PRESIDENT BS Aquino’s presence at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) Climate Talks in Paris, France merely highlights his reign as the country’s “disaster president,” according to the national agriworkers federation Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).
“He will only be posturing with his claims that the Philippines would help mitigate effects of climate change,” said Ranmil Echanis, UMA Secretary-General. “The Aquino administration’s commitment to maintain and expand corporate agricultural plantations especially in Mindanao is a testament to this hypocrisy.”
“Aquino himself is the country’s biggest disaster,” UMA observed.
UMA and the newly-formed Network Resisting Expansion of Agricultural Plantations in Mindanao (REAP-Mindanao Network) have pointed out that Aquino’s aggressive drive to convert millions of hectares of land to corporate plantations in the next few years will result in massive destruction of forests, loss of biodiversity, and will inevitably contribute to the global problem of climate change.
According to REAP, more or less 500,000 hectares of land in Mindanao are now covered with plantation crops primarily for the export market. This area is equivalent to 12 percent of Mindanao’s agricultural land. The groups noted that the Aquino government’s drive to aggressively increase the scope of various agricultural plantations in Mindanao will definitely destroy Mindanao’s traditional food sources and the country’s last remaining frontiers. These areas are located in peasant communities and the ancestral domain of Lumad and the Moro people.
Operations of corporate agricultural plantations have also been observed increases the public’s vulnerability during natural calamities and to exacerbate disasters like flash floods during typhoon Sendong (Washi) in 2011 and Pablo (Bophal) in 2012. In Region 10 alone, over 1,200 persons were killed in flashfloods prompted by Sendong. After Pablo ravaged Davao and Compostela provinces, thousands were left homeless and without livelihood due to damages suffered by these Mindanao regions.
Through various progressive groups such as Anakpawis, peasants and other victims of calamities took it upon themselves to organize relief operations and quick-reaction teams, as they demanded justice and fiercely criticized the Aquino government’s incompetence and criminal negligence. “Did BS Aquino learn anything on climate change and disaster risk reduction from Sendong and Pablo? Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) even showed the whole world how utterly insensitive, corrupt and inept this ‘disaster president’ can be,” said Echanis.
“Even government experts are now warning us that the Kitanglad and Kalatungan mountains in Bukidnon, for example, are now in terrible condition, with massive soil erosion and siltation of rivers caused by giant pineapple and banana plantations. Because of these plantations, Cagayan de Oro City should brace for flash floods worse than the deadly torrents brought by Typhoon Sendong in 2011,” according to an infographic by REAP.
The government targets for plantation expansion include the following: 256,360 hectares for sugarcane; 150,000 hectares for cacao by 2020; 116,000 hectares for rubber; 87,903 hectares for coffee plantations; and almost one (1) million hectares of oil palm plantations by 2030.
In addition to these, multinational fruit giant Dole Philippines has expressed its intention to expand to at least 12,000 hectares of land for its pineapple plantation; same with Unifrutti, which recently invested P3.7 billion for an expansion of 2,600 hectares of land for banana Cavendish plantations in Moro areas such as Maguindanao.
“Aquino is merely mimicking imperialist charades for mitigating climate change effects. Nothing much can be expected from Aquino, who is a loyal puppet of imperialist impositions and the actual neoliberal policies which drive plunder and massive ecological destruction in the Philippines and other impoverished countries across the globe.”
Aquino solar project grabs Luisita land for ‘climate profits’
While Philippine President BS Aquino is rubbing elbows with other hypocritical world leaders who are similarly posturing to mitigate effects of climate change at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) Climate Talks in Paris, France – trouble over a purported ‘environment-friendly’ government project is brewing in his own backyard, Hacienda Luisita.
The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a national federation of agricultural workers, slammed Aquino for renewed state violence and militarization in Hacienda Luisita, particularly in barangays Balete, Lourdes (Texas) and Central where the Tarlac Solar Power Project (TSPP), a public-private partnership (PPP) deal sanctioned by BS Aquino between the Department of Energy and PetroSolar, is now reportedly under construction.
The Hacienda Luisita sugar estate is the site of a massacre of farmworkers in 2004. At least seven protesters were killed and a hundred others were wounded when military and police opened fire at thousands of sugar workers manning a picket line. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled to revoke the stock distribution land reform plan in Luisita, subjecting all agricultural areas in the estate for distribution to farmworkers.
“The whole world is aware of BS Aquino’s atrocious track record with Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) victims – he is the last person to champion climate justice. Now Aquino is hiding behind climate issues to justify the disposal of government resources for renewed landgrabbing in Luisita,” said Ranmil Echanis, UMA Secretary General.
“The TSPP in Luisita is never about renewable energy, reducing carbon emissions, or any other environmental issue these world leaders are supposedly debating about in Paris. The solar power project in Luisita is basically about landgrabbing, swindling and forcibly evicting farmworkers from this promised land,” he said.
UMA stressed that Aquino and his family’s business partners are engaged in this sophisticated landgrabbing effort only for ‘climate profits’ at the expense of the farmworkers. A German company, Conergy, is also a partner in the said PPP project. Corrupt landlords like the Aquino-Cojuangcos can easily brush off the farmers’ legitimate demands for land and justice to accommodate foreign investors who are ready to bankroll these so-called ‘green’ projects, according to UMA.
A similar solar project this time backed by a French company is in fact contested by farmworkers also affiliated with UMA and the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) in Victorias City, Negros Occidental.
In Hacienda Luisita, farmworkers from UMA’s local affiliate, Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) reported that last November 26 and 28, two truckloads of heavily-armed soldiers together with two mobile cars full of police elements escorted linesmen and laborers of PetroSolar subcontractors at Barangay Balete to set up electrical posts within a disputed agricultural area claimed by Cojuangco-Aquino firm TADECO. The TSPP is to be constructed within another disputed area, a 500-hectare property claimed by RCBC, a sister company of PetroSolar and PetroGreen. Protests by AMBALA members managed to temporarily halt construction. AMBALA Chairperson Florida Sibayan was reportedly hurt in an earlier altercation with goons allegedly in the payroll of the TSPP project.
Farmers who have cultivated the said areas since 2005 have been displaced by orchestrated violent attacks by police, security guards and goons from 2011-2014. The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) issued a Notice of Land Reform Coverage (NOC) for TADECO lands in 2013 which only emboldened the Cojuangco-Aquinos to commit more atrocities.
UMA likewise scored the DAR for allowing TSPP construction despite its recognition of agrarian disputes existing in the area. Defiant farmers and their advocates, including Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap were among those nabbed by police, while most were charged by TADECO with various trumped-up harassment suits. Most of these charges were later reverted to DAR and duly categorized as agrarian in nature.
Meanwhile, AMBALA, through its counsels from the Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA), still has a pending petition to revoke the DAR conversion order, issued way back in 1996, for the RCBC area. “The DAR has the authority to stop TADECO, RCBC and PetroSolar from setting-up structures in disputed agricultural areas or agrarian reform areas supposedly covered by their notices and categorizations. This agency, however, has only been effective as a despicable adjunct of BS Aquino’s haciendero presidency.”
BY UNYON NG MGA MANGGAGAWA SA AGRIKULTURA
FEDERATION OF AGRICULTURAL WORKERS