Mindanao has been touted as the ‘Land of Promise’ because of its abundant natural resources and organic assets. Almost a hundred years since this promise of development was ushered in by foreign agricorporations and plantations in Mindanao, the peoples of this war-torn island still wallow in the backward and impoverished conditions plaguing the rest of the Philippine countryside.
This island south of the Philippines is home to more than half of the total estimated mineral wealth in the country. Since the 1920s, Mindanao has also been host to vast plantations of raw materials and export crops controlled by intrusive transnational, multinational and conniving local agribusiness firms.
The island hosts the largest rubber, banana and pineapple plantations in the country. Giant fruit companies Del Monte, Sumifru and Dole’s plantations encroach peasant communities and ancestral lands of indigenous peoples or lumads in Bukidnon, South Cotabato, Sarangani, Compostela Valley and Davao provinces. The island also boasts of about one (1) million hectares of grasslands that are now gradually being transformed into oil palm estates such as those in Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato, Caraga and Northern Mindanao region.
Vast tracts of land in Mindanao remain targets for expansion of the world’s biggest agribusiness companies operating these plantations. The neoliberal design of public-private partnerships (PPPs) and contract agriculture through various agribusiness venture arrangements (AVAs) sanctioned by state policy further highlight the dismal failure of agrarian reform in the country. The unbridled expansion of these plantations – now at an alarming and unprecedented rate covering tens of thousands of hectares only during the past few years – has pushed Mindanao’s peoples deeper into poverty.
Mindanao is a land whose peoples are deprived of their right to land and life, whose peasants and indigenous tribes are driven off their lands to make way for disastrous economic programs. In truth, plantations bring only false promises of development and superficial growth founded upon plunder and exploitation.
Issues surrounding agricultural plantations in Mindanao
Landless agricultural workers toiling these plantations remain dirt poor – exposed to hazardous working conditions, slave-like wages and brutal repression. Furthermore, plantations endanger whole communities with the adverse health and environmental effects of crop conversion and massive use of agrochemicals.
Resistance is the people’s logical response to harsh conditions and atrocities brought about by agricultural plantations in Mindanao. The peoples’ legitimate grievances often fall on deaf ears. Mindanao is a land militarized to allow for the continued plunder of its minerals, energy potentials and land resources by a powerful few.
Issues surrounding the existence and continued unbridled expansion of vast agricultural plantations in Mindanao remain unaddressed. The war for plunder is often an obscured aspect in the discussion of the centuries-old armed conflict in Mindanao. The dominance of agricultural plantations in Mindanao has not been scrutinized through public debate, principally with regard the question of national patrimony, agrarian reform, social justice, sustainable development and the environment.
Despite the hundreds of thousands of hectares of land devoted to plantations in Mindanao, pressing social and environmental issues surrounding these giant agribusiness ventures ironically seem too small. These issues are deliberately hidden from the public eye.
The REAP Mindanao Network
Through the initiatives of people’s organizations, concerned institutions, advocates and affected communities and sectors, a national action network will be established as a coordinating center to actively synthesize efforts and struggles against the expansion of agricultural plantations in Mindanao. Thus, the Network Resisting Expansion of Agricultural Plantations in Mindanao (REAP Mindanao Network) will also serve as coordinating center to create public awareness on critical issues related to Mindanao plantations.
The network aims to gain broad local and international support and will utilize various strategies and forms of engagement such as forums, dialogues, policy advocacy, social media presence, solidarity with workers, communities, consumers and other stakeholders, public mobilization, and effective mass actions.
1. End land monopoly, landgrabbing and dispossession. Stop the dislocation and marginalization of peasant and indigenous peoples’ or lumad communities. Advocate for a genuine land reform to counter failed land reform policies which legitimize onerous public-private partnerships (PPPs) and agribusiness venture arrangements (AVAs) that allow for the aggressive and unbridled expansion of plantations.
2. Respect for life, livelihood, traditional beliefs and culture of indigenous peoples’ or lumad communities affected by the intrusion of agricultural plantations. Uphold their right to self-determination and right to defend their ancestral domain.
3. Uphold agricultural workers’ welfare against retrenchment, contractualization and other forms of flexible labor, slave-like wages, health and work hazards and inhuman working conditions in plantations and related mills, factories and packaging plants. Attend to issues of child labor and the conditions of women in the workplace.
4. End impunity and uphold the peoples’ civil and political rights. Stop extra-judicial killings, illegal arrests and detention, and threats against peasant and labor leaders and environmental advocates. End trade union repression, violent demolition, harassment, displacement and militarization of peasant and lumad communities to make way for agricultural plantations.
5. Stop environmental degradation and ecological destruction brought about by the expansion of plantations. Crop and land use conversion, deforestation, use of heavy equipment and rampant use of chemicals and pesticides for plantations result in land, air and water pollution, massive soil erosion, and increased vulnerability of communities during natural calamities.
6. Highlight the agriculture sector’s crucial role in achieving genuine national development through genuine land reform, national industrialization and other sustainable and pro-people measures. Tackle food security and food sovereignty issues and critique state policy allowing foreign big businesses to dictate national agricultural production with targets and priorities conflicting with the country’s actual food needs. Bring attention to communities suffering hunger due to crop conversion, disappearance of staple crops and native seeds, and destruction of traditional food sources.