Agricultural workers under the national federation Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) joined various sectors in welcoming into country’s capital, the 700-strong delegation of the protest-caravan Manilakbayan ng Mindanao.
The Manilakbayan is a nationwide protest against militarization and plunder joined by peasants, workers, the lumad or indigenous peoples, and other sectors from Mindanao. The caravan passed through Eastern Visayas, Bicol and the Southern Tagalog regions before entering Metro Manila.
In Bacolod City, UMA Acting Chairperson John Milton Lozande echoed the Manilakbayan’s view that the BS Aquino government has been waging war against the people to make way for private and foreign corporate interests, including the unbridled expansion of vast agricultural plantations in Mindanao. Lozande is also secretary general of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) based in Negros Island.
Lozande also warned that if Aquino continues its brutal drive to expand corporate agricultural plantations in the island, Mindanao might soon emit its own haze, such as the type caused now by Indonesia. Haze has recently blanketed a number of Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines. Several flights in Cebu have been suspended yesterday due to the haze.
The haze, according to Indonesian authorities, is due to the clearing of land for expansion of plantations. Burning old and unproductive palm trees is reportedly the cheapest means for companies to immediately revive their oil palm plantations.
“In Mindanao, around 60,000 hectares are already planted with oil palm, with the people opposing the plan to expand to another 950,000 up to the year 2030. The Philippine government in tandem with big business is planning to expand another one million hectares of oil palm in the country,” said Lozande. The other oil palm areas in the country are located in Bohol and Palawan, where more than 11,000 hectares are controlled by plantation firms. Another 100,000 hectares are targeted for oil palm expansion in Palawan alone.
“The people of Mindanao are against expansion of oil palm as well as other export crop plantations like pineapple and cavendish bananas, mostly owned by huge multinational and transnational corporations in cahoots with local landlords and big business. These plantations will definitely destroy the country’s last frontiers, as they have encroached into peasant communities and ancestral lands of the lumad and Moros in Mindanao,” said Lozande.
Lozande also blasted the false promises of development mouthed by the state and the plantation firms: “Landless agricultural workers toiling in these plantations remain dirt poor – exposed to hazardous working conditions, slave-like wages and brutal repression.” Furthermore, plantations endanger whole communities with the adverse health and environmental effects of crop conversion and massive use of agrochemicals.
To tackle issues linked to corporate agricultural plantations, UMA, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), and the national office and Northern Mindanao chapter of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), will spearhead the formation of a national action network resisting the expansion of agricultural plantations in Mindanao.
A National Conference on Mindanao Plantations will be held on October 28, 9:00 am at the UP College of Education Auditorium in Diliman, Quezon City where the formation, to be called REAP Mindanao Network, will be launched as part of activities of the Manilakbayan. Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) Southern Mindanao labor leader Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis Partylist is among the speakers in the said conference. Manilakbayan delegates will hold a camp-out or Kampuhan at the University of the Philippines in Diliman until October 31.
Reference: Gi Estrada, UMA Media Officer, 0916.6114181, firstname.lastname@example.org