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END TO REBEL VIOLENCE VS BANANA FARMS SEEN UNDER PRESIDENT DUTERTE

PEACE PACT TO BOOST MINDANAO BANANA INDUSTRY

Reeling from decades of rebel extortion and violence, the banana industry in Mindanao is agog over ongoing peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the leftist National Democratric Front (NDF).

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President Rodrigo R. Duterte, acknowledged for the first time that the banana industry is hampered by the continuous harassment of lawless groups in Mindanao.

The banana industry has blamed the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the NDF, for the extortion and raids carried out against banana plantations.

“The greatest challenge of the banana growers in the Philippines is really the law and order. Until and unless you can put together a country that’s bereft of any revolutionary tax, extortion and everything, sinusunog ang property, it’s all because of the taxation. If it’s not taxation of the communists, it’s extortion of the roving bandits in Mindanao,” Duterte said during the closing ceremonies of the 2016 Banana Congress held in Davao City last week.

Duterte hit the ground running to make peace with the communist rebels to end the 40-year old insurgency that is active in many parts of Mindanao.

Vowing to end the insurgency during his term, Duterte promised a final peace agreement with the NDF could be hammered out in a year’s time.

Panels of the government and the NDF are now facing off in the negotiation table in Oslo.  

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Earlier on before Duterte was overwhelmingly elected as President in the May 2016 election, ang as NPA rebels carried out a series of attacks on the plantations, Stephen Antig, president of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), sought help of the government to to stop the violence against one of the major export-earning industry in the country.

Antig expressed worry that the rebel attacks are driving away investors from Mindanao.

Duterte’s statement at the Congress was met with elation by banana industry players.

Organized for government policy makers, business leaders, technocrats, farmers and other stakeholders of the banana industry, the two-day Congress served as a venue for the participants to share information on best practices in pests and disease management, value chain development, technology updates, maximizing benefits from trade and tariff agreements and market standards compliance.

Some of the industry stakeholders, particularly big banana plantations, have been seeking government support in fighting extortionists from the NPA who are demanding revolutionary taxes.  

A multinational company – Dole-Stanfilco – recently shutdown its plantation and packing plants in the northern part of Mindanao after the rebels torch container trucks early this year because the company refused to pay the revolutionary taxes.

Duterte said Mindanao is the key to driving developments in Philippine agriculture. While mining industries and export processing zones can sprout “everywhere,” Duterte said, “what would make the industry valuable is actually [agriculture in] Mindanao, and only in Mindanao.”

He added that he is bullish about agriculture in the country, and sees that the sector will “make it big…in the span of the next 30 years,” provided the country is able to iron out law and order, and stop extortion attempts of bandits on farm owners.

Shipping lines carrying agricultural exports from Mindanao indicated that banana exports account for more than 60% of the total volume of agricultural products shipped out of Mindanao. 

“So, at first, even before I took my oath of office I tried to reach out to the communists. And right at the start of my administration we’re also starting the talks, I’m very happy. Now we are freed of the countryside vis-a-vis itong communist party of the Philippines, NDF, NPA,” Duterte told hundreds of delegates to the Banana Congress. 

Incessant attacks from Philippine rebels have prompted Dole-Stanfilco to close two of its banana operations in the province of Surigao del Sur. The NPAs are believed to have carried out the attacks. 

The rebels have torched 19 of Dole’s container trucks since 2010. The trucks are used to transport bananas from the Surigao del Sur plantations to Davao City. The closure affected over 1,500 workers.

The most affected sector of the insurgency in Mindanao is the hundreds of thousands of farm workers in the plantations—not the multinational companies and their executives. The farmers have appealed to the government to do something about them. 

The banana plantations in Mindanao cover about 85,000 hectares and estimated to employ more than 330,000 workers supporting a total of two million people.

The insurgency problem affects almost all industries in Mindanao. It has been a major problem in the last five decades caused by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

Their atrocities involve arson, extortion, harassment, black propaganda, infiltration of labor unions, meddling with agribusiness venture agreements, etc. There are 52 communist fronts nationwide, 24 are in Eastern Mindanao or 46% while the remaining 28 fronts (54%) are scattered in the rest of the country.

