The peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) today assailed the widespread land-grabbing perpetrated by the Ecofuel Land Development Inc. across the province of Isabela and now expanding in parts of the Cordillera region. The aggressive expansion of sugarcane plantations is described by local militant peasant group Danggayan Dagiti Mannalon iti Isabela (DAGAMI) as a “mad mad rush for money-making land lease deals” to supply the multi-million dollar Bio-ethanol plant in San Mariano, Isabela.
The peasant groups are referring to the sprawling hectares of food-producing croplands being rapidly converted into sugarcane plantations. “The Green Future Innovations, Inc. (GFFI) – Ecofuel Land Development Inc. has invaded lands in municipalities of Isabela and part of Kalinga and Mt. Province resulting to widespread usurpation of farm lands and massive displacement of farmers and indigenous peoples, says Bino Abrogena, DAGAMI spokesperson.”
The landgrabbing corporations initially started in San Mariano in 2008 but have hugely expanded sugarcane plantations in Ilagan, Delfin Albano, Santo Tomas, Cabagan, Tumauini, Sta. Maria, Gamu, Mallig, Burgos, Echague, Naguilian, Benito Soliven, San Pablo, Quezon, Cauayan, Quirino, and municipalites of Alfonsolista in Ifugao and Rizal in Kalinga.
The landgrabbing have been intensified through deceptive maneuvers and corporation’s aggressive use of land titling syndicates. Once farmers and indigenous peoples are unable to produce documents or have failed to pay for the land amortizations, fake landowners funded by Ecofuel would grab the land. The prevalent cases of landgrabbing involve the fabricated land patents to usher the leasing of lands to the bio-ethanol company.
The local peasant group DAGAMI together with KMP spearheaded the recently concluded environmental investigation mission (EIM) around the controversial Bio-Ethanol plant. With scientists, peasant advocates and international organizations for food sovereignty taking a three day extensive research around the plant, the mission’s participants were able to find glaring health hazards and toxicities effected by air and water pollution from the plant.
A team of scientists from Advocates of Science and Technology for the People-AGHAM have tested waters contaminated by the waste from the bio-ethanol plant and have found distressing levels of dissolved oxygen. “The natural lagoon occupied by the plant for their waste disposal have reached 0.27 dissolved oxygen level which is below the minimum value to support aquatic ecosystems,” says Feni Cosico, a scientist and secretary-general of AGHAM.
Also, the pH level of water from the deep wells is found to be acidic enough to corrode metal pipes. “These deep wells are their source of drinking water and a 6.43 pH level is under the allowed minimum acidity. This can lead to corrosion of pipes which is can deem their source of water unfit for human consumption,” AGHAM adds.
Peasants exposed the alarming extent of soil and water pollution produced by the bioethanol plant project. Locals from inside the plant have confirmed the outright deception to the farming communities around the plant. In the guise of liquid fertilizer, the plant’s management have dumped waste water combined with caustic lye in farms of peasants. Farmers are oblivious of the composition of the water and are threatened of the hazards it posits to their crops and livestock.
“This ‘fertilizer’ is actually mixed with a dangerous inorganic compound used to remove rusts but plant administrator Gregorio Garcia have given orders to dump this toxic waste as natural farm inputs to agricultural lands causing extensive destruction of crops,” says DAGAMI.
Fisherfolks claim that the waste waters have contaminated the both irrigation impounding dam andPinacanauan River, resulting to successive fish kills and depletion of fish catch from a 50 kg to just 1-2 kg a day.
To add, residents have been long complaining about the strong foul smell coming from the plant which believed to be the cause of worsened respiratory ailments.
The Ecofuel and GFFI, along with the foreign investors have not only polluted the once green environment of San Mariano but it has turned the food-producing farmers into waged farmworkers. KMP described the conditions in the sugarcane plantations as inhumane form of modern day slave labor. The farmworkers receive a daily take home pay of 100-120 pesos, and have been under dire working conditions. Farmers as land possessing food producers are transformed into seasonal sugarcane farm workers, worse, farmers lose control over of their lands in exchange of mono-cropping sugarcane.
“I used to be a farmer in my own land but now we have no land of our own to till. We have no choice but to work in the sugar plantations for our families to live,” says Angelina Castillo, a 60 year-old farmworker in Barangay Zamora, San Mariano.
Also part of the EIM is the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS), a global network of various grassroots groups and advocates.“This is a clear violation of people’s rights to food sovereignty, not just the effects in the ecosystem but also subvert the capacity of the people to produce their own food,” says PCFS.
“Farmers are being displaced from their lands through the conspiracy of corporations, landlords, usurers, state officials, and land titling syndicates coupled with devastating effects on their health and environment, the Ecofuel and GFFI have spelled death for the communities in San Mariano,” says Abrogena.
“Farmers, fisherfolks and the people of San Mariano demand the corporations’ accountability in destruction of the farms and environment. They are calling for a moratorium of the bioethanol plant’s operation and to immediatly address the health, livelihood, and environmental concerns,” DAGAMI adds.
The KMP called on the peasants, farmworkers, and the people victimized by bioethanol project to unite and fight against the continuing landgrabbing, semi-feudal exploitation. Only through genuine agrarian reform will we achieve development and food security for the people.###