Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Written by Mamer Bañez
BALER, Aurora -- The creation of the Aurora Pacific Ecozone and Freeport Authority (APECO) in Casiguran, Aurora, is seen to spur local economy in the eastern seaboard of Luzon.
Gerardo Erquiza, president and chief executive officer of APECO, on Tuesday lamented that the Aurora province has been increasingly isolated and neglected over the past few decades.
“Tourism is expected to be boosted as tourist influx to Baler has dramatically risen. Casiguran has much more to offer than Baler in terms of tourist spots and hotel owners in Baler are keen on putting up hotel facilities in Casiguran to respond to the call,” said Erquiza.
Travel time between Casiguran and Baler was also shortened due to APECO’s Baler-Casiguran Road project, Erquiza added.
The official was present during the Senate hearing on the proposed 2015 budget of the APECO. Its proposed budget amounts to P250 million.
While he welcomes a number of criticisms regarding APECO, Erquiza appealed for the support of its stakeholders.
Erquiza said they have always been open for “greater consultation and collaboration,” especially with people of Casiguran.
“What we need now is breathing space, not a choking point. Let’s not kill the ideas and visions that APECO has for the eastern seaboard of the Philippines,” he stressed.
During the hearing, Erquiza also dismissed reports that APECO destroyed the lives and resources of Casiguran farmers.
Renato Prado, chairman of Samahang AKDA ng Aurora, in a press conference at the Senate December last year, debunked land-grabbing claims against APECO.
“Wala pong katotohanan. Wala pong inaalis ang APECO na Dumagat. Sa totoo lang po, sila po ’yung nakatulong sa amin, binigyan po kami ng kabuhayan,” said Prado.
Ely Dipablo, a Dumagat elder and former officer of Presidential Aim for National Minorities in Casiguran, echoed Prado’s statement.
“Hamunin ko po. Magsabi sila ng kahit na isang pangalan na inagawan ng lupa ng APECO. Hinahamon ko po sila ilabas nila kahit isa lang tao kung sino ang inagawan. Walang inagawan ng lupa,” he said.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bamboo project to hire 2,000 employees

By Manila Standard Today | Posted on Apr. 22, 2013 at 12:01am

The Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority will hire some 2,000 workers for the planting and harvesting of bamboo to meet the needs of a foreign investor in Casiguran.
Apeco president Malcolm Sarmiento Jr. said the locator, Futenco, was occupying  a 200-hectare site to include a plantation and production facilities.
Sarmiento said the project is backed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Science and  Technology.
“It will provide jobs and livelihood opportunities not just to residents of Casiguran but also to adjoining communities,” he said.
Futenco will produce bamboo chips for biomass plants and bamboo cotton for garments along with furniture.
“Among those who will benefit from this are the Dumagats in the San Ildefonso peninsula,” Sarmiento said, adding that they can use their own land for the cultivation of bamboo needed by Futenco.
He said no Dumagat will be displaced because Apeco has committed to help them secure their Certificate of  Ancestral Domain Title with free legal assistance “The Dumagats are being given priority in all Apeco projects,” Sarmiento said.
He said seaweed farmers in the ecozone have made a harvest from the initial 3-hectare seaweed farm of 16 families in Casiguran for reseeding to expand production to cover 100 hectares to benefit 400 households.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Taiwan, Norway firms to locate in Aurora ecozone

By Ferdie G. Domingo

Two foreign locators are lining up P15-million worth of investments at the Aurora Pacific Special Economic Zone in fish processing, papaya plantation, bluefin tuna and in the production of eel, the first large-scale commercial culture of its kind in the country.
Malcolm Sarmiento, Apeco president and chief executive, said Nantsan of Taiwan and Pro Feeds Inc. of Norway have filed applications to do business at the 1,000-hectare zone in Casiguran with its own pier and airport to support agro-industries, mariculture and eco-tourism.
Sarmiento said Nantsan wanted to put up sea cages for raising grouper species, plant papaya at a 10-hectare site and produce and process eel, a freshwater variety.
He said Pro feeds planned to culture bluefin tuna inside Casiguran Sound which had the viable  26 degrees Centigrade for raising the fish.
Bluefin is a premium variety, Santiago said, noting that recently a 200-kilo bluefin fetched $1.7 million (roughly P85 million) at the Chukiji fishport in Tokyo during an auction.
The Philippines is seventh among the world’s top tuna producers with exports of frozen and canned tuna reaching $284.254 million in 2011, according to the Board of Investments.
Sarmiento said the investors favored Aurora because it was “among the few provinces in the country that is still rich in natural resources.”
Sen. Edgardo Angara, who authored the law that created Apeco said the ecozone is the country’s premier gateway to the Pacific.
“Its accessibility to Manila and to other logistic and investment hubs in Luzon via land and air makes it an ideal starting point for the inflow of commerce,” he said.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

APECO to build training center for Dumagats

Written by : 

BALER, Aurora -- The Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO) will soon construct a training center for tribal Dumagats inside the compound of economic zone in Casiguran town in honor of a Dumagat tribesman who was shot dead by illegal loggers last September.  