Most of the big industries in the countryside are located near rebel bases. They are vulnerable to CNN-initiated violent and non-violent attacks. Rebels also harass smaller businesses in the areas where they operate. 

Last year, the NPAs attacked Mindanao plantations almost on a monthly basis beginning in January until November. The NPAs burned heavy equipment, container vans and cargo trucks loaded with bananas in various parts of Mindanao, such as T’boli and Surallah in South Cotabato; Barobo and Lianga in Surigao del Sur; Quezon, Bukidnon; Maco, Compostela Valley; and Maasim, Sarangani Province.

After a lull in December because of the annual ceasefire, the NPAs have stepped up their violent activities against the plantations starting late January up to last June. The attacks covering the period January 22 to March 15, 2016, have already surpassed the number of attacks for the whole of 2015.

The turbulent situation in Mindanao could stop further expansion of the plantations, at the very least, but it could worsen when industries start packing up and leaving for other countries eyeing to grab the lucrative fruits export market in Asia and the Middle East from Mindanao exporters.

Duterte said “Mindanao remains to be a valuable agricultural land.” If the revolutionary tax will be remove, “we would be alright.”

“I’m saying this because you are into expansion. If you are into banana and you plant bananas in 20 hectares in 10 years, ay huminto ka nalang. Malulugi ka na lang kung ganon. In banana, in plantations and any other business you have to expand. If you do not expand, babagsak ka!”

“So it’s either we succeed on the talks or we don’t move at all. Because limitado, there cannot be full use of the land until we have the peace that we all desire.

“Having said that, we are open to all issues that you might want to, the government to intervene,” he said.

CLOSURE OF MORE MINDANAO BANANA PLANTATIONS FEARED

 

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BY RIGOR ZABALA

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.

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ANTI-AERIAL SPRAY GROUP LINKED TO COMMUNIST REBELS

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.

 

Anti-aerial spray group linked to communist rebels

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BY RIGOR ZABALA

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.

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The New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP, carried out this year about a dozen attacks on banana plantations in Mindanao, according to reports.

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.

Over 1,500 farm workers and employees have lost their jobs when 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.

 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 its 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 said Eduardo Maningo, a spokesman for the Agrarian Land Reform Beneficiaries  (ARBs).

Maningo said  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.

Reports said that a dozen attacks were carried out by the NPA from late January to February this year, almost the same as the total for the whole of 2015.

“Are these NPA bombings and torching of farms and equipment not an alarming immediate threat to lives and the environment?’” Maningo added.  

“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.

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.

Stephen Antig, PBGEA executive director, 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.

PBGEA said all allegations against aerial spraying have been refuted by scientists. 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 swear, 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.

Speculations have been raised on where IDIS and MAAS, small NGOs based in Davao, are sourcing funds to carry out is anti-aerial spraying campaign even up to the courts.

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 NPA attacks are now driving  away from Mindanao local and foreign investors in banana growing.

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 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.

COMMUNIST REBELS DRIVING AWAY INVESTORS FROM MINDANAO

Insurgency more pressing problem of banana exporters

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Why are government agencies so focused on issues like aerial spraying and land rental when the bigger problem is peace and order, which is driving the investors away?

Steve Antig, Executive Director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) wonders why issues on aerial spraying have surfaced again when it has been resolved several years back. He said the government should pay more attention to the insurgency problem because “it is driving the present and prospective investors away from Mindanao.”

Dole-Stanfilco, a multinational banana firm operating in Tagbina, Surigao del Sur has shut down its operations indefinitely after it has been subjected to a series of attacks by the rebel group New People’s Army (NPA) for  refusing to pay revolutionary taxes.

The NPA has burned 19 container trucks in total and has cost the company P20 million in losses since 2010. Just last week, the rebels have escalated their assault by blowing up the company’s truck with bombs.

