Japanese Pastors Learn Shocking Things About Davao Bananas

Outraged by the “inhuman” treatment of workers in a Compostela Valley banana plantation, a Japanese pastor promises himself to stop eating bananas.

Davao Today
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 1, February 3-9, 2008

Outraged by the “inhuman” treatment of workers in a Compostela Valley banana plantation, a Japanese pastor promises himself to stop eating bananas.

Reverend Fr. John Yuji Kanzaki, chair of the Philippine committee of the National Christian Churches of Japan (NCCJ), remembers growing up in Japan, where he used to love bananas as a boy. “Bananas are expensive in Japan,” he tells reporters here, “When I was a boy, I can’t stop eating them.”

But a recent visit in banana plantations in Compostela Valley made him change his mind.

“From now on, I will not eat bananas anymore,” said Kanzaki, who was among the 10 Japanese pastors moved to tears by the condition of workers in the Compostela Valley banana plantations, where they visited as part of the five-day bilateral conference between the NCCJ and the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP).

“In Compostela Valley, I was shocked to learn that workers work for 12 to 15 hours a day only to receive pay that is not even enough for them to survive,” the Japanese pastor said. “I also saw workers in the plantation and the packing plants. I was shocked to learn that they’re exposed to different kinds of pesticides, which are sometimes sprayed by plane. I never knew there is that much pesticides in the bananas that we eat.”

But he said he wanted to stop eating bananas, not because of the pesticides, but because of the ill treatment of workers in banana plantations.

The Japanese pastors joined the calls echoed by the National Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) to reject the controversial Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), which President Arroyo has asked the Senate to ratify when the Senate resumes session today, January 28.

Kanzaki said that the conditions of the banana plantation workers and those of the small fisherfolks and farmers they’ve seen in Sarangani, will worsen if JPEPA is ratified.

The trade pact, which is supposed to facilitate and promote the free flow of goods, persons, services and capital between the Philippines and Japan by eliminating tariffs on almost all industrial goods, is lopsided in favor of Japan, according to the NCCP in a statement.

Reverend Rex Reyes, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP), compared (JPEPA) to a race between a very big ship docked at the pier and the flimsy banca beside it. “Because Japan is a very strong and a big economy, while the Philippines is a small and backward one, the playing field between them is unequal,” he said. “It is like comparing our bananas, which is selling at 10-peso per kilo in Japan and Toyota, which sells at millions of pesos, in the Philippines.”

In a resolution passed late last year, NCCP pointed out that the trumpeted benefits of fair trade pact is misleading because while the agreement removes tariffs for Philippine products except salt and rice, Japan will continue to protect 239 of its own products.

Reverend Isamo Koshiishi, also an NCCJ member, said there is no reason for Filipinos to be glad about the jobs that Japan open for them in the JPEPA, because those are jobs known in Japan as the 3K’s: “Kitani (hard), kitanai (dirty) and kiken (dangerous).”

“Caretakers and nurses are jobs known in Japan as the three K’s,” Koshiishi said,

“Those are the jobs that the Japanese hated, work that no one wants to do because they are very hard and they pay very low.”

Reverend Toshifumi Aso, an NCCJ member, said that sweatshops and hard labor also exist in Japan, mostly employing migrant workers like Filipinos. “Industrialized economies are so dependent on exploited labor for support,” he said.

Koshiishi said thay are worried that JPEPA—already ratified by the Japanese parliament and awaiting ratification in the Philippine Senate—might take away what little is left for small fisherfolks and farmers to live on.

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