Senators scrutinize APECO’s bid to reel in investors for PH Rise

Published October 9, 2018, 5:09 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Mario Casayuran

Senators scrutinized the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority’s (APECO’s) bid to serve as a platform for anyone who will invest in the oil-rich Philippine (Benham) Rise, an undersea plateau in the Pacific Ocean east of Aurora province.

Senate of the Philippines / Manila Bulletin
Senate of the Philippines / Manila Bulletin

This was the contention of APECO President Israel F. Maducdoc in seeking the approval by Congress of APECO’s P58-million budget.

The APECO located in Casiguran (Aurora province) could be linked to central and northeastern Luzon should government push through with its planned Cagayan-Manila railway line.

In the event there is a global conflict relating to South China Sea territorial ownership issues, shipping could be shifted from western Luzon to the Pacific Ocean, specifically to APECO.

These were some thoughts and ideas of Maducdoc and Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, chairman of a Senate Finance Sub-Committee hearing APECO’s proposed budget.

Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Economic Affairs Committee, recently sponsored on the Senate floor Senate Bill 2024, the Philippine Rise Development Authority (PRDA) Act, that will oversee the development and conservation of the 11.4-million hectare Philippine Rise and its vast natural resources.

Gatchalian, who also chairs the Senate Energy Committee, highlighted the exciting potential of the vast reserves of methane gas hydrates encased in ice and usually found deep under the ocean in the seabed, are “highly touted for their potential as the so-called fuel of tomorrow.”

“As the technology to exploit gas hydrates for commercial energy purposes develops over the next decade or two, the Philippines could eventually become an energy exporting powerhouse to rival even the most powerful oil-producing nations,” he said.

The PRDA Board will be composed of 15 board members handpicked from pertinent Cabinet departments and technical agencies with the President of the Philippines sitting as chairman of the Board.

‘APECO, a failure’

As in past committee hearings, those who opposed the APECO wanted the law creating the Authority scrapped for the simple reason that APECO is a failure.

They pointed to numerous shortcomings of APECO although the government pumped P1.7 billion to it since its creation 11 years ago.

APECO, according to them, is a national scandal.

Former senator Sergio Osmena III, who was present during the committee hearing, asked APECO officials to give him data on their operations, including the number of locators because APECO has no electric power or water lines.

But Cesar Pimentel, a third-term Aurora provincial board member, was all praises for APECO because the province improved a lot, specifically after the construction of first=class roads in the province and an airport at Casiguran.

The towns improved “because of collateral benefit’ created by the presence of APECO, Pimentel said.

On tourism, there were only 6,000 tourists in Aurora in 2008 but this rose to 1.3 million nine years later, he added.

Prove otherwise

Before making a decision on whether his sub-committee would sponsor the proposed P58-million budget for APECO, Ejercito asked APECO to submit to him their plans, particularly on infrastructure.

Ejercito said that every year the Senate has seen that nothing is happening at APECO and no big investments coming in.

He, however, conceded that APECO has not been given a budget for water lines and power.

A 130-kilometet fiber optic line from Baler to Casiguran, however, is being built.

Both Osmeña and Ejercito agree that investors could not be convinced to come into the APECO area if there are no facilities.

Ejercito, however, stressed that development of the Philippine Rise is tied to the development of APECO.

Osmeña conceded that Aurora’s visionary, former Senate President Edgardo J. Angara, has failed to ask Congress for hundreds of millions of pesos for the construction of power facilities and water supply for APECO.

“We could not develop Philippine Rise without passing through APECO,” Ejercito said.

But the Senate sub-committee needs APECO to submit a list of clearcut strategy to entice investors to come in.

Maducdoc said APECO is nearest to the Philippine Rise and could be used as platform for anyone to invest in the Philippine Rise because it has the offices, logistics and is about 120 nautical miles to the Rise.

APECO officials strongly asked the Senate “to give us the budget.”

For the past eight years, the budget that Congress has given to APECO only served to strangle it.

“It is the right of the APECO to be funded. For the last five years, APECO has operated under a ‘caretaker’ budget,” they added.