Banana farmers seek protection vs rebels

Agrarian reform beneficiaries in Mindanao expressed alarm over the heightened series of attacks by alleged communist rebels on banana and pineapple plantations, saying these attacks put at risk the country’s standing as one of the world’s biggest banana exporters. 

Eduardo Maningo, a spokesman for Mindanao ARBs, called on the government to step up efforts to protect farm workers and agribusinesses who were allegedly vulnerable to New People’s Army attacks. 

“The safety of our families and our livelihood are threatened. If the government fails to address this problem, businesses can leave and we will lose our jobs,” Maningo said. 

“Our industry is already hampered with problems. We have low productivity because of pests and diseases, drought, flooding…but the insurgency is most alarming. We are scared for our lives,” he said.

He said communist insurgents focused their attacks on Mindanao’s lucrative fruit farm businesses, with the aim of paralyzing their operations by burning or destroying equipment if their owners refused to pay “revolutionary taxes.”

The attacks allegedly resulted in killings, arson and the disruption of business operations. 

Among the facilities that were destroyed were Dole’s cold storage plant and other equipment in Barangay Sinawal in General Santos City on March 30; a banana processing plant in Pantukan, Compostela Valley on Feb. 5; a pineapple plantation in Bukidnon on Feb. 25; and three container vans loaded with fruits in Maragusan, Compostela Valley on March 25. 

The rebels also allegedly opened fire on a spray plane in Tagbina, Surigao and continued with their attacks in Sumifru (Philippines) in Malaybalay, Bukidnon on March 27.

A businessman, who refused to be named, expressed frustration over the continued attacks.

“Government should rethink their peace efforts if it will work or just wage an all-out war, which apparently is the only language the NPAs understand,” the businessman said.

Latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed the Philippines produced 9.1 million metric tons of bananas in 2015. The cavendish variety, a top export, accounted for half or 4.57 million MT of the total production.

Philippine fresh bananas are exported to South Korea, Iran, Hong Kong, Singapore, Russia, New Zealand, San Diego in the United States, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, China, Mongolia, Ukraine, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and niche markets in Europe.

Rebels allegedly resorted to burning equipment and facilities in fruit plantations in Mindanao to force companies to pay them “revolutionary taxes.” They were also accused of torching some P4 million worth of farm equipment at a pineapple plantation owned by Del Monte Philippines. 

The incident at the Del Monte plantation is only the latest in the series of attacks perpetrated by rebels on Mindanao’s pineapple and banana plantations.  Such attacks intensified over the past few weeks even while backchannel talks to get the peace negotiations restarted were being held between the government panel and the National Democratic Front, the political arm of the communist group.

Topics: Agrarian reform beneficiaries , Mindanao , Banana farmers , plantations , New People’s Army , NPA
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