Apeco Deputy Administrator Kent Avestruz said the training hub dubbed “Teming Moral Dumagat Training Center” was launched during the ground-breaking ceremony at a 220-square meter site at the ecozone last Thursday. It was named after Artemio “Teming” Moral who was gunned down at around 7:30 p.m. last Sept. 14 by a lone gunman in Sitio Dipontian, Bgy. Cozo.

Avestruz said Moral, a “Bantay-Gubat” member of APECO, was shot by unidentified gunman while having dinner with his wife Loida. He died on the spot while his wife was wounded. 

Sen. Edgardo J .Angara led the ground breaking rites for the training center. He paid tribute to Moral for risking his life to help safeguard the province’s forest, one of the country’s lushest, from unscrupulous illegal loggers.                      

Thursday, October 4, 2012

‘Green Gold’ in Aurora


‘Apeco is the only economic zone in the country with an agri-aqua component where investors can capitalize on a growing worldwide demand for natural ingredients in what is now being called the biotechnology revolution.’
AURORA province in the north eastern part of the Philippines holds a vast promise of wealth that\ can be “mined” from its rich and fertile land.
It is a kind of “mining” that does not involve digging tunnels, extracting precious metals from the bowels of the earth, using mercury and other chemicals that pollute land and water, or building tailing ponds that could collapse in a severe typhoon and inflict severe damage to the surrounding communities.
 Rather, it is a kind of economic activity that produces virtually limitless bounty which not only yields income and livelihood for people, but also protects and preserves the environment. And this comes in the form of agro-industrial ventures through the production, processing and manufacturing of natural ingredients that a growing number of people throughout the world are now turning to, for health and wellness needs.
That promise of wealth is now gradually turning into reality, thanks to the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (Apeco) situated in a 12,923-hectare area in the municipality of Casiguran.
Apeco is the only economic zone in the country with an agri-aqua component where investors can capitalize on a growing worldwide demand for natural ingredients in what is now being called the “biotechnology revolution.” This is a welcome development that
involves the increasing use of natural ingredients in cosmetics, perfumery, pharmaceuticals, and as food additives. The international market for natural ingredients is said to have grown into a $400 billion business, especially for global companies.
Available figures show that the major markets for herbals are Europe, which is said to have a 35 percent share; North America, particularly the US, with 24 percent; Japan, 11 percent; and the rest of Asia, 30 percent.
In 2009 alone, the personal care market for natural ingredients already reached $300 billion at the retail level with an eight percent growth rate in the US, while the health and nutrition sector was estimated at $4 billion. As early as 2003, market surveys showed an estimate of $10 billion annually for herbal medicines, with growth rate beyond 10 percent a year. Apeco President and CEO Malcolm I. Sarmiento Jr. always seems to be on a “high” whenever he talks
about the Agri Technopark that they are developing in Casiguran.
Says Sarmiento: “The wealth that the Philippines can obtain from the natural ingredients industry is virtually inexhaustible, because you can always grow the plants, trees and herbs that yield these ingredients. It is an endless cycle of planting and harvesting, the only requirement being that you have to protect the environment
and take care of the land in order to ensure its continued fertility.’’
He points out that people and business firms all over the world have shown a strong and growing bias for natural ingredients. In food manufacturing, these are used as food additives, sweeteners, stabilizers, flavoring, and emulsifiers. In the pharmaceutical industry, these come in the form of aromatic and medicinal plants, herbal medicines, herbal supplements and vegetable alkaloids.
“The Philippines is acknowledged as the seventh most biologically diverse country in the world, and we can cash in on this unique asset. In the cosmetics and perfumery industries, for instance,
there has been a very pronounced shift from chemicals and synthetic materials to natural ingredients,” Sarmiento said.
The pharmaceutical sector, Sarmiento says, can make very profitable use of the natural ingredients industry, considering that we have more than 300 medicinal plant species that we can offer to the world. Some of these, he said, are banaba, ampalaya, lagundi, saluyot, malunggay, luyang dilaw, eucalyptus and rosemary.
As a child, I remember women using the Ilang-Ilang and sampaguita as perfume and wondered, on hearing that ilang-ilang was being exported to France. The leaves of banaba, bayabas and lagundi were being widely used for their medicinal properties. In fact, there are several pharmaceutical firms in the Philippines, like Pascual Laboratories, which have successfully gone into the commercialization of lagundi for the production of anti-cough tablets and syrup.
Other indigenous plants with very promising prospects for investors are yerba buena as an analgesic to treat pain; tsaang gubat for biliary and intestinal colic pain; and sambong which is now being used both as tea and as tablet for diuretic purposes and for the treatment of edema.
“It’s a very great help that our Department of Agriculture has been actively pursuing a biotechnology program through its Biotech Implementation Unit. In fact, my staff and I recently met with
officials of the DA and some of its attached agencies and corporations,” Sarmiento said. 
The meeting was intended to smooth out plans for cooperation between Apeco and the DA in this regard, and the two sides are expected to sign memorandums of agreement shortly.
Among the DA officials in that meeting were Director Clarito M. Baron and Dr. Choy Mamaril of the Bureau of Plant Industry; Director Silvino Tejada and Division Chief Larry Hernandez of the Bureau of Soils and Water Management; Director Candida B. Adalla and Project Development Officer Annalyn Lopez of the Biotechnology Implementation Unit; and Director Leandro H. Gazmin and OIC Division Chief Gregoria Santos of the Agribusiness Marketing Assistance Service; Lourdes Cruz of the Marine Science Technology and Aurora Marine Research and Development Institute of the University of the Philippines; and President Marriz Agbon and Project Officer of the Philippine Agricultural Development Commercial Corporation.
But like other government offices and agencies that are perennially short of funds, the DA biotechnology program needs help from other sources to effectively pursue its development plans. And this is where Apeco comes in.
According to Sarmiento, Apeco can provide the land and the processing and production facilities that the DA needs, in effect closing the gap between the department’s plans and implementation.
He said Apeco is setting aside an initial 100 hectares of rich agricultural land for the natural ingredients industry. Investors and locators interested in putting up such facilities will be provided five hectares each for their use. 
For expansion requirements, an additional 108 hectares can also be availed of from the Aurora State College of Technology. Sarmiento, by the way, is a former Director of the DA’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and is truly cut out for Apeco. Among the companies that have discussed such investments with Apeco are Sumitomo Corporation of Japan on the production of natural ingredients; while for the processing aspect, the firms include Unilever. which needs 800 metric tons of processed cucumber per year; Unilab for sambong and lagundi; Human Nature for sunflower oil; and Dalisay Farms Corporation which needs ube for its Selecta ice cream and other products.
 In a very real sense, Aurora province, with its very own economic zone, can produce what can perhaps be called “green gold”
through its biotechnology program and natural ingredients industry.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Apeco joins LGU on Independence Day celebration

