By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
As the debate on biofuels and whether or not it is an effective alternative source of energy to mitigate the impact of climate change continues to rage, the effect of converting thousands of hectares into biofuel plantations is already being felt. Agrarian reform advocates and patriotic scientist and environmental groups are highlighting the activities of corporations involved in biofuel and alternative fuel production, and their reports are not good.
Recently, an organization championing the cause of indigenous peoples is up in arms against what it alleged to be a landgrabbing campaign of a giant palm oil company in Opol, Misamis Oriental.
Pangalasag is fighting against the attempts of the A. Brown Company to take-over hundreds of farmlands that the Higaonon tribe of the Mindanao Lumands have long planted with bananas, coconuts and other crops.
According to Pangalasag, the A. Brown Company is bent on planting the land with palm oil, a project that did not go through any consultation with the residents, much less secure their free, prior and informed consent. (1)
Now, the company wants to take over the land in Misamis Oriental and start a palm oil plantation.
Palm oil is found in almost 50 percent of the world’s packaged supermarket products, including shampoo, biscuits and detergent. Like other vegetable oils, it can be used to produce biodiesel for internal combustion engines. It can be either a simple high quality processed palm oil mixed with petro-diesel, or processed through transesterification to create a palm oil-methyl ester blend of biodiesel. This can can be used in any diesel engine when mixed with petroleum diesel.
Last September 24, farmers and members of Pangalasag reported to the Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization that they are being harassed and intimidated by personnel of the ABCI. They alleged that the harassment began late last year and have since continued. Local officials of the indigenous people’s organizations have also been reportedly placed under surveillance. They said they have been constantly been receiving harassing text messages, and some have been been accosted by ABCI security guards in the area.
Around 10 am last March 10, 2011,Pangalasag members Edwin Baranggot, Jemar Armilla, Fausto Magpulong, Raul Magpulong, Jose Paborada, Dante Paborada and Ruel Tagupa headed out to gather “bagacay,” a kind of bamboo. They were prevented from proceeding to the bagacay harvest grounds by guards employed by ABCI.
The farmers then went to Sitio Limpasan in Barangay Tingalan, Opol, Misamis Oriental where they had a makeshift shelter. After almost an hour, and to the surprise of the resting farmers, a dump truck, two pick-up trucks and a jeep arrived. A man alighted from the jeep and ordered the farmers not to run. No sooner had the farmers absorbed what was happening when they found themselves being shot at. They attempted to run and Magpulong, the two Paboradas, and Tagupa were able to flee, but Baranggot and Armilla were caught by the gunmen.
Armilla, who headed towards a grassy area to hide, was taken at gunpoint. The man who held a gun against him taunted the victim, saying “Let’s just kill him. He will just rot, nobody would look for him.”
Another man reportedly handcuffed Armilla, and they told the victim that they were members of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Baranggot who was hiding nearby surrendered himself after he saw the man pointing a gun at Armilla. He was also handcuffed and punched on the leg. Both Baranggot and Armilla were then taken to the Opol police station where they were detained for two hours while their captors ate lunch. One of the alleged NBI agents also punched punched Armilla on the chest three times. Throughout their ordeal the two farmers said they were subjected to threats and verbal abuse.
After a few hours, the two men were transferred to the NBI office at the Provincial Capitol Grounds in Cagayan de Oro City where they were further detained for one night and a day. There, the NBI charged them with direct assault.
As of September 25, the two have been released after posting bail. The two victims, their families and the other farmers who were with them during the attempted massacre continue to demand justice for what they suffered.
This case, observers say, is not an issue to strengthen arguments against palm oil as a fuel source or as a cash crop; what it is is a case that adds to the long list of massive land conversions for cash crops wherein the rights of farmers are severely attacked and violated.
Last September 27, the regional chapter of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in Northern Mindanao announced that 13,000 farmers coming from various municipalities in Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon would converge at the Capitol grounds in Cagayan de Oro on October 21 to start a protest march dubbed “Lakabayan” highlighting the Peasant Day.
The group said the protests were in condemnation of the “continuing oppressive and anti-farmer land reform program of the Benigno Aquino government.” It said that the demands of farmers continue to fall on deaf ears. Among their demands are an increase in the minimum wage of farm workers; and increase in prices of farmers’ products; and a to stop land conversion.
Expanding palm oil plantations
In December, a business report came out in Sunstar.com that ABCI has begun to expand expand its 30-hectare palm tree plantation in Cagayan de Oro inside the Xavier Estates in Upper Balulang. The report quoted the company’s manager on special projects Ruffy Magbanua who said that the palm tree project was providing jobs to local residents.
The report stated that the ABCI has already planted another 700 hectares of palm trees in Impasug-ong, Bukidnon, and employed 200 regular workers. The workers were said to make a living from making decorations and bahay kubo-type rest houses from the leaves and branches of the palm trees. In the meantime, palm fruits can be converted into soap, crude oil and biodiesel and are used in pharmaceuticals, among others.
Sunstar.com quoted Magbanua as saying that there was a need to plant more palm trees in the Philippines because only 10,000 hectares were devoted to it as of 2010. This is, he said, a very small area compared to the nine million hectares in Malaysia and Thailand that are planted with palm trees.
In the report, Magbanua said ABCI is also targeting to plant around 20,000 hectares of palm trees in Misamis Oriental.
Global protests against palm oil companies’ landgrabbing
In Indonesia, cause-oriented groups are fighting to defend communities against companies that want to get their share of profits from the booming palm oil industry.
In a report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more and more people are fighting the companies who are conducting massive landgrabbing campaigns and land conversion.
As of July 2010 and since 2006, the agency reported that 632 communities in Indonesia have clashed with palm oil operators because of a lack of community consultation, required as part of a project’s environmental impact assessment.
In March 2011, Greenpeace International issued a report about the village of Long Teran Kanan in Sarawak, Malaysia where farmers blocked roads to stop global conglomerate Neste Oil´s palm oil supplier IOI from trespassing on their lands. The government of Malaysia had then announced that it will open one million more hectares of land for new palm oil plantations.
“Expansion of palm oil plantations is taking place in lands that are important for the culture and livelihoods of indigenous people. And the driving force is growing demand for palm oil, for instance the massive biofuel plans in Europe,” said Greenpeace.