate that discusses extensively the benefits and objections to the project. In fact, there are no locators yet in the 500 hectares covered by 9490 and we did not find any reason why it should be expanded to 12,923 under a new law, RA 10083. So there were no extensive debates or discussions on why it was such.
The area is excessive. I think if you try to check other SEZs, special economic zones, those under PEZA, on the average, there are just 50 hectares to 100 hectares. And this one—too big for an economic zone free port because it has not been shown that it was, at the first place, earning and, the second place, also it will displace the already productive activities of Casiguran folks: fishing—“
Before Atty. Garcia could finish his sentence, Angara butted in, as the transcript of the stenographic notes (TSN) of the hearing shows, and asked for the submission of Atty. Garcia’s position paper. The purpose was to enable the lawyers of the APECO to “answer point by point the legal issues …reaised.”
Now that the Congress has come back from its holiday recess, it is imperative that the answers of the APECO lawyers, if any, are given prime time and equal space in the media at the earliest time. Otherwise, if no answers have been made, then it is most difficult to avoid the conclusion that, by their silence, they admit the validity of Atty. Garcia’s argument.