The Network Resisting Expansion of Agricultural Plantations in Mindanao or REAP Mindanao Network was launched today at the University of the Philippines, Diliman in a conference spearheaded by people’s organizations and advocacy groups as part of the protest caravan Manilakbayan ng Mindanao.
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 government is planning to aggressively increase the scope of various agricultural plantations in Mindanao. The people fear that this drive will definitely destroy Mindanao’s 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.
REAP Spokesperson Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis Partylist, a labor leader from Southern Mindanao, said that plantation expansion can only be accomplished through the assistance of the military and its so-called investment defense forces which has been tagged as the number one nemesis of lumads who are defending their lands against mining and plantations.
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.
During the Aquino administration, the unbridled expansion of agricultural plantations has resulted in displacement of numerous lumad and peasant communities as in the case of the A. Brown oil palm venture in Opol, Misamis Oriental.
The state, the military and other security forces, are responsible for violating the rights of the people through continued harassment, vilification and even killings to protect the interests these corporate plantations. Gilbert Paborada, a leader of the Higaonon tribe who strongly opposed to the entry of ABERDI, was killed in 2012. Independent and militant trade unions in Dolefil, Polomolok South Cotabato experienced intense vilification campaign and harassment by the military as part of the previous administration’s counter-insurgency program.
The existence and target expansion of plantations in Mindanao pose serious threats to the environment and health of the people living within and working in the plantations. Use of pesticides and other chemicals have proved to have caused skin and respiratory diseases to workers in oil palm, banana and even pineapple plantations.
Altering the natural landscape (i.e. flattening of mountains) and denudation of natural forests to be replaced to plant agri-plantation crops also proved to have negative impact on soil erosion, biodiversity and sources of water.
The government’s failed agrarian reform program has worked perfectly for the interest of companies as they encouraged agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) to become outgrowers or to lease their lands with onerous contracts. Plantations have also bred many forms of precarious employment victimizing agricultural workers enduring hard labor and exposure to harmful chemicals while being slave like wages.
“Peasants, Lumads, and Moros and their supporters have gathered through the REAP Mindanao Network to resist the expansion of plantations. It is a fight for their very survival.”