Manila – About a hundred farmers and indigenous peoples voiced out their opposition to the expansion of oil palm plantations in the country.
In a conference held Nov. 4 at a makeshift tent set up in front of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the farmers and indigenous people from Mindanao, Bohol and Palawan thumbed down the government’s plan to devote eight million hectares of land for oil palm by 2023.
Oil palm plantations in the Philippines cover almost 55,000 hectares. The Philippine Coconut Authority’s (PCA) 2014 to 2023 road map has identified about a million hectares of potential oil palm farms. Ninety eight percent of these areas are in Mindanao.
Erlene Namatidong, 32, a farmer from Kalabugao, Impasugong, Bukidnon does not think oil palm plantations could bring progress to the people of Mindanao.
Namatidong’s husband has been working at A. Brown Energy Resources Development, Inc. (Aberdi) oil palm plantation in Impasugong for nine years. He earns P290 (US$6.20) for a day’s work but could only work for 15 days in one month. Namatidong said that if this continues, they would no longer be able to send their three children to school.
“Since he worked at the plantation, our life has become difficult,” Namatidong told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
The family used to tend a 16-hectare farm and planted rice, sweet potato, banana, corn, among others. In 2006, A. Brown company had enticed the Namatidongs to rent out their land. They were paid P5,600 ($120) for a 25-year lease.
Namatidong joined this year’s Manilakbayan to call on the government to stop the expansion of oil palm plantations.
Ariel Casilao, vice president of Anakpawis Partylist and co-convenor of the Manilakbayan 2015 said the impending drastic expansion of oil palm plantations in the country in the next few years would displace thousands of farmers and Lumad.
In Opol, Misamis Oriental, hundreds of Higaonon were driven away from their ancestral land by Aberdi’s oil palm plantation. One of their leaders, Gilbert Paborada, was gunned down on Oct. 3, 2012.
In Palawan, the expansion of oil palm plantation threatens the Pala’wan tribe.
As of 2013, more than 6,000 hectares of land in South Palawan are planted to oil palm. The PCA has identified over 200,000 hectares of land in the province as “suitable for oil palm.”
Fermin Queron, 59, said that Agumil Philippines, Inc. converted agricultural lands into oil palm plantation. Queron, a native of Sofronio Española town, said the company just came to their community and did not bother to get their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).
Queron said many of his tribesmen who were deceived by Agumil either sold or rented out their land. A one-year lease amounted to P1,000 per hectare, he said. The cost of land sold ranges from P7,000 per hectare up to P30,000 per hectare.
Queron added that most of the land in Sofronio Española is covered by agrarian reform. He said farmers and indigenous peoples “surrendered” their certificate of land ownership award (CLOA) to the company.
Queron has kept his land planted mostly to rice and coconut. Since the entry of oil palm, however, he noticed how his produce decreased. Before, his family could produce 50 to 70 sacks of rice per hectare. Nowadays, they are lucky if the yield reaches 20 sacks. A sack contains 60 kilos of rice.
Their copra production dwindled, too. In the past, their two-hectare farm could yield 1,500 kilos of copra. These days, they could only get 700 kilos.
Four of Queron’s six children are also dependent on farming. He has 11 grandchildren.
Rafael Mariano, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said the oil palm industry would only serve the foreign market.
Nine companies from Malaysia and Indonesia, the two biggest oil palm producers and exporters in the world, have signaled their intention to invest in Mindanao. Among these companies are Felda Global Ventures, New Britain Palm Oil Ltd.-PNG, Pertamina-Indonesia, Perkebunan Nusantara-Indonesia, and Bali Palm Oil-Indonesia.
Aside from cooking, palm oil is also widely used in the food, drug, cosmetics and agro-chemical industries. It is also processed as bio-fuel.
Mariano slammed the DENR for “pimping agricultural and ancestral lands to oil palm plantations and mills under the guise of reforestration.”
Casilao said foreign investors want to exploit the country’s cheap labor. He said agricultural workers in the country’s oldest palm oil plantations in the Caraga region suffer hazardous working conditions and very low wages. Even after 30 years of hard toil, many remain as casual workers, referring to reports from the Pinagbuklod na Lakas ng Manggagawa sa Plantasyon ng Agusan Plantations, Inc. (Piglas-Mapapi), a local affiliate of the national federation Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma).
Citing a 2012 study by the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), poverty, Casilao said 24 percent of plantation workers in Agusan del Sur are children between five to 17 years old.
“Mindanao is not for sale,” Casilao said. “We are ready to offer even our blood to protect Mindanao.”