Over 1,500 farm workers and employees have lost their jobs when Dole-Stanfilco, a multinational banana firm operating in Tagbina, Surigao del Sur has shut down its operations on its 400 hectare plantation. The company decided to close shop indefinitely after it has been subjected to a series of attacks by the rebel group of New People’s Army (NPA) for refusing to pay revolutionary taxes.
The severely affected and displaced farm workers are now asking where are the groups claiming to be for the people now that agricultural plantations are being attacked and it’s employees harassed.
Eduardo Maningo, a spokesman for the Agrarian Land Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) said, “Why is it that IDIS who has always been vocal about their apparent concern about the welfare of farm workers are silent about the atrocities committed by these lawless elements? Why are they not indignant that these workers livelihood and well beings are being threatened by the rebels?”
According to a BusinessWorld Report, 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 on plantations and companies are part of the rebels’ extortion activities.
“Are these NPA bombings and torching of farms and equipment not an alarming immediate threat to lives and the environment?’” Maningo added.
Maningo is referring to Interface Development Interventions, a self-styled environment group calling out for the banning of aerial spraying in banana plantations.
Aerial spraying is a generally accepted agricultural practice by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations under certain limitations, which the banana industry is strictly adopting, otherwise its importers might stop buying from them. A multi-sectoral monitoring team that focused on banana plantations oversees the compliance of these regulations.
Anti aerial spraying advocates has recently resurfaced with recycled allegations after the issue has been resolved several years back.
All allegations have been refuted by scientists, farm workers and other residents around the plantations, claiming their environment have remained highly conducive for farming and raising animals. Residents said they’ve been living healthy lives for more than three decades, even with the plantations employing aerial spray.
“We can’t help but think that these groups are one with the rebels with the same goal – which is to shut down the banana industry of the country. The workers are just poor collaterals,” Maningo laments.
A report was published in Biz-Buzz Inquirer a year ago citing that environmental groups pushing for the ban of aerial spraying is being financially backed by some organizations in Netherlands with vested interest in the banana growing and exporting industry in Indonesia, once a colony of the Netherlands.
PBGEA Executive Director Steve Antig said, “Those who are strongly advocating against the use of aerial spraying should approach it with critical minds and scientific objectivity.”
The government should pay more attention to the insurgency problem because “it is driving the present and prospective investors away from Mindanao. Obviously, the closure of plantations will lead to unemployment and then poverty.”
The government will also lose the taxes collected through property taxes, business permits, VAT and income taxes, among others, derived from investments of the multinationals.
Antig added that, “those who are pushing for a ban on aerial spraying over banana plantations and other agricultural crops should see for themselves how the industry is mindful of the health of the people and the protection of the environment.”
Banana plantations account for 83,000 hectares in Mindanao and at an average of four direct and indirect workers, the banana industry employs 332,000 workers. Together with the workers’ families, more than three million individuals are dependent on the banana export industry for their basic needs and self-esteem.
The industry also helps mold the future of two million children in Mindanao.