CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – A nine-member delegation of farmers from Southeast Asian countries were held by the police and their travel delayed when they visited their counterparts in Northern Mindanao, a peasant leader said Thursday.
The foreign delegates belong to the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) coming from Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia.
Ireneo Udarbe, secretary-general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Northern Mindanao Region (KMP-NMR), said the APC delegation, along with local peasant leaders, were flagged down by police officers for no apparent reason as they were en route to visiting farming communities in the region.
Udarbe said what the law enforcers did was a form of harassment since they had not committed any wrongdoing.
“They (police) flagged us down, asked us to alight from our vehicles, although we did nothing wrong,” he said.
Udarbe said the police only allowed them through when he and Antonio Flores, KMP national secretary-general, presented their identification cards and agreed to have these photographed.
He said they find it disturbing that a police checkpoint was set up purposely just for them, adding that they were told the law enforcers were tipped off that a group of foreigners were on their way to a hinterland village in Opol town.
Udarbe said it took them about two hours before they were released.
“Before we went to the area, we dropped by the office of Opol mayor Maximino Seno for a courtesy visit. He was not in his office but we talked to one of his staff and told him about our purpose,” Udarbe said.
The foreign delegates are in the country from November 13 to November 17 to visit and learn from the experiences of Filipino peasants through the APC’s farmer-to-farmer exchange program.
The delegation’s first stop was in Sitio Sawaga, Barangay Bagocboc, Opol, Misamis Oriental, to meet with members of the Pangalasag, a peasant organization, to learn from their experience, on November 14-15.
The APC members were interested in knowing how Pangalasag was able to fight and won back their land from a corporation that operated a 520-hectare palm oil plantation through legal means.
Udarbe said the APC delegates visited the peasants in Sawaga to learn how they were able to get back on their feet after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources ordered an agri-business company to cease from further operating a palm oil plantation on a 520-hectare land in Tingalan last year.
The corporation reportedly was not able to comply with the provisions of the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) as it failed to secure a Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) from the IP community in the area, prompting the DENR to order to stop the firm to stop its operations.
The peasants only returned to their community in August of this year after they were evicted in 2009.
After seven years of being away from their home, the peasants began to resettle the land and planted banana and other crops.
Udarbe said this was the reason why Sawaga was chosen by APC for the farmer-to-farmer exchange program as the delegates have also experienced the same plight in their respective countries.
The foreigners the proceeded to Maramag municipality in Bukidnon and sit down with the Buffalo-Tamaraw-Limus (BTL) farmers who are occupying a portion of land inside the Central Mindanao University (CMU) campus in Barangay Dologon on Nov. 16-17.
For Bishop Felixberto Calang, who pleaded with the police not to hold the delegation further, the foreigners should have been given the due courtesy since they are guests in the country.
“Given that they are foreigners, they have the right to travel without any hamper because they have been allowed to enter the Philippines. I asked the police to reconsider because treating them as if they are suspects is not good for the image of our country,” Calang said in a separate interview.
“Their agenda is legal and if they are involved in crimes, they would have been held upon entering our airport and departed to the home countries. But they are only here for the farmer-to-farmer exchange and not for any illegal acts,” he said.
The bishop said unless the authorities have information that the foreign delegation has committed any violation, they must be allowed to travel within the country.
“Our country is open for foreigners to enter. These APC members have passports which make them legal foreigners. And they have complied with our laws,” he added.
He said the foreigners were traumatized as they have not experienced it in other APC member-countries they had been to.
As of this writing, the delegates declined to be interviewed for their side of the story.(davaotoday.com)