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House okays budget for Aurora ecozone

By Manny Galvez (The Philippine Star) Updated October 17, 2011 12:00 AM 

AURORA PACIFIC ECONOMIC ZONE AND FREEPORT, Philippines – The House of Representatives has approved the proposed P332.5-million 2012 budget of this economic zone amid protests from its oppositors and after massive cuts made by the Department of Budget and Management.

Robbie Mathay, Apeco president and chief executive officer, said the budget proposal was approved in the plenary along with other attached agencies of the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mathay said of the P332.5 million, P55 million has been appropriated for personnel services and P277.5 million for capital outlay, including building construction, land acquisition among others.

Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara said that prior to the budget approval, a pre-plenary conference was held last Sept. 5 wherein Anakpawis Party-list Rep. Rafael Mariano addressed some questions to Apeco officials, including the alleged massive displacement of landowners, farmers and fisherfolks.

Mathay assured that no massive displacement would take place and that Apeco will coordinate with everyone in the impact zone of the project.

Apeco deputy administrator Ramon Fernando said, however, that the approved budget is a far cry from the Apeco’s submitted budget proposal to the DBM of P3.565 billion, meaning the 2012 is less than 10 percent of the ecozone’s submitted budget.

DBM Secretary Florencio Abad, in a June 21 letter to Mathay said they were recommending P332.5 million after a review.

Abad said the DBM-recommended budget was arrived at applying the zero-base budgeting approach whereby major on-going programs and projects were assessed and reviewed as to relevance, and after assessing Apeco’s demonstrated absorptive capacity.

Angara and Gov. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo said the massive cuts would slow down the pace of construction works inside the Apeco.

The approval of the Apeco budget also followed intense lobbying by known anti-Apeco groups among them the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) which warned that such approval may lead to the “wholesale destruction” of Casiguran town where the Apeco is located and nearby towns in Aurora province.

Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap and vice chairperson for Luzon Salvador France earlier submitted a position paper to the 125-member House committee on appropriations chaired by Rep. Emilio Abaya complaining about massive displacement of farmers and fishermen, land-grabbing and harassment of local folks.
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