NPAs continue to wreak havoc on banana plantations in Mindanao

MANILA-- Communist rebels continue to attack banana plantations in Mindanao for not paying revolutionary taxes despite the resumption of peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front-Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (NDF-CPP-NPA) in the Netherlands.

Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) reported that the NPA has once again launched an intensified series of attacks on banana and pineapple plantations, resulting in killings, arson and deliberate disruption of business operations in Mindanao.

Eduardo Maningo, spokesman for the ARBs, in a statement on Monday, appealed to the government anew to step up its efforts against lawless elements.

"We ask the government to please step up its protection of farm workers and businesses and to go after these lawless elements. The safety of our families and our livelihood is threatened. If the government fails to address this problem, businesses can leave and we will lose our jobs," he said.

If the violent attacks and harassment in farms persist, Mindanao's most lucrative dollar earner will be compromised and affect the national economy, he added.

The Philippines is the second biggest exporter of bananas in the world despite small areas devoted to bananas, which are mostly located in Mindanao.

Current estimates place the people dependent on the banana industry at two million, inclusive of the family members of the bananeros as well as employees of downstream industries.

No doubt the industry has dramatically reduced poverty in the areas where they operate.

Authorities believe that the rebels' assaults on the plantation are part of their extortion activities.

"Our industry is already hampered with problems. We have low productivity because of pests and diseases, drought, flooding -- the intermittent weather conditions and we're still reeling from the onslaught of typhoon 'Pablo' but the insurgency is the most alarming. We are scared for our lives, said Maningo.

Last Thursday (March 30), the NPAs attacked the facilities of DOLE's banana plantation in Barangay Sinawal in General Santos City. The rebels burned the cold storage and pelletizing facilities, a container van and other materials within the compound estimated at a cost of Php 6.9 million.

The company has stopped all farm operations, leaving 56 workers and their families severely displaced. Top management is yet to decide on the continuity of the business depending on the security conditions of the almost 200-hectare banana farm.

Meanwhile, authorities said operations against the NPAs will continue until a binding joint ceasefire is signed between the insurgents and the government.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla stressed that "until no official signing for a joint ceasefire, along with a third party mechanism to implement this between the government and rebels, the AFP and the police will not suspend operations against the NPAs."

Source: Philippines News Agency