Why are government agencies so focused on issues like aerial spraying and land rental when the bigger problem is peace and order, which is driving the investors away?
Steve Antig, Executive Director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) wonders why issues on aerial spraying have surfaced again when it has been resolved several years back. He said the government should pay more attention to the insurgency problem because “it is driving the present and prospective investors away from Mindanao.”
Dole-Stanfilco, a multinational banana firm operating in Tagbina, Surigao del Sur has shut down its operations indefinitely after it has been subjected to a series of attacks by the rebel group New People’s Army (NPA) for refusing to pay revolutionary taxes.
The NPA has burned 19 container trucks in total and has cost the company P20 million in losses since 2010. Just last week, the rebels have escalated their assault by blowing up the company’s truck with bombs.
“The closure of plantations will lead to unemployment and then to poverty,” Antig said.
A WOMAN employee of Stanfilco weeps after learning of the company decision to close shop following attacks by communist guerrillas. CHRIS PANGANIBAN/INQUIRER MINDANAO
The closure of the Surigao plantation has severely affected over 1,500 employees on its 400-hectare plantation. The displaced workers are condemning the violence as they asked what would happen to their families now that they have lost their jobs.
“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 march-rally.
Jumao-as said company officials have feared the NPA’s use of powerful explosives that burned the two trucks carrying the container vans and was the main reason for the company decision to close down its operations.
“Before, they use gasoline in torching the trucks but lately they already use bombs,” she said.
“There will be a domino effect on the economy of the locality unless peace and order is established,” Antig said. “This will create a vicious cycle, thus, should be given priority,” 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 burning incidents 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.
The attacks on plantations and companies are part of the rebels’ extortion activities.
The Surigao NPA bombing came even after President Rodrigo Duterte has issued a unilateral ceasefire in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) and an ultimatum to communist rebels.
The rebels have ignored the declaration of ceasefire and even ambushed the military in Davao del Norte on July 27 killing one Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) member and wounding four others.
The government forces were returning to camp after hearing about the President’s declaration of unilateral truce when they were waylaid by the NPAs.
“I went out of my way just to express to you our need for peace. For as long as there is war here, there will be poverty… You thought our government cannot do it, try me,” the President warned.
Duterte said he is ready to put his life on the line for peace.
“So shoot me,” Duterte told the rebels. “I will face you (rebels) someday. I have no problem,” Duterte challenged.
Duterte stressed that he has declared the truce in good faith hoping that the rebels will reciprocate and forge the way to peace negotiations.
“Many days ago, the response of the communists is like a defensive position. Not stand-down. That is not a good response. They don’t need to study it. All they have to do is count the body bags – those who were killed from their ranks, and then the government’s. I was expecting that they would also reciprocate my imploring for peace through the ceasefire on their side. Now, I cannot understand if they are really… for peace or they are trying to embarrass me,” he said.
What is the NPA trying to prove? Are they telling us that they can attack government soldiers at will and get away with it? Or are they telling us that they reject President Duterte’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire?” said Ernesto Alcanzare of the group Yes for Peace-Bayanihan para sa Kapayapaan, Kaunlaran at Kasaganahan.
Domingo Alidon, a member of the Inter-Agency Technical Working Group of Yes for Peace asks, “Whose rights are the NPA really fighting for? The Filipino people’s rights or their right to bear arms against a duly elected government?”
The ceasefire has been lifted after his deadline for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) to declare their own ceasefire last July 30 lapsed.
Last August 6, Duterte in his visit to the wake of a slain soldier in a clash with the militant armed wing urged the NPA to stop the use of landmines in attacking government military forces, else the peace talks with the left movement is cancelled.
“Either you stop it or we stop talking. Let’s fight [for] another 45 years,” Duterte said in his speech.
“I am not pleading this time. That’s an ultimatum. [If I] hear another explosion killing people – not only soldiers – killing people, no talks, pasensiya na (I’m sorry),” Duterte strongly said.