DAVAO CITY – The palm oil industry has “broken its promise” for 30 years of being in the Philippines, said groups in a statement after they recently held an oil palm conference here.

The group said that palm oil industry, which is promoted as a “sunshine industry” by the Philippine government, is “one of the most highly-traded commodities at the global level” and is “touted as a tree of peace with its promises of livelihood and development, food security, poverty alleviation and economic stability.”

But groups who held a “National Oil Pam Conference” here Saturday said that “it has broken its promise.

The conference included 30 individuals representing 20 organizations of indigenous peoples, farmers, trade unions, agricultural workers and advocates from Luzon and Palawan and Mindanao and one participant from Indonesia.

The group said that the Caraga region, where the early oil palm plantations and oil mills in the country were established, “confirm how corporate interests breed widespread destitution, child labor, marginalization of women, and rampant violations of labor standards such as the right to organize unions and occupational health and safety.”

“Farmers, agricultural workers, mill workers and indigenous peoples in Mindanao, Palawan and other islands in the Visayas bear the brunt of innumerable negative effects brought about by the oil palm promise,” they said.

The groups from the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Sub-Region (RMP-NMR) and the Hongkong-based Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC) said “the first oil palm plantations in the country made expansion possible through land accumulation by dispossession.”

The groups said “oil palm plantations forced their way” into their communities.

They said “(t)his drive became even more aggressive during the past decade or so resulting in the dislocation of entire peasant and indigenous peoples communities.”

“Without respect for indigenous peoples’ ancestral domain, desecrating ancestral burial sites and other important aspects of indigenous peoples’ tradition and culture,” they said.

“The people’s access to food and ownership and control of land has been undermined by massive crop and land use conversion from staple food production to oil palm,” said the groups.

The said foreign oil palm companies’ and their local partners’ “aggressive land grabbing” is complemented by “state-sponsored violence, coercion and deception.”

“Militarization has spawned an alarming spate of human rights abuses and violations of civil and political rights. Farmers, indigenous peoples, their leaders and the support groups opposed to oil palm expansion have become targets of threat, harassment, trumped-up charges, and extra-judicial killings.”

They said among those who were killed “for resisting oil palm plantation expansion in defense of their respective communities” were Gilbert Paborada, Rolen Langala and Marcel Lambon and others.

They blame government agencies and government banks who “have practically legalized dispossession and violation of land rights through onerous agribusiness venture agreements (AVAs) under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and community based forest management (CBFM) contracts.”

They said farmers and supposed agrarian reform beneficiaries “have been relegated to being landless agricultural workers” and “agricultural and mill workers are made to accede to unfair labor practices and labor flexibilization policies.”

The groups claim that agrichemicals such as Furadan, Glyphosate and Paraquat used in oil palm cultivation “poses health hazards not only to farm workers directly handling these toxic materials but also to entire communities affected by the contamination of water systems.”

They said the government’s move to convert one million hectares of land for oil palm in the next few years will result in “massive destruction of forests, loss of biodiversity, and will inevitably contribute to the global problem of climate change.”

“Critical issues surrounding oil palm must be effectively tackled with urgency in light of the irreversible ecological impact that will affect future generations,” they said.

Mindanao Development Authority (Minda) Secretary Luhalhati Antonino, in a recent interview, said they are “worried about how Malaysia is aggressively looking for lands for oil palm” as Asean Economic Community (AEC) Integration in 2016 nears.

The Philippine Palm Oil Development Council  wants government to support its road map of developing 300,000 hectares for oil palm in the next ten years with Mindanao as a main investment area.

The road map showed that Mindanao has 55,000 hectares of oil palm, but there is potential for expansion, as the DA said there are one million hectares of idle land in the area.

Malaysia has targetted plantation sites in Paquibato District of Davao City and in Davao Oriental with a tie-up with businessman Manny Pangilinan.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front has showcased a 200,000-hectare oil palm plantation in their base in Central Mindanao during a recent Asian convention.

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte urged New People’s Army guerillas to engage into a joint business venture with a Malaysian and Thai entity that is looking for a 100,000-hectare area to plant oil palm and sesame seeds plantation.

Duterte’s proposal was rejected by a farmer’s group in Paquibato.

Davao Oriental Governor Corazon Malanyaon announced last year that the province has identified and could allot 4,000 hectares as minimum requirement for oil palm production as set by Agusan Plantation Inc. (Agumil) Philippines, a leading oil palm exporter based in Caraga Region.

But a farmers organization said the move will only “push us to the mercy of agribusinesses owned by multinational corporations that will turn us into contractual farm workers.”

“This is an institutionalized land-grabbing,” said Karlos Trangia, spokesperson of Barug Katawhan, an alliance of Typhoon Pablo survivors in Davao Region.

The World Wildlife Fund, in its website, said “clearing land for oil palm plantations has led to widespread deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia as well as other regions.”

“This has pushed many species to the brink of extinction, such as rhinos, elephants, orangutans and tigers,” said the WFF.

“In some cases, forest clearance has forced indigenous peoples off their land, deprived them of their livelihoods and reduced essential ecosystem services such as clean water and fertile soil.”

“Moreover, because fire is often used as a cheap and quick means to clear land for oil palm plantations, the resulting air pollution can block out the sun and threaten human health both near and far,” said the WWF.(davaotoday.com)

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