Banana exporters want militiamen deployed in plantations soon

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/17 October) – A group of banana exporters here appealed to expedite the deployment of Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) members to protect their plantations from the New People’s Army (NPA) because “time is of the essence”.

Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) executive director Stephen Antig told reporters in an interview Tuesday that Cafgu presence will lessen the incidence of attacks against their plantations and burning of equipment.

Antig said the agriculture sector is hoping the deployment will happen soon amid continuing rebel attacks in other parts of Mindanao.

“How long will it take them to deploy?” he said.

Last October 2, communist rebels torched a container van, two tanker trucks, a packing plant and warehouse building owned by Sumifru Philippines Corporation in Sitio Lakag, Barangay New Dumangas in T’boli, South Cotabato.

The NPA, in a statement posted on October 9 on its website, claimed the raid was carried out against the firm for persistent “land grabbing, environmental destruction and unjust labor policies”.

The NPA rebels also attacked a plantation owned by Davao Ventures Corporation in Barangay Merangeran, Quezon, Bukidnon on October 8, destroying the company’s equipment such as boom spray, tractor, water tanker, two backhoes, chemical mixer, and torched a depot that they claimed contained “toxic chemicals”.

It added in a separate statement on October 10 that they launched an attack to hamper the “aggressive expansion” in areas where staples rice and corn are cultivated.

“The revolutionary forces also aimed for environmental protection since it operates near a populated area. Land inundation and health hazards due to poisonous chemicals used by the said company are always imminent,” it said.

The rebels confiscated several firearms during the two attacks.

PBGEA has 27 member companies that operate 40,000 hectares of the 83,000 hectares of banana plantations in Mindanao.

Antig added that Cafgu members will boost security at the plantations even if they will just be assigned in checkpoints because that will allow government troops more time to patrol the hinterlands.

He said even the military admits “they can’t be everywhere all the time” to address security concerns.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed that Cafgu deployment will prevent the burning and attacks against our farms and equipment,” he said.

Antig added the industry hopes to get more support from the government to keep it going amid the several challenges that hamper its growth, from natural and man-made calamities to peace and order issues, global market competition, and government regulations.

In Mindanao, he said, PBGEA estimated that the banana industry employs 340,000 workers with a combined annual salary of P54 billion and pays the government P7 billion in taxes. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)