Dragon fruit venture eyed for kin of Ampatuan massacre victims

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/09 October) — In a bid to lessen their vulnerability from being bought or bribed, family members of the media victims of the infamous November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre have entertained the idea of growing the nutritious dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus).

Ric Cachuela, chair of the Justice Now Movement, the association of family members of the media victims of the massacre, said the proposal of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) for them to grow dragon fruit is a welcome development.

“Some of our members have already toured a dragon fruit farm in Luzon. The proposed project looks good,” he said in a recent interview.

But Cachuela said the whole group has yet to meet to discuss the dragon fruit livelihood project.

Rowena Paraan, NUJP secretary general, disclosed earlier that funds from foreign press foundations are waiting to be tapped to help those left by the murdered media workers.

Among the foreign media institutions that initially offered to help them is the Rory Peck Trust, she said.

The Rory Peck Trust, which was established in 1995 in honor of freelance cameraman Rory Peck who was killed while filming in Moscow, is an internationally recognized organization that gives direct practical support to freelancers and their families in need, its website said.

Paraan said the dragon fruit livelihood project will benefit all the families of the 32 slain media workers, one of whom remains missing.

A total of 58 persons were killed on that fateful day. The others were civilians who happened to pass the national highway which at that time was blocked by a least 100 heavily armed men.

The massacre was allegedly masterminded by some members of the wealthy Ampatuan clan, including former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., and his sons Zaldy Ampatuan, suspended governor of the Autonomus Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Andal Ampatuan Jr., former mayor of Datu Unsay town.

Paraan said the Ampatuan clan still has “tremendous wealth,” allegedly accumulated questionably during their reign in Maguindanao, which can be used to buy to dissuade the media victims’ family members from pursuing the cases.

“Hopefully, we can lessen their vulnerability to the temptations of money from the other camp with this dragon fruit farming project,” she said.

Paraan said the NUJP recently toured some family members of the media victims to a dragon fruit farm in Burgos, Ilocos Norte.

“It’s a viable venture that we hope to replicate for the families of the media victims,” she said.

Paraan said they are eyeing at least two hectares of land to jumpstart the dragon fruit project within Region 12.

She said that only a few family members have been given individual livelihood projects so far, and not as a group as this farming project aims.

Dragon fruit, or pitahaya which is native to Mexico and Central and South America, is a vine-like epiphytic cactus.

The fruit is sweet, juicy, crispy, and tastes like pear, kiwi, and watermelon. It is processed into jam, puree, cordial salad, sherbets and sorbets, fruit pizza, and beverage, an article at www.agribusinessweek.com said. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)