Mindanao banana farmers seek more government protection from NPA

Photo from http://asia.nikkei.com/

Banana farmers on Monday asked the government to step up its campaign against members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who have been attacking banana plantations in Mindanao for not paying “revolutionary taxes”.

Agrarian-reform beneficiaries (ARBs) reported that the NPAs have once again launched an intensified series of attacks on banana and pineapple plantations resulting in killings, arson and disruption of business operations in Mindanao.

The renewed violent attacks came after the peace negotiations with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) has been terminated and the unilateral ceasefire has been lifted. The NPA is the armed wing of the NDF and has heavy presence in Mindanao.

“We ask the government to please step up its protection of farmworkers and businesses and to go after these lawless elements. The safety of our families and our livelihood is threatened. If the government fails to address this problem, businesses can leave and we will lose our jobs,” said Eduardo Maningo, a spokesman for the ARBs.

Maningo noted that if the violent attacks and harassment in farms persist, Mindanao’s most lucrative dollar earner will be compromised. The Philippines is the second-biggest exporter of bananas in the world, despite the small land area of the farms concentrated in Mindanao.

‘Neglected industry’

An investor in the banana industry, who doesn’t want to be identified for security reasons, lamented that government appears to be more concerned on less important matters but has been neglecting the banana industry, which has more economic contributions and has been employing hundreds of thousands of workers.

Current estimates place the people dependent on the banana industry at 2 million, inclusive of the family members of the bananeros, as well as employees of downstream industries.

“All the while, I thought agricultural development is a priority, but the continuous harassment and extortions by the NPAs prove otherwise,” the investor said.

Illegal activities

Authorities believe that the rebels’ assaults on the plantation were part of their extortion activities.

“Our industry is already hampered with problems. We have low productivity because of pests and diseases, drought, flooding—the intermittent weather conditions and were still reeling from the onslaught of  Typhoon Pablo but the insurgency is the most alarming. We are scared for our lives,” Maningo said.

On March 30 the NPAs attacked the facilities of Dole’s banana plantation in Barangay Sinawal in General Santos City. The rebels burned the cold storage and palletizing facilities, a container van and other materials within the compound estimated at a cost of P6.9 million.

The company has stopped all farm operations leaving 56 workers and their families severely affected. Top management is yet to decide on the continuity of the business depending on the security conditions of the almost 200-hectare banana farm.

On February 2 the day the NPAs announced it is terminating the unilateral cease-fire, communist rebels in Bukidnon killed three soldiers and paralyzed heavy equipment of a food processor in the province.

The NPAs boasted of the attacks in a statement released by Ka Allan Juanito, spokesman of the NPA North Central Mindanao Regional Command.

Juanito said the three soldiers, whom he described as members of the Community Organizing for Peace and Development unit of the Army’s 8th Infantry Battalion were killed when they attempted to shoot it out with the guerilla unit that stopped their motorcycle in Sitio Kali Barangay Kibalag in Malaybalay City the day before.

They also seized the three soldiers’ .45 caliber pistols. The military said, the slain soldiers were noncombatants.



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