GENERAL SANTOS CITY: While government negotiators are resuming peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the National Democratic Front (NDF) in the Netherlands, the CPP-NDF’s armed wing has gone on a rampage in Mindanao.
Last week, the NPA attacked the banana plantation of multinational company Dole here in Barangay Sinawal.
The rebels burned Dole Philippines’ cold storage and palletizing facilities, as well as a container van and other materials inside the compound worth an estimated P6.9 million. They also poured gasoline on three DOLE container vans containing produce worth P1.7 million on their way to Panabo City, Davao del Norte from Maragusan, Compostela Valley.
Dole is the world’s largest producer of fresh fruits, vegetables, and cut flowers. It also operates a vast pineapple plantation at nearby Polomolok town in South Cotabato province. Following the assaults, the agribusiness firm stopped all farm operations, leaving 56 workers and their families severely affected. Dole’s top management has yet to decide if it would continue the operations of the 200-hectare banana farm.
Agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) reported that the NPA has launched an intensified series of attacks on Mindanao-based agricultural plantations that refused to pay revolutionary taxes.
Eduardo Maningo, a spokesman for the ARBs in the banana industry, said: “We ask the government to please step up its protection of farm workers and businesses and to go after these lawless elements. The safety of our families and our livelihood are threatened.”
Mindanao’s most lucrative dollar earner will be compromised should the violent attacks persist, thereby affecting the national economy. The Philippines is one of the largest banana exporters in the world, despite the small land area of farms devoted to the fruit’s cultivation in the country’s southern regions.
Current estimates place the number of Filipinos dependent on the banana export trade at 2 million, including family members of “bananeros” and employees of downstream industries.
An investor lamented the government’s alleged neglect of this industry that has reduced poverty in areas where it operates. “All the while, I thought agricultural development is a priority, but the continuous harassment and extortions by the NPA rebels prove otherwise,” he said.
In February, they burned down heavy equipment at a pineapple plantation in Bukidnon and a banana processing plant in Compostela Valley.
The following month, NPA terrorists set in flames the facilities of Japanese firm Sumifru in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon and shot down a Cessna plane conducting spraying operations in Tagbina, Surigao.
“Our industry is already hampered with problems. We have low productivity because of pests and diseases, drought, flooding, intermittent weather conditions, and we’re still reeling from the onslaught of Typhoon Pablo. But the insurgency is the most alarming. We are scared for our lives,” Maningo said.
What makes people here in Southern Mindanao wonder is why the government continues to deal with the NDF’s octogenarian leaders who are comfortably ensconced in their Dutch safe havens.
Rebels on the ground have their own minds and have long ignored orders coming from Utrecht. Will the signing of an interim ceasefire agreement make any difference?
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FINEX. The author is chief financial officer (CFO) of the Asian Center for Legal Excellence and serves as Co-Chairman of the FINEX Media Affairs Committee.