MANILA, Philippines - (2ND UPDATE) Two militant groups took turns in warning Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III not to touch the country's agricultural lands in favor Chinese corporations wanting lease over a million of hectares of prime agricultural land all over the country.
In separate statements sent to all voices, the left leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) the peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) on Tuesday urged the Chief Executive to reject the proposal of the Chinese government to lease agricultural lands in the Philippines for expansion of Chinese agribusiness in the country.
Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap said the Chinese government is expected to make this offer during President Aquino’s visit in Beijing this week. The fisherfolk leader said Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Liu Jianchao had already issued a statement ahead of the President’s state visit to China. Liao said foreign corporations like Chinese agribusiness firms should be allowed to lease lands and grow crops for the purpose of meeting the need of the local market and the surplus derived would be exported to foreign markets.
“This is global landgrabbing, the Chinese emperor’s way through diplomatic channel,” said Hicap in a press statement. The Pamalakaya leader said in 2007, the Chinese government had already made the offer to former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“Mr. Aquino will be inviting a major political disaster characterized by all-out peasant and rural people’s resistance if he insists in sealing the land pact with the ruling gangland in Beijing. Mr. Aquino is not the Filipino people, definitely he does not represent the collective interest of 104 million Filipinos, and 75 percent of them are Filipino farmers, “added Hicap.
Pamalakaya said instead of leasing the country’s agricultural lands to Chinese agribusiness corporations, the Aquino presidency should implement the free land distribution of both private and public agricultural lands to landless and land lacking farmers, including those who are willing to till the land for jobs and livelihood.
The militant group said President Aquino appears amenable to China’s offer for land lease, adding that in Hacienda Luisita, the President’s family had opened the lease of the sugar estate to China’s leading soft drink company—the Wahaha group, but the project was temporary shelved due to strong protest from Hacienda Luisita farm workers.
“It appears to us President Aquino is totally amenable to the proposal of Chinese government to lease Philippine lands in exchange for huge investments from Beijing. This will be done at the expense of peasant rights to land and people’s national patrimony,” said Pamalakaya.
In 2007, China’s Jilin Fuhua Agricultural Science and Technology Development Co. Ltd. courted former President Arroyo to allow the Chinese firm to lease some 1 million hectares of unused land in the country roughly equivalent to 10 percent of the country’s agricultural lands. The Chinese group, then promised to bring $ 3.87 B in total investments for the production of hybrid rice, corn and sorghum. Hicap recalled that the offer of 1 million hectares to Jilin Fuhua was part of the 18 agri-fisheries contracts, which also include the lease of additional 40,000 hectares of agricultural lands to Agriculture Department of China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region or ADGZAR.
The Pamalakaya official said the contracts were signed on January 15, 2007, by the heads of departments that form the so-called “convergence group"— composed of former agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, the late and former Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary , and the former chief of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Nasser Pangandaman.
The KMP also warned that China’s renewed proposal to lease lands in the Philippines would “aggravate the problem of landlessness faced by the Filipino peasantry.”
The KMP issued the statement after recent reports quoted Chinese Ambassador to Manila Liu Jianchao said that, “What we can do is foreign companies can lease the land and then grow the crops and then sell the crops to the local market of the Philippines. And if they still have surplus, they can sell it to the international market.”
“This renewed proposal from China spells land-grab to farmers,” says KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos recalling that “in 2007, the Department of Agrarian Reform was looking at large tracts of land for agribusiness development under a memorandum of understanding signed with China.”
Among the highlights of President Benigno Aquino III’s six-day state visit to China is the signing of a five-year development pact for trade and cooperation that aims to raise some $60 billion in investments for the Philippines.
“It appears that the sell-out of Philippine agricultural lands has always figured in the agenda of President Aquino’s state visits to other countries,” Ramos said noting that “in his visit to Japan last year, capital infusion for a bio-ethanol plant in 11,000 hectares in the province of Isabela was one of the so-called good news that President Aquino brought home.”
Ramos said that “these land lease deals are geared toward producing crops for the industrial and commercial needs of the countries of origin of the foreign investors and entities which leases these lands, while our country has been suffering from perennial under-productivity of rice to the extent that we are now import-dependent.
”“This proposed land lease deal with China will aggravate the problem of landlessness in the country. It will surely face strong opposition and defiance from the Filipino peasantry,” Ramos said.