NPA admits attacks on Bukidnon plantations punishment for ‘land grabbing’

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/9 March) – The New People’s Army admitted burning heavy equipment belonging to Dole Philippines and Sumifro in Malaybalay, Bukidnon last Feb. 26 and 28, saying that the attacks were a form of punishment for the “imperialist companies” involved in landgrabbing activities.

Burned by the rebels were boom sprayers for banana and pineapple plantations.

The admission from Ka Mamerto Bagani, spokesperson of the NPA’s Northcentral Mindanao Command, came in a press statement. Contrary to claims by authorities that extortion were behind the attacks, Bagani said that the attacks were a form of punishment.

“We punished the imperialist companies because they are grabbing the lands of the farmers, exploiting laborers and destroying the environment in the province,” Bagani said.

The NPA accused Sumifro of landgrabbing 5,250 hectares and Dole 18,840 has. Although Bagani said that these scheme come in “legal form” through land lease, the practice of the companies do not benefit the people.

He added that had there been equitable distribution and use of the lands, “it could have benefited 31,500 people.” The NPA, however, lament that due to labor-only contracting done by AsiaPro manpower agency, only three people have been employed as farm workers for every two hectares.

The NPA also condemned AsiaPro of profiting from the labor of the farm workers by deducting P65 from the daily wages. “On record, every farmworker’s salary is P312, but only P247 is being received,” Bagani said.

The NPA, however, did not admit responsibility for the deadly attack on a team of forensic personnel of the Scene of Crime Operatives of Bukidnon and a team from the Malaybalay City Police Station (MCPS) Sunday morning.

Officials in Camp Alagar who spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of clearance to speak on the matter admitted that there were operational and intelligence lapses in the deployment of the SOCO and MCPS team.

“As a matter of procedure, the SOCO should have only gone in after the crime scene was secured. Sending a lightly armed team there was very dangerous considering that there is confirmed intelligence reports of NPA presence,” said the police official.

The police forensics and police investigators from the MCPS were responding to the reported murder of Antonio Pechora, former chairman of Barangay Mahayag, when they stepped into the ambush.

Three policemen and a civilian staff of the SOCO died in Sunday’s attack. Their four other companions coming from the MCPS were injured.

A statement from the MCPS said that three of the SOCO members were unarmed. Taken away by the NPA were three 9mm pistols and an M16 rifle.

The Philippine Army is now going after the NPA perpetrators.

Earlier, Bukidnon Gov. Alexander Calingasan asked the NPA to stop “extorting” from Bukidnon’s agri-business industry as a show of sincerity to the peace talks between the government and the 42-year-old communist insurgency.

In a peace forum advocating the Government of the Philippine-National Democratic Front (GPH-NDF) peace talks last week, Bukidnon Vice Gov. Jose Maria Zubiri Jr. appealed to the NDF to spare civilians in their attacks.

But Maj. Eugenio Julio Osias IV, spokesman of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said that appealing to the umbrella organization of the communist underground, which represents them in the negotiating table, may be unproductive.

“Apparently, the NPA on the ground do not obey the NDF as there is a split in the communist movement,” said Osias.

Both the GPH and the NDF/CPP/NPA are signatories to the Comprehensive Agreement for the Respect on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) signed on April 10, 1998.

Both the GPH and the NDF, however, accuse each other of violation to the CARHRIHL which would have provided the rules on armed confrontation as regards civilians and those disqualified from combat like those wounded in battle.

The issue of “extortion,” which the NPA consider as “revolutionary tax,” is also a contentious issue in the GPH-NDF Peace Process which resumed in Oslo, Norway last month after years of being stalled. (BenCyrus G. Ellorin / MindaNews)