Oil palm plantation operations suspended after accident

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/5 May) – A week after the deadly vehicular accident that killed nine plantation workers of the oil palm plantation of A. Brown Company, Inc. (ABCI) in Opol, Misamis Oriental, management has suspended operations “to take care of the injured, the dead and institute corrective measures in the plantation.”

Ruffy T. Magbanua, ABCI community relations and development manager, said they are now in the process of installing strict safety standards to secure the plantation workers in their workplace.

“We will no longer use hauler trucks to ferry workers in and out of the plantation. We are now in the process of procuring buses for the workers,” he said.

The accident last April 29 claimed nine lives and injured 53 others when the 6×6 hauler truck, locally called “kumong-kumong,” ferrying the workers overturned as it was negotiating a curve over soft road inside the plantation in Sitio Limbasan in Barangay Tingalan. Aboard the truck were 82 contractual farm workers.

Magbanua said that five of those who died were already buried last Wednesday in Barangay Salawaga in Opol. Three others from nearby El Salvador town have yet to be buried. The ninth victim, driver Danny Mangaron, is set to be buried in Camiguin. Mangaron was a fulltime employee having had worked as a driver for ABCI for 15 years.

Ten of the injured are now recuperating in the posh Polymedic Medical Plaza in Barangay Kauswagan here.

“Only seven were actually still confined at Polymedic, but we had reconfine three others who were discharged from the government-owned Northern Mindanao Medical Center last Monday,” said Magbanua.

ABCI, he said, spent for all the funeral expenses of those who died, on top of the P50,000 financial assistance they gave to the families of the contracted farm workers.

Once they resume operations, workers will have to undergo safety training, the plantation roads repaired and maintained regularly and the vehicles used to ferry them shall no longer be hauler trucks, Magbanua said.

He added that they are now working to grant regular employment status for the plantation workers. “In fact, we were just waiting for the approval to grant regular status to 20 workers. It was just very unfortunate that the accident happened,” Magbanua said.

Out of the 500 hectares set for oil palm plantation, 100 hectares have been planted so far while the rest are being cleared preparatory to planting.

Magbanua said that they will hire 20 workers per 100 hectares of plantation.

“We will comply with all laws and regulations related to plantation development and workers’ rights, like affording them minimum wages and allowances,” he added.

The minimum basic wage for agricultural workers in Northern Mindanao is P257 per day.

Those who died and got injured last April 29 were contract workers who were receiving a minimum of P180 per day after getting their quota of weeding 45 trees of oil palm or clearing an area equivalent to planting of 18 oil palm trees. (BenCyrus G. Ellorin / MindaNews)