The Pilipino Banana Growers & Exporters Association (PBGEA) embarked on a relief mission to help displaced people severely affected by the war in Marawi City.
Dubbed “One Love, One Mindanao, Help Marawi,” the relief mission was organized by PBGEA member companies. Volunteers from the companies accompanied the three-truck convoy that brought relief goods to the beleaguered Lanao del Sur capital city on June 18.
“We are one with Mindanao and we are one with our fellow Filipinos in Marawi,” said PBGEA executive director Stephen Antig
Escorted by the military, the relief mission convoy left Davao City on June 17 and safely arrived at Camp Ranao in Marawi City on June 18 after some 14 hours of land travel.
The mission immediately turned over the relief goods to the military for distribution.
“We have an active “Sagip Pamayanan” program which extends disaster relief and rehabilitation in calamity stricken areas that is not only limited to where we plant bananas, said Antig. Member companies of the Davao City-based PBGEA operate mostly in Southern Mindanao.
Naturally, the mission brought bananas donated by PBGEA member companies.
“If there is one crop that bears a heart, it’s the bananas. And it’s what members of the PBGEA embodies and live by,” said Antig. “PBGEA has a heart for the distressed.”
“The bananas are actually a convenient and a good source of energy for the evacuees and our troops on the ground. It is a grab and go food. There’s no need to cook it,” pointed out Antig.
Antig said PBGEA is ready all the time to extend help to those who need it.
PBGEA with its Corporate Social Responsibility arm has placed support mechanisms in the community to achieve inclusive growth not only in banana production and trading but also in health development, educational assistance, environmental protection, infrastructure support, and disaster mitigation and relief assistance, he said.
He says PBGEA champions the concerns of the banana industry while delivering the gains through socio-economic interventions in areas where member-companies are operating in 15 provinces in Southern Philippines.
Upon their arrival, mission volunteers were shocked to find Marawi a ghost town but still braved entering the area to bring assistance “to our Maranao brothers and sisters,”
“We heard gunfire and bombs from cannons and airstrikes, ” says Betty Francia, one of the volunteers who joined the convoy, “but we are extremely honored to be in a position to extend some form of assistance to our brothers and sisters. I just wish this fighting will end soon.”
The convoy consisted of three trucks with hundreds of boxes of bananas, medicines, sacks of rice, ready to eat halal food packs, drinking water, clothes, blankets, toiletries and personal hygiene package, toys and others.
The mission also provided care packages and other goods for the troops to boost their morale.
The goods, donated by PBGEA member companies, farmers and other industry stakeholders, amounted to over a million pesos.
PBGEA sought the assistance of the Davao City-based AFP Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) to deliver the relief goods in the evacuation centers in Marawi.
Ltc. Ronaldo G. Valdez, of the EastMinCom, expressed how they are “grateful to get extra hand and support from the civil society. We appreciate the partnership wherein civilians help our soldiers.”
Thousands of Marawi residents fled their homes after the terrorist Maute group laid siege on the Muslim city on May 22. The attack by the terrorist group linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare Martial Law in Mindanao on May 23.
Thousands of people fled the city as troopers continue to engage the terrorists in fierce firefights.
Massive relief operations have been launched by government and the private sector for the thousands of evacuees in temporary shelters in nearby Iligan City in Lanao del Norte and in Lanao del Sur.
For deceptive tactics, insensitivity to plight of agrarian reform beneficiaries
The management of the Davao-based Marsman Estate Plantation, Inc. (MEPI) said it may file charges with the Office of the Ombudsman against two officials of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
MEPI has decried the deceptive tactics employed by DAR Undersecretaries Marcos Risonar and David Erro in agitating and confusing agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) regarding the fate of their Agribusiness Venture Agreements (AVA) with the company.
“MEPI reserves its right to take the appropriate legal measures to protect its interest, including bringing this matter up to the Office of the Ombudsman,” said MEPI president Antero Sison, Jr. in a letter addressed to the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC), which is chaired by President Rodrigo Duterte.
In the letter, MEPI assailed the insensitivity of Risonar and Erro to the plight of ARBs and other workers in MEPI’s banana plantation.
Sison said he found it both appalling and disturbing that the two DAR officials would resort to “deliberate and organized misinformation” when they held a consultative meeting in Tagum City last March 23 with members of the Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Cooperative (DAMARDEVCO).
In the meeting, Risonar and Erro told the ARBs that their cooperative’s AVA with MEPI has already been revoked.
Sison said the actions of the DAR officials were “totally unfair, misleading and devoid of due process as we have not been given the opportunity to correct these obviously erroneous and biased statements made by them.”