Apeco employees gleefully joined other marchers during the parade

Apeco joins LGU on Independence Day celebration

Apeco joined in the Casiguran Local Government as it celebrates the annual national commemoration of Philippine Independence Day on June 12, Tuesday.

Characterizing a theme “Pananagutan ng Bayan para sa Tuwid na Daan”, the responsible government, non-government and people’s organizations, private and social sectors marching in the parade as the event commenced.

The celebration was culminated with a simple program highlighted with a message from the invited keynote speaker Director Elisa D. Salon of Department of Budget and Management – Region 3.

Casiguran as a local government unit assured its people that it will take active role in pursuing a corrupt-free and clean government agency. ‘To become a renowned most honest LGU of the country’, is one of its goals.

Dumagats favor Apeco

Dumagats favor Apeco

CASIGURAN, Aurora -- At least 90 percent of residents of Bgy. San Indefonso in this town are in favor of the ecozone’s operation after a successful community consultation/forum conducted by Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (Apeco) held at  covered court last Thursday.

More than 300 participants, including Dumagat tribe leaders, were delighted as shown from their grins after guest speakers had deliberately explained and answered all of their questions pertaining to the emergence of APECO into their locality.

Kent Avestruz, deputy administrator of Apeco, explained the allegations of displacement of local residents,land-grabbing and non-consultation with affected sectors once Apeco will be fully operational.

In a five-hour consultation with Dumagat chieftains in San Ildefonso, Avestruz said land-grabbing and evicting the tribesmen from their lands are not part of the plan to develop the ecozone.

He assured the Dumagats they will not evicted from their ancestral lands once the development of the economic zone in Casiguran starts.

Avestruz stressed further that there will be more jobs to be created for Casiguranens specially if eco-tourism industry, particularly in San Ildefonso, starts operating.

The Apeco management under president Robbie Mathay would help the Dumagats protect and preserve their ancestral lands through projects that promote eco-tourism.

Avestruz said that instead of driving away the tribesmen, they will be tapped as tour guides and forest guards to preserve the ecological balance of the place.