NPA rebels stepping up attacks on banana, pineapple growers

Posted on March 02, 2016

DAVAO CITY -- Farmers, mainly agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) who are now contract growers for banana and pineapple exporters, have reported increased attacks by the New People’s Army (NPA) on farms, facilities and equipment in the last two months.

Pineapple farmer in Bukidnon -- BW File Photo
Eduardo Maningo, a spokesman for the ARBs, said in a statement that about a dozen burnings were carried out by the NPA from late January to February this year, almost the same as the total for the whole of 2015.

The attacks, some of which were not reported to the authorities, were in T’boli and Surallah in South Cotabato; Barobo and Lianga in Surigao del Sur; Quezon, Bukidnon; Maco, Compostela Valley; and Maasim, Sarangani.

The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which is part of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

In a statement issued last month and posted on the NDFP Web site, the group also threatened to shoot down aircraft used in aerial spraying if companies do not stop the practice, which they say is detrimental to humans and the environment.

“NDFP-NEMR (Northeastern Mindanao Region) strongly warns the owners of large banana plantations in Caraga [Region] to stop the use of aerial spray because of the damage it causes to the workers, residents and the environment. Contractors and pilots of these aircraft are also warned. If they will not stop, the NPA will shoot down the aircraft,” the statement reads.

Mr. Maningo called on the government to step up its protection of farm workers.

In an interview with the media last month, Stephen A. Antig, executive director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association, Inc. (PBGEA), which groups the country’s biggest operators, said the ultimate solution is to secure a peace deal with the rebel groups.

“We can’t arm ourselves, we have to turn to the military to help us. But we also understand they can’t be in all places at the same time. We prefer that the government talk peace with them,” Mr. Antig said.

The military, meanwhile, said it is closely coordinating with the police and the companies to prevent further attacks.

“Military field commanders under EastMinCom (Eastern Mindanao Command) were directed earlier to closely coordinate with the local PNP (Philippine National Police); and security officers of business firms to undertake measures to prevent harassment and attacks by the CPP/NPA,” Captain Alberto C. Caber, head of EastMinCom’s information office, told BusinessWorld.

“A meeting with the security officers of Philippine Banana Growers Exporters Association with concerned military field commanders was held last [January] to establish close coordination and prevent untoward incidents,” he added.

Mr. Caber said the NPA’s raids are part of its “extortion activities”.

Mr. Maningo said while no one has been hurt so far, the toll on the agriculture industry could prove to be long-term and wide-ranging as he noted that the banana industry directly and indirectly employs more than 300,000 workers in Mindanao.

Mindanao Business Council chair Vicente T. Lao, meanwhile, said the continued attacks affect the industry and Mindanao and also paints the country in a bad light.

“Investors will have second thoughts if the government fails to address the problem,” Mr. Lao told BusinessWorld.

He added that the government needs to come up with a “comprehensive mechanism” for long term and permanent solutions. -- Carmelito Q. Francisco and Carmencita A. Carillo