Sison said Risonar and Erro not only confused the ARBs but also caused “economic and reputational damage” to MEPI.
“Surely, the behavior of the DAR representatives is not aligned with the spirit in which President Duterte would like the pending issues to be resolved, which is that of fairness and transparency instead of misinformation and confusion,” Sison said in his letter that was also addressed to DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano.
Sison said that on MEPI’s part, it is “ready and committed to clarify and present factual and legal grounds” to back up its position.
The consultative meeting in Tagum was held to discuss whether the AVA between MEPI and DAMARDEVCO should be continued and determine the options open to ARBs in case they elect to get out of the existing lease contract. MEPI was not invited to the meeting.
Sison said in his letter dated March 24 that in the meeting, Erro, who also acts as the PARC Council Secretary, and Risonar, the DAR undersecretary for field operations, misled the ARBs by telling them the following erroneous statements:
The revocation of the AVA between MEPI and DAMARBDEVCO is already final and executory. Sison said this statement is “not factual and is misleading” because the PARC, in a March 7 letter to MEPI, informed the company that the Council agreed to defer action on the issue and that President Duterte had instructed the DAR to hold consultations with the parties involved “to discuss the intention to continue, modify or rescind the subject lease AVA with MEPI.”
MEPI no longer has legal ground to appeal the decision for the AVA cancellation. Sison said that this is again misleading because such claim “is not supported by legal grounds as MEPI’s motion for reconsideration has not been decided with finality.”
With the cancellation of the lease AVA with MEPI, the two other ARB cooperatives – SIFABCO and STARBENCO – may now take over the MEPI farm. Sison said that such a patently false statement “is alarming as it amounts to fomenting anarchy and instigating possible violence” and shows “conduct unbecoming of government officials.” Sison said that granting for the sake of argument that the lease AVA is cancelled, an interim period would still have to be observed by the parties involved to determine the arrangement that will govern their relationship.
The land originally donated by MEPI to DAMARBDEVCO was made to DAR and not to the ARBs and, therefore the ARB, need not worry about payment of just compensation to MEPI when the AVA is revoked. Sison said “this is completely wrong as the records will clearly show that the land was donated to DAMARBDEVCO and eventually subdivided to the individual ARBs to whom respective Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs) were issued.”
The ARBs will no longer have to pay for the land when the lease AVA with MEPI is revoked because they have House Bill 555, which bars the foreclosure of their land even with the nonpayment of amortizations to Land Bank, to rely on. Sison said this is another misleading statement. “How can House Bill 555 be used as a basis when it is not yet a law and there is no assurance that it will become a law?” Sison asked. Moreover, Sison said “the CARP law also clearly states that the Land Bank may foreclose the land in case of failure to pay three annual amortizations.” “With the DAR’s statement, the ARBs were given the wrong impression that they are not obligated to pay for the land at all,” Sison said.
Sison said he was also alarmed over the “uncaring” attitude of the DAR officials on the welfare of the ARBs and other MEPI workers who would end up jobless when the AVA is revoked. Sison said DAMARBDEVCO members informed him that the DAR officials told them that their plight was no longer DAR’s concern.
“Asked what will happen to the more than 1,800 employees of MEPI who will become jobless and to their 8,000 dependents if the lease AVA is cancelled and MEPI shuts down, the DAR representatives said that this is not their concern and that the employees can go to the Department of Labor and Employment to address that issue,” Sison said in his letter.
“This unfortunately shows utter disregard and uncaring attitude for the economic consequences of the Lease AVA cancellation,” he added.
Sison pointed out that on top of causing “economic and reputational damage” to MEPI, the deliberately erroneous statements made by the DAR officials also caused “confusion among the ARBs who may not anymore be able to make rational and intelligent decisions that will determine their economic future.”
“In the interest of fairness and transparency, we strongly urge the PARC to cause the DAR representatives to clarify as soon as possible the concerns expressed by the DAMARBDEVCO officers and members,” Sison said in his letter.
DAR OFFICIALS STIRRING UP LAND REFORM BENEFICIARIES INTO VIOLENCE VS. LANDBANK FORECLOSURE
Officials of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) have added fire to the volatile situation in the banana industry in Davao del Norte by urging Land Reform Beneficiaries (ARB) to meet with violence officials of Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) serving foreclosures on banana farms they are currently tilling.
Attack them with bolos!, DAR Undersecretaries Marcos Risonar and David Erro told members of the Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Cooperative (DAMARBDEVCO) of Sto. Tomas town.
