INCREASED communist insurgency in and around banana plantation in Surigao del Sur South Cotabato, Surigao del Sur, Bukidnon, Compostela Valley; and Sarangani are dri-ving investors away from Mindanao while the government agencies are focusing on issues of aerial spraying, not on insurgency.
Why issues on aerial spraying that have been resolved several years back have surfaced again, asks Steve Antig, the executive director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association. Insurgency, he says, remains the more pressing problem for banana growers and exporters.
The government, he added, should pay more attention to peace and order problem because it is driving the present and prospective investors away from Mindanao.
According to Antig, Dole-Stanfilco, a multinational banana firm operating in Tagbina, Surigao del Sur, has shut down its operations indefinitely after it came under a series of attacks from the New People’s Army (NPA) rebel group for refusing to pay revolutionary taxes.
Last week, the rebels have escalated their assault by blowing up the company’s truck with bombs, Antig said. Altogether they have burned 19 container trucks and the company has lost P20 million since 2010.
“The closure of plantations will lead to unemployment and then to poverty,” Antig said. More than 1,500 employees have already been rendered jobless as the 400-hectare Surigao plantation shut down due to rebel attacks. The displaced workers are condemning the violence.
“Where now are their claims that they are soldiers of the masses that will look after our welfare? We are here not to fight with arms but to condemn the extortion activities of the NPAs which cost our livelihood,” said Concepcion Jumao-as, a farm worker who spoke at a protest rally.
Jumao-as said company officials frightened by the NPA’s use of powerful explosives that burned two trucks carrying the container vans decided to close down operations.
“Previoulsy, they used gasoline for torching the trucks; lately they have used bombs,” she said.
Antig fears there will be a domino effect on the local economy unless peace and order is established.
This will create a vicious cycle; therefore it deserves priority attention, he added.
Farmers, mainly agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) who are now contract growers for banana and pineapple exporters, have reported increased attacks by the NPA on farms, facilities and equipment.
Eduardo Maningo, a spokesman for the ARBs, said that about a dozen burnings were carried out by the NPA from late January to February this year, almost the same as the total for the whole of 2015.
The attacks, some of which were not reported to the authorities, were in T’boli and Surallah in South Cotabato; Barobo and Lianga in Surigao del Sur; Quezon, Bukidnon; Maco, Compostela Valley; and Maasim, Sarangani. They were part of the rebels’ extortion activities.
The Surigao NPA bombing came even after President Rodrigo Duterte issued a unilateral ceasefire in his State of the Nation Address and an ultimatum to communist rebels.