(Article published in the
issue of Manila Standard Today)
It seems the issue of APECO which for me started simply as an unusual Senate hearing on the sidelines on a budget deliberation is, in reality, for many, literally, a matter of life and death. Alfonso van Zijl of the Bataris Formation Center which is doing its good works in Aurora wrote in to say:
“With much interest I am reading your articles about APECO because these give the broader reading public a better insight into this social, political issue, a pet project of the Angara clan.
I am living and working here in Aurora since 1987 and we were the ones who brought into the open the issue in 2007 as we already opposed it in 1997 when then Congresswoman Bella Angara proposed a similar bill for Aurora as a special economic zone. Fortunately it was vetoed by President Ramos.
The ASEZA/APECO is not the
first and only special economic zone at the east coast of the Pacific Ocean.
In 2002, if I am not wrong, Atty. Romeo Roxas bought 28,900 hectares of
(forest) land in the Barangays Umiray, Dingalan Aurora and Bgry. Umiray,
Gen. Nakar, Quezon (at the boundary of Aurora and Quezon Province). Atty.
Roxas and his company Green Circle asked Arch. Jun Palafox to develop this
area into "Pacific Coast City", which was awarded under the presidency of
Estrada the status of "tourist and economic zone". The design of Arch.
Palafox of the Pacific Coast City is very similar to his ASEZA design with a
international airport, seaport, industrial area, educational city, religious
city, (beach) resorts etc. At that time we opposed this grand plan also
because of the projected displacement of thousands of farmers and tribal
communities in this area. This landholding was put under the CARP through CA
and around 1,500 CLOA holders. Atty. Roxas has filed a case with the DAR for
cancellations of these CLOAs. As far as I know, this case is still pending.
The project was halted because of the ecological disaster in November, December 2004, when the area was hit by three typhoons which caused the lives of many people due to landslides, flashfloods. Moreover, Atty. Roxas got into financial problems as president of the Veterans Bank of the Philippines.
We know that the Angaras are close to Atty. Roxas. We are expecting that when the time and money are right, they will join forces or that Angaras will take over the Pacific Coast City. It might be a question of timing.
We are happy that Arch. Palafox now is joining the side, not of big capital and the ones in power, but the side of the marginalized poor farmers, fisherfolk and tribal communities and struggles for their interest of having a decent life. In that sense he earns his reward.
Mabuhay po Kayo!”
The Bataris Formation Center, according to the website of Bulatlat, http://www.bulatlat.com, was founded in 1987 and has since served as an alternative learning sector by lay people in Baler, Aurora. Chairman of the Board of Trustees is Bishop Emeritus Julio X. Labayen.
It must have been doing a lot of good because it has had apparently earned the ire of the establishment. It was reported that on Christmas day of 2005, at dawn, several of its buildings were put to the torch. First attacked was the “Che-Che”, which was the sleeping quarters of the women. It was totally destroyed by the fire. Three other buildings were apparently affected: the session Hall “Obeth” and “Ben & Pio” which is the male sleeping quarters building.
The way the attack was conducted indicated evident design to stop Balaris by solving fears among its ranks. The perpetrators entered “Che-Che” by opening the sliding windows at the entry side. They threw gasoline inside and set it on fire. The same method was used in “Obeth”. Gasoline was poured on the staircase, on the locked door, and on the wall which were then lighted up. The wall of “Ben & Pio” was partially burned. Luckily, the staff members were home for Christmas and no one was hurt. But the total damage was estimated to be nearly Php1 million. For an NGO, that lives on a very tight budget, Php 1 million was a very serious loss.
Damage to property was not the only peril to Bataris Formation Center. Working for Bataris could be dangerous to one’s person and health. On 14 December of the year its buildings were set a fire, two workers were threatened with arrest when they tried to remove a streamer in a public place that was critical of the group. One day after Valentine’s Day in February 2006, armed men were said to have presented themselves at the Bataris office looking for two of its staff members. Two days later, on broadcast media, a military man was heard announcing that he had in his possession a list of the military’s “Order of Battle”, a fearful document containing the names of those who, to say it mildly, were the military’s personas non grata. Bataris members were apparently on that list. On 03 March 2006, a programme officer of Bataris was allegedly abducted and forcibly taken away. It was this programme officer who was guest speaker of a workshop on Charter Change at the Mt. Carmel College on last day the month before when four soldiers, wearing plain clothes, came in uninvited.
Alfonso van Zijl, my reader, had been himself the object of military harassment. He, the executive director of the formation center, and a Bataris member, had just removed from a tree along the highway a streamer calling Bataris, and other NGOs, as terrorist organizations when they were accosted on 14 December 2005 while the way to the outshirts of town by two men who had jumped out of the car that blocked their way. The streamer was grabbed from them and van Zijl and his companion were “invited” to go to the military camp. They refused; but decided to turn back towards the town proper. They were followed ominously by the car at close distance.
Methods of cowing those who work for justice and for their fellow human beings have indeed changed much since the days of the Roman crucifixion. But the course of events remains the same. For Bataris and all those similarly persecuted, that sequence, as I believe, is, that the light of Easter is sure to come after gloom of Friday.