The plague of plantations

#LakbayMagsasaka
Farmers form human chain outside DAR in Quezon City on Oct. 17, 2017 (Photo by Marya Salamat/Bulatlat)

By RUTH LUMIBAO
Bulatlat

For 15 years, Huel Hoyle, chairperson for Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries One Movement-Southern Mindanao Region (AOM-SMR), has worked for the Tagum Agricultural Development Corporation (TADECO). His salary as a plantation worker depended on meeting the quota for the day. Indeed, for a family of four, it was not sufficient.

Without masks or uniforms provided by the company, Hoyle and the other trabahantes (plantation workers) are exposed to harmful chemicals.

Owned by the Floirendo family of Davao Del Norte, Tadeco plantation spans around 28,816 hectares planted with Cavendish bananas exported to Japan, Middle East, and South Korea.

During the presidency of Corazon Aquino, the massive land area was put under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). But the Floirendos refused to yield control of the land.

Asserting their right to the land, farmer-beneficiaries have filed and won their respective cases at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the Supreme Court. These include those under the WADECOR Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc., Checkered Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries and Employees Multi-purpose Cooperative, PAHECO Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc., and Linda District Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc.

The decisions that favored the farmers, however, remain, up to this day, to be good only on paper.

#Lakbay Magsasaka
At a farmers’ human chain in front of DAR, Oct. 17, 2017 (Bulatlat Photo)

For almost four decades, the agrarian reform beneficiaries have been appealing to DAR for the issuance of writs of installation.

When the TADECO workers arrived in Manila on Oct. 17, for the Lakbayan ng mga Magsasaka, their goal was to have a dialogue with DAR officials for the immediate issuance of the writs of installation.

As a result of their dialogue last October 18, DAR undertook to draft a memorandum ordering the Provincial Agrarian Regional Office (PARO) in Davao Del Norte to look into the situation and identify the steps already taken since the TADECO farmers’ last follow-up.

However, farmers later discovered that Rosalinda Bistoyong, officer-in-charge of DAR, has already held a dialogue with other groups of farmers, conspicuously excluding Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and other progressive peasant groups. The dialogue was called for DAR to resolve the intensifying pressures from oligarchs and landlords to cancel notices of coverage initially issued by the same office.

Despite the culmination of Lakbay Magsasaka last Oct. 25, TADECO farmers have decided to remain in their camp in front of DAR to pressure DAR to issue the writs of installation.

Up to this day, they have received no response from DAR. The policies of the Duterte administration as to the exportation of goods and commercialization, however, have been strengthened, only to the detriment of agricultural workers.

Perpetuating control

The Floirendo family has employed several means to remain in control of the property: first, by dividing the farmers’ point of unity: the free distribution of land; second, by petitioning for the reclassification of land to convert it for commercial use; and third, by entering into joint venture agreements with government entities, given that the family itself has had good relations with government officials and Marcos cronies.

According to Hoyle, the Floirendo family once employed the leaseback system. The scheme gives the illusion that the farmers have already been awarded their share of the land. Through this, the “beneficiaries” lease their awarded land to the company to become workers in their own land. In the TADECO experience, those who did not lease the awarded plot of land to the Floirendo family would be nevertheless asked to vacate.

Once, the Floirendo family also tried to reclassify a portion of the land declared for distribution to the farmers. In their petition, it was supposed to be converted for commercial use, with prospects of constructing an airport. According to Hoyle, the TADECO farmers strongly objected to this. Although petitioned to be for agricultural use, they had sufficient reason to speculate that the Floirendo family was just going to utilize it to remain in control of their plantations.

BULATLAT FILE PHOTO: Huel Hoyle, chairperson of AOM-SMR, (second from left) said farm workers still await the distribution of lands of the TADECO plantation owned by Marcos crony, Antonio Floirendo. (Photo by Ruth Lumibao/Bulatlat)

The Floirendo family also acquires additional properties through agreements with government institutions. Early in May 2017, TADECO was able to enter into an agreement with the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) to use 5,308 hectares of land in the Davao Penal Colony under a profit-sharing scheme. The Department of Justice (DOJ) fact-finding committee found that this joint venture agreement between BuCor and TADECO was not in accordance with law, the property being part of inalienable public domain.

DOJ, as a member of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC), can recommend the revocation of subsequent joint venture agreements and various agri-business ventures (AVA) to press TADECO to distribute the land to the farmers.

“The 28,816-hectare banana plantation of the Tadeco of the Floirendo family, a then Marcos crony, is a clear example of how legitimate agrarian reform beneficiaries are robbed of their rights to till their own land through various schemes such as leaseback, leasehold, contract growing and agri-business venture agreements (AVAs),” AOM Secretary-General Billy Cabintoy said.

Cardinal foreign interests

Mono-cropping, more than being an export-oriented and environmentally detrimental policy, spells the foundation of the death of our agricultural economy.

“Hindi katanggap-tanggap na ang lupa ng Pilipinas ay pinakikinabangan ng mga dayuhan,” Pedro Arnado, chairperson of KMP-Southern Mindanao, Region said.

(It is not acceptable for foreigners to keep on taking advantage of our land.)

The Duterte administration has reserved at least 1.6 million hectares of land for plantations and mining. With a perspective to expand the plantation businesses, genuine agrarian reform, including the distribution of land to the TADECO farmers, remains to be a distant goal.

Farmers shun what they call as the government’s bogus land reform and pushes for the alternative Genuine Agrarian Reform bill. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / Bulatlat.com)

In Mindanao, 500,000 hectares are reserved for mining operations. 424,000 hectares are reserved for palm oil plantations in Central Mindanao. More than half, covering around 127,105 hectares, of plantations are located in Northern Mindanao; 126,170 hectares are reserved for plantations in Socksargen, covering the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and General Santos City.

In a statement, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said they discovered that almost 200,000 hectares of virgin forest lands will likewise be converted to a palm plantation by Malaysian and Indonesian companies in the CARAGA region. After Duterte signed $6-billion worth of an investment deals with the Japanese government, the latter will also be able to expand its interests in Mindanao.

Currently, the United States has $6.1-billion and $8.7-billion worth of exports and imports, respectively. China’s steel surplus and Duterte’s acquisition of billions of loans and aid are also red flags for an impending infrastructure boom under the “Build, Build, Build” program. Several projects, such as the Manila Bay reclamation, will result to the displacement of thousands of families and the loss of livelihood of both farmers and fisher folk.

Related story: Navotas fisherfolk hold fluvial protest vs reclamation, demolition

“Since its inception, the ASEAN has never been for the interest of the people, but for profit and monopoly capital. It serves to strengthen foreign control over raw materials, labor and supply chains in the region at the expense of the people and nations of Asia Pacific,” Arnado said.

In the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) deal to be discussed by member countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, the Philippine economy will be more liberalized — more imports of rice are foreseen, more free trade agreements (FTAs) to be finalized.

In a research conducted by Ibon Foundation, additional rice imports will immediately translate into the decrease in the value of locally-produced rice, and eventually, the decrease in the income of farmers. With the removal of the quantitative restriction on rice importation and the prospect of imposing a tariff instead, the Philippine Institution for Development Studies (PIDS) itself found that this could pull down the income of farmers by 29 percent.

The preferential treatment of the government itself in favor of imported goods is already indicative of the government’s neglect of the natural and biggest potential in our economy — agriculture.

“We must defend our lands against foreign land grabbing and plunder. Corporate plantations’expansion would result to land dispossession, labor exploitation, violence including killings, environmental degradation, and health problems,” Antonio Flores, KMP Secretary-General, said. (http://bulatlat.com)

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