Communist insurgents have torched some P4 million worth of farm equipment at a pineapple plantation owned by Del Monte Philippines in Davao City less than a week after government negotiators and the National Democratic Front (NDF) agreed on an interim joint ceasefire agreement.
Police reports said the incident occurred at Barangay Gumalang in the Baguio District around 10:15 PM on April 9, or only four days after the government peace panel was able to secure a deal on an interim ceasefire with the NDF during the fourth round of their talks in The Netherlands.
The interim ceasefire, technically, has yet to take effect, given that its guidelines and ground rules are still to be approved by the two sides. However, the latest act of violence by the New People’s Army (NPA) at the Del Monte plantation strongly indicates