MANILA–Attacks of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) on pineapple and banana plantations jeopardized the country’s top fruit exports and place at risk its standing as one of the world’s biggest banana exporters.
Latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority shows the Philippines produced 9.1 million metric tons (MT) of bananas in 2015. The cavendish variety, a top export, accounts for half or 4.57 million MT of the total banana production.
Philippine fresh bananas are exported to South Korea, Iran, Hong Kong, Singapore, Russia, New Zealand, San Diego in the United States, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, China, Mongolia, Ukraine, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and even in Europe’s niche markets.
In several occasions, NPA rebels resorted to burning equipment and facilities in fruit plantations particularly in Mindanao to force companies to pay them “revolutionary taxes”.
Eduardo Maningo, a spokesman for the Mindanao agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs), in a statement, has called on the government to step up its efforts to protect farm workers and agribusinesses vulnerable to NPA attacks.
“The safety of our families and our livelihood are threatened. If the government fails to address this problem, businesses can leave and we will lose our jobs,” said Maningo.
“Our industry is already hampered with problems. We have low productivity because of pests and diseases, drought, flooding… but the insurgency is most alarming. We are scared for our lives,” he added.
Communist insurgents have focused their attacks in Mindanao’s lucrative fruit farm businesses, aiming to paralyzing their operations by burning or destroying equipment if their owners refuse to pay “revolutionary taxes”.
Among the facilities that the communists have destroyed include Dole’s cold storage plant and other equipment in Barangay Sinawal in General Santos City last March 30; a banana processing plant in Pantukan, Compostela Valley last Feb. 5; a pineapple plantation in Bukidnon on Feb. 25; and three container vans loaded with fruits in Maragusan, Compostela Valley on March 25.
On March 27, the NPA opened fire on a spray plane in Tagbina, Surigao. The insurgents continued with their attacks in Sumifru (Philippines) in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.
President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier hesitated in resuming talks with the communists, saying that they should first stop with their extortion activities, release all captives and resist from claiming any territory.
However, in less than a week after government negotiators and the National Democratic Front (NDF) agreed on an interim joint ceasefire agreement, communist insurgents have torched some PHP4 million worth of farm equipment at a pineapple plantation owned by Del Monte Philippines.
According to the report by Police Senior Insp. Merlito Tubog of the Davao City Police, some 30 NPA members led by Rolando Sagcaan (a.k.a. Ka Lando) and Roberto Rosete (a.ka. Kumander Bobby) burned two tractor-type boom harvesters worth some PHP4 million at the Del Monte plantation and ran off with an Armscor shotgun worth PHP20,000 issued to the security guard on duty at the time of the attack.
The incident at the Del Monte plantation is the latest in the series of attacks perpetrated by the NPA on Mindanao’s pineapple and banana plantations.
Such attacks have intensified over the past few weeks even while backchannel talks to get the peace negotiations restarted were being held between the government panel and the NDF.
Mindanao exporters said the latest act of violence by the NPAs at the Del Monte plantation strongly indicates not only the lack of coordination between insurgents on the ground and their political counterparts based overseas, but also the lack of sincerity by the communist group to forge genuine peace with the government.