Risonar and Erro dished out the call to violence during a meeting in Tagum City on March 23 with the 1,800-member DAMARBDEVCO to discuss the cooperative’s Agribusiness Venture Agreement (AVA) with the Marsman Estate Plantation, Inc. (MEPI).
The meeting was held to tackle the issue of whether the AVA between DAMARDEVCO and MEPI should be continued and to explore the options for ARBs who will be displaced if the agreement is eventually revoked.
DAMARBDEVCO members said they were shocked to hear the DAR Undersecretaries telling them that they should “attack with bolos” representatives from the LandBank if the banana farms they are currently tilling are foreclosed by the government bank in the event their AVA with MEPI gets permanently revoked.
They denounced Risonar and Erro for attempting to dupe them with misleading statements and inciting them to violence.
Rolando Lusterio, one of the ARBs present during the meeting, recalled Erro, a lawyer, saying that “kapag nagpunta ang Landbank para maningil, itakin ‘nyo (if the Landbank goes to you to ask for payment, attack them with bolos).”
Dioscoro Abellano, another ARB, also recalled the indifference and utter lack of concern of the DAR officials to their plight when he asked what would happen to the more than 1,800 ARBs of MEPI and their 8,000 dependents once the AVA with the company is revoked.
“Tinanong namin sila paano na kami kapag nawalan ng trabaho. Ang sagot nila, hindi na daw nila problema yun, at doon daw kami magpunta sa DOLE para magreklamo (We asked them what would happen to us if we are rendered jobless. They responded that it’s not their problem anymore, and that we should go to the Department of Labor and Employment to complain).”
Edwin Gil, another ARB, said Erro made the statement when he and the other ARBs asked what would happen if their AVA with MEPI was revoked and they have to start paying amortization to Landbank as required under the law.
“Ang sabi ba naman sa amin, itakin daw namin ang taga-Landbank nang tanungin namin kung anong gagawin namin, wala naman kaming ibabayad (Imagine, they told us that we should attack people from Landbank with our bolos when we asked what were we to do, we do not have money to pay Landbank),” Lusterio said.
The land being tilled by the ARBs inside MEPI’s farm in Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte was donated to them by the company as part of the terms of their AVA. While they were given the land for free, the ARBs also received lease rentals, above-average compensation and other benefits from MEPI that are considered among the highest in the agriculture sector.
If the AVA, which is the condition for the donation is revoked, the donation itself is revoked and the government must pay MEPI more than P1.0 Billion representing the company’s just compensation for the land it had earlier donated to the ARBs. The ARBs, in turn, would have to pay Land Bank for the land that they already owned had the AVA not been revoked.
Abellano said the DAR officials also told them that House Bill 555 will protect them and stop Landbank from collecting payment from the ARBs and having their lands foreclosed, when such a proposal has not yet been approved and has long been languishing in the Congress.
Under the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and its extension, ARBs can pay for the land awarded to them for 30 years at 6 percent yearly interest.
“Ano ba talaga ang gusto ng DAR, umunlad kami o maghirap? Bakit sila nagpadala ng mga opisyal na puro kasinungalingan ang sinabi sa amin? (What does DAR really want—for us to prosper or to become poor? Why did they send officials who told us all lies?),” Abellano said.
Lusterio, Gil and Abellano said the DAR officials tried to dupe them by saying that the AVA with MEPI was already “cancelled” when the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC), which is chaired by President Duterte, has not yet rendered a final decision on the motions for reconsideration that had been filed earlier by MEPI and DAMARDEVCO.
MEETING WITH DUTERTE
The DAMARBDEVCO ARBs said they could hardly argue with the two DAR officials, who introduced themselves as lawyers, even though the truth was that President Duterte even plans to attend the second round of consultations with them to discuss their AVA with MEPI.
Jun Mercado, another ARB present at the meeting, said Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella was quoted as saying recently that the President would be attending the second meeting, along with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, who chairs the Landbank.
“So how is the AVA already cancelled, mag-meeting pa nga kami with President Duterte?” Mercado said.
Mercado also recalled Risonar as claiming that MEPI can no longer appeal the decision before the courts on the revocation of the AVA, which is false because it deprives the company of due process.
“They were trying to make us believe that the agreement with MEPI is already cancelled by telling us na tapos na dawang (we already ended our) relationship [namin] with MEPI,” Lusterio said.
The banana industry in the Philippines has expressed fears that more banana plantations in Mindanao could close down as communist rebels intensify their extortion activities by attacking companies who refuse to pay revolutionary tax.
