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Angaras to face DOJ probe over APECO property in Aurora

(Updated 5:04 p.m.) Residents and indigenous peoples in Aurora province asked the Department of Justice on Monday to look into the alleged irregularities surrounding the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO), where members of the Angara family sit as board members. The locals of Casiguran town, accompanied by prominent Architect Felino Palafox Jr., accused the Angaras of wasting public funds in the creation of the 12,00-hectare economic zone in their home province. Sen. Edgardo Angara and his son, Aurora Rep. Jun Edgardo "Sonny" Angara co-sponsored Republic Act No. 10083, the law that created APECO. The younger Angara and Aurora Gov. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, the senator's sister, sit on the economic zone's Board. Palafox, who was initially tapped to create the master plan for APECO, alleged that the Angaras violated Presidential Decree 1445 in failing to submit APECO funds to scrutiny by the Commission on Audit. Palafox added that the Angaras pushed through with constructing the APECO infrastructure even without passing the necessary studies. "They had no environmental impact study, land conversion study, feasibility study, seaport study, and airport study," he said at a news briefing. He likewise said that Gov. Angara endorsed RA No. 10083 despite opposition from thousands of residents who risk losing their source of livelihood. Rep. Angara, however, brushed aside the Aurora residents’ claims, saying that the APECO was only constructed to bring development to the province. "I don’t think it’s a strong case because APECO is the start of development for that area. Before it, the road was terrible and there were no bridges and no airport... APECO hopes to change that," he said in a text message to GMANews.TV. DOJ probe Also on Monday, Justice Sec. Leila de Lima said she met with Palafox and Aurora residents to discuss the matter. She added that she is keen on creating a fact-finding panel to look into the allegations. "The panel will assess the evidence so far available, advise what other documents/evidence are needed to build a strong case against those involved in the anomalies, determine what case may be filed and against whom," said De Lima. The Justice chief added that the information presented to her "appear extensive and complex. Hence, a thorough study is essential." The Angaras Sen. Angara had earlier denied conflict of interest allegations in connection with APECO. In a letter to the Philippine Daily Inquirer in Nov. 2010, Angara said his son and sister sit as board members because they are mandated by law to sit on the Board in their capacities as Aurora representative and governor, respectively. "In all my public life, I have strived for honor and never used my position in government for private gain. I intend to continue and keep that," said the senator. — with Andreo Calonzo/RSJ/KBK, GMANews.TV