MANILA, Philippines – The controversial Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority has abandoned its plans to develop a freeport zone in Casiguran, Aurora, the National Economic and Development Authority reported on Monday.
“Apparently, APECO, the manager and operator of the zone, has veered away from the original plan of establishing a freeport zone, based on the findings of the study conducted by NEDA to assess the economic potential of the controversial project,” the state agency said.
As an alternative to a freeport zone, NEDA said the establishment of an agro-aqua and ecotourism zone will help in promoting growth and development in Casiguran and other neighboring municipalities.
“A well-defined market for outputs within and outside of the ecozone as well as the abundant agri-aqua raw materials and human resources in the area serve as a strong draw for locators,” the NEDA assessment noted.
“This new plan would generate employment and spur development not just in the catchment area of Dilasag-Casiguran-Dinalungan in Aurora, but also in the nearby provinces,” it added.
The state agency, however, did not recommend an immediate implementation of the proposal.
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““Further investment support for the installation of all these additional facilities will be contingent on APECO’s completion of its master plan, and other essential corporate business plans and policies in place, including its land use plan. Partnership with local government units and other national agencies through dialogues and consultations would truly make the effort supportive of inclusive growth,” NEDA said.
President Benigno Aquino III earlier ordered an investigation into the operations of APECO following a dialogue at the Ateneo de Manila University with 120 farmers who demanded the repeal of the law that created it.
The Senate earlier approved a P353-million budget for APECO in 2013. It was created under Republic Act 9490 authored by Sen. Edgardo Angara and amended under RA 10083 sponsored by Angara’s son, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo.
Lack of consultation with residents, massive displacement, a fishing ban and encroachment of ancestral lands were among the issues raised by the group protesting against the project.