Unemployment in the Philippines’ southern island where export banana is a major dollar-earning crop, is rearing its ugly head as the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), carried out a dozen attacks on banana plantations this year.
The NPA is driving investors away from Mindanao, said Stephen Antig, executive director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA).
PBGEA is the umbrella group of banana industry players in the Philippines.
The government should pay more attention to the insurgency problem because “it is driving the present and prospective investors away from Mindanao. Obviously, the closure of plantations will lead to unemployment and then poverty,” said Antig.
The government will also lose revenues from property taxes, business permits, VAT and income taxes, among others if the threat to the banana industry continues and investors pack their bags and close down their plantations, Antig said.
Antig raised the fear of investors moving out as over 1,500 farm workers and employees lost their jobs after Dole-Stanfilco, a multinational banana firm in Tagbina, Surigao del Sur, shut down its operations on its 400 hectare plantation this year. The closure followed a series of attacks against the company by the NPA allegedly for refusing to pay revolutionary taxes.
Meanwhile, communist rebels and alleged environmental groups batting for a total ban of aerial spraying in banana plantations in the Philippines could be sharing the same agenda to cripple down the banana industry — one of the country’s biggest dollar earners.
Early this year, the Mamamayang Ayaw Sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS), a non-government organization (NGO) and a partner of another anti-aerial spraying NGO, Interface Development Initiatives (IDIS), renewed calls for a ban on aerial by prodding the Supreme Court to fast-track decision on Davao City Ordinance 0309-07 which banned serial spraying in the city. MAAS and IDIS front-lined the lobby for the passage of the ordinance which was approved by the Davao City Council in 2007. The Davao City aerial spraying ban has reached the High Court as the banana industry questioned the legality of the ordinance.
The NPA attacks on the banana plantations where they burned equipment and raided company armories have taken a severe toll particularly on workers.
Severely affected workers displaced by the closure are questioning the real motives of NGOs against aerial spraying who claim to be for the people, now that agricultural plantations are being attacked and their employees harassed by the NPA.
The rebel atrocities are risks to people’s health and the environment which are the same concerns raised by the NGOs in opposing aerial spraying, according to Eduardo Maningo, a spokesman for the Agrarian Land Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs).
Maningo said he sees a mutual pattern of destruction in the series of attacks by the NPAs and the renewed calls by MAAS and IDIS on the ban on aerial spraying.
“Why is it that (MAAS and IDIS) which have always been vocal about their apparent concern about the welfare of farm workers are silent about the atrocities committed by these lawless elements? Why are they not indignant that these workers’ livelihood and well beings are being threatened by the rebels?” Maningo asked.
“Are these NPA bombings and torching of farms and equipment not an alarming immediate threat to lives and the environment?’” Maningo added.
Aerial spraying is an agricultural practice accepted by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
Aerial spraying ensures farm productivity and quality and prevents diseases in banana plantations. The practice is the strongest armor of banana plantations against the deadly leaf diseases Sigatoka, which crippled the banana industry in South America years ago.
MAAS and IDIS in lobbying for the ban claimed aerial spraying posed risk to people and environment, which was refuted by PBGEA.
Antig earlier said the claims are “unsupported and baseless.”
These groups are fond of parroting claims they cannot support. The case is already in the Supreme Court, we want the truth to actually come out. Let the Supreme Court decide based on the merits of the case, said Antig as the NGOs renewed their call for the ban.
Allegations against aerial spraying have been refuted by scientists, PBGEA said.
On the ground, farm workers and residents around the plantations assert that their environment have remained highly conducive for healthy living, farming and raising animals. The residents also swore, during public hearings conducted by the Davao City Council, that they have been living healthy lives for more than three decades, even with the plantations employing aerial spray.
“We can’t help but think that these groups (MAAS and IDIS) are one with the rebels with the same goal – which is to shut down the banana industry. The workers are just poor collaterals,” Maningo lamented.
A report published in Biz-Buzz Inquirer a year ago cited that environmental groups pushing for the ban of aerial spraying in the Philippines are being financially backed by some organizations in Netherlands with vested interest in the banana growing and exporting industry in Indonesia, once a colony of the Netherlands.
Antig said the banana industry is serious on its corporate social responsibility to ensure the health of people and the environment as they operate under strict compliance to government regulations.
“Those who are pushing for a ban on aerial spraying should see for themselves how the industry is mindful of the health of the people and the protection of the environment,” said Antig.
Banana plantations account for 83,000 hectares in Mindanao and at an average of four direct and indirect workers, the banana industry employs 332,000 workers. Together with the workers’ families, more than three million individuals are dependent on the banana export industry.