     “The closure of plantations will lead to unemployment and then to poverty,” Antig said.

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A WOMAN employee of Stanfilco weeps after learning of the company decision to close shop following attacks by communist guerrillas. CHRIS PANGANIBAN/INQUIRER MINDANAO

The closure of the Surigao plantation has severely affected over 1,500 employees on its 400-hectare plantation. The displaced workers are condemning the violence as they asked what would happen to their families now that they have lost their jobs.

     “Where now are their claims that they are soldiers of the masses that will look after our welfare? We are here not to fight with arms but to condemn the extortion activities of the NPAs which cost our livelihood,” said Concepcion Jumao-as, a farm worker who spoke at a protest march-rally.

Jumao-as said company officials have feared the NPA’s use of powerful explosives that burned the two trucks carrying the container vans and was the main reason for the company decision to close down its operations.

“Before, they use gasoline in torching the trucks but lately they already use bombs,” she said.

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INCREASED ATTACKS

“There will be a domino effect on the economy of the locality unless peace and order is established,” Antig said. “This will create a vicious cycle, thus, should be given priority,” he added.

Farmers, mainly agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) who are now contract growers for banana and pineapple exporters, have reported increased attacks by the NPA on farms, facilities and equipment.

     Eduardo Maningo, a spokesman for the ARBs, said that about a dozen burning incidents were carried out by the NPA from late January to February this year, almost the same as the total for the whole of 2015.

     The attacks, some of which were not reported to the authorities, were in T’boli and Surallah in South Cotabato; Barobo and Lianga in Surigao del Sur; Quezon, Bukidnon; Maco, Compostela Valley; and Maasim, Sarangani.

The attacks on plantations and companies are part of the rebels’ extortion activities.

ULTIMATUM

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The Surigao NPA bombing came even after President Rodrigo Duterte has issued a unilateral ceasefire in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) and an ultimatum to communist rebels.

The rebels have ignored the declaration of ceasefire and even ambushed the military in Davao del Norte on July 27 killing one Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) member and wounding four others.

The government forces were returning to camp after hearing about the President’s declaration of unilateral truce when they were waylaid by the NPAs.

“I went out of my way just to express to you our need for peace. For as long as there is war here, there will be poverty… You thought our government cannot do it, try me,” the President warned.

Duterte said he is ready to put his life on the line for peace.

“So shoot me,” Duterte told the rebels. “I will face you (rebels) someday. I have no problem,” Duterte challenged.

Duterte stressed that he has declared the truce in good faith hoping that the rebels will reciprocate and forge the way to peace negotiations.

“Many days ago, the response of the communists is like a defensive position. Not stand-down. That is not a good response. They don’t need to study it. All they have to do is count the body bags – those who were killed from their ranks, and then the government’s. I was expecting that they would also reciprocate my imploring for peace through the ceasefire on their side. Now, I cannot understand if they are really… for peace or they are trying to embarrass me,” he said.

What is the NPA trying to prove? Are they telling us that they can attack government soldiers at will and get away with it? Or are they telling us that they reject President Duterte’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire?” said Ernesto Alcanzare of the group Yes for Peace-Bayanihan para sa Kapayapaan, Kaunlaran at Kasaganahan.

Domingo Alidon, a member of the Inter-Agency Technical Working Group of Yes for Peace asks, “Whose rights are the NPA really fighting for? The Filipino people’s rights or their right to bear arms against a duly elected government?”

The ceasefire has been lifted after his deadline for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to declare their own ceasefire last July 30 lapsed.

Last August 6, Duterte in his visit to the wake of a slain soldier in a clash with the militant armed wing urged the NPA to stop the use of landmines in attacking government military forces, else the peace talks with the left movement is cancelled.

“Either you stop it or we stop talking. Let’s fight [for] another 45 years,” Duterte said in his speech.

“I am not pleading this time. That’s an ultimatum. [If I] hear another explosion killing people – not only soldiers – killing people, no talks, pasensiya na (I’m sorry),” Duterte strongly said.

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