Despite the ongoing peace talks between the government and communist rebels, Mindanao businessmen said that members of the New People’s Army (NPA) continue to harass agricultural plantations, causing major economic losses to both small and big farmers.
A businessmen from Toril, a district in Davao City, said that rebels are asking money from companies in Mindanao, among them agricultural plantations, private contractors, quarrying operators, public market stallholders and smalltime entrepreneurs.
“If we pay, we will lose our shirts and would be forced to close shop; if we refuse to pay, our lives and that of our family members will be in danger, ” they said, adding that the amounts range from as low as P5,000 to as high as P5 million a month.
Some NPA groups reportedly ask “commission” ranging from five to 10 percent from private contractors doing multi-million peso projects for the government and private companies.
In some Mindanao provinces, the extortionists even demand revolutionary taxes from barangay captains and municipal mayors and councilors. A number of politicians were also reportedly asked to settle unpaid permits to campaign (PTC), which became due during the May elections.
Among the hardest hit are banana plantations, big transportation companies operating passenger buses and contractors.
A few months ago, one banana company had to close its plantation in Surigao del Sur after losing a total of more than P20 million since the start of its operation in 2010; the NPAs burned their equipment and packing plants. This has rendered more people in the area jobless.
Dole-Stanfilco recently shutdown its plantation and packing plants in the northern part of Mindanao after the rebels torched container trucks early this year because the company refused to pay the revolutionary taxes.
Even President Rodrigo Duterte, acknowledged that the banana industry is hampered by the continuous harassment by lawless groups in Mindanao.
“The greatest challenge of the banana growers in the Philippines is really the law and order. Until and unless you can put together a country that’s bereft of any revolutionary tax, extortion and everything, property is bruned, it’s all because of the taxation. If it’s not taxation of the communists, it’s extortion by the roving bandits in Mindanao,” Duterte said during the closing ceremonies of the 2016 Banana Congress held in Davao City last October.
Big banana plantations, have been seeking government support in fighting extortionists from the communist rebels who are demanding revolutionary taxes.
Duterte said, Mindanao is the key to driving developments in Philippine agriculture. While mining industries and export processing zones can sprout “everywhere, what would make the industry valuable is actually [agriculture in]Mindanao, and only in Mindanao.”
He added that he is bullish about agriculture in the country, and sees that the sector will “make it big…in the next 30 years, provided the country is able to iron out law and order, and stop extortion attempts of bandits on farm owners.”
The businessmen, who requested anonymity for security reasons, said that the adverse impact of revolutionary taxes, apart from unchecked government red tape and corruption is on foreign investors the President has invited to do business in the Philippines. The business community would only wish that the administration find solutions to this worsening scenario in the countryside.
The rebels are also harassing other businesses in the countryside. Last November 24, they burned a bus of the Yellow Bus Lines (YBL) in Kiamba, Sarangani. The unit, which could easily cost P5 million, was not the first YBL bus the rebels have burned.
The incident is just one of the four communist attacks that happened recently in Region 12. Last November 14, rebels torched a YBL bus in Tupi, South Cotabato. This was followed by the burning of two heavy equipment used in building a road.
The same fate is being suffered by telecommunications companies, which could not set up cell sites fast enough partly because of the big amount rebels demand in areas selected for the cell sites. Globe Telecoms has openly admitted that the high cost of setting up cell sites is due to the demand of local government units, generally red tape in many levels of government and the rebels’ extortion activities are partly to blame for the difficulty in setting up cell sites and the telecoms’ inability to improve connectivity in the country.
In a recent statement to the media, Globe officials said that it would take 25 permits to build a tower.
Businessmen asking for military protection are disappointed that the military and the police can’t do anything to stop the extortion activities after the government declared a unilateral ceasefire as part of the ongoing peace process. They have been ordered to stay in their barracks.
Businessmen are concerned about how their businesses would fare since the rebels are taking advantage of the government’s unilateral cease fire. They have set up camp in areas near the population centers, recruit new members, extort from big and smalltime businessmen and even conduct medical missions.
The rebels do their illegal activities practically within striking distance of police stations, military detachments and camps, which have been temporarily abandoned due to the ceasefire.