“These land lease schemes have turned farmers into mere low wage-earning agricultural workers instead of being empowered owner-cultivators.” – Randall Echanis, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – While President Benigno S. Aquino III is ecstatic about the planned $15-million dollar investment in processing coco water by U.S. companies, farmers feel otherwise.
Aquino, upon his arrival Sept. 23 from a working visit to the US, said two companies – Pepsi Co. and Vita Coco.– have expressed interest in investing in the country’s coconut industry. Aquino said Vita Coco officials told him that they intend to invest $15 million in the next four years.
Aquino said the coconut industry must meet the international demand for coco water (popularly known as buko juice in the Philippines), an alternative to commercial energy drinks.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) feared that the 3.3 million hectares of coconut lands would be controlled by US agro-corporations.
“We fear that Aquino’s pasalubong would replicate the experience of farmers in Mindanao where US-based agro-corporations like Del Monte and Dole now enjoy lifetime control over tens of thousands of hectares of lands,” Randall Echanis, KMP deputy secretary general, said, referring to the country’s 50-year leaseback agreement with the US corporations that is renewable for another 25 years.
Echanis called on Aquino “to divulge the terms” of the investments fearing that this could lead to “one-sided and onerous land lease deals” between the US and the Philippines.
“These land lease schemes have turned farmers into mere low wage-earning agricultural workers instead of being empowered owner-cultivators,” Echanis said adding that the schemes “undermined the rights of farmers over their lands.”
There are 3.4 million farmer-families dependent on the country’s 3.37 million hectares of land devoted to coconut or 26 percent of the country’s total agricultural lands.
In Quezon province alone, 204,000 coconut farmer-families are dependent on 388,664 hectares of coco lands, according to a study by the Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK).
“The sellout of lands to foreign investors that Aquino cannot do in his family’s Hacienda Luisita due to the controversial agrarian dispute and farmworkers’ resistance, he is now doing in the country’s vast coconut lands,” Echanis said.
Echanis also said if the Aquino administration is really sincere in developing the coconut industry, it should “immediately return to small coconut farmers the more than P150 billion coconut levy funds trapped in his uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco’s San Miguel Corporation.”
“The $15 million investment from the US is no match to the P150 billion ($3.488 billion) coco levy funds and the billions of pesos of agricultural funds being plundered by corrupt officials. The immediate return of the coco levy funds to genuine small coconut farmers is still among the solutions for the development of the coconut industry and not through onerous and one-sided investments,” Echanis said.
Meanwhile, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano asked Malacañang to disclose to the public the various trade agreements and deals entered into by Aquino during his recent visits to China, United States and from his ongoing trip to Japan.
The President and his official entourage have spent at least P70 million ($1.6 million) for the three trips.
“The President is making the rounds of top global economies to tell the world about his administration’s domestic and foreign policy thrusts, anti-corruption and good governance agenda. But in real terms, Aquino is announcing to the world that ‘the Philippines is open for business’ and enticing foreign investors to set up businesses in the country. Our local agriculture, domestic natural resources and Filipino workforce are at stake in all of the trade deals that the President entered into,” Mariano said.
“The President and his economic team are selling the country piece-by-piece to foreign investors,” Mariano said. “In the spirit of transparency, we demand that President Aquino discloses the details of all the agreements he made with the Chinese and American governments and agreements that he will forge with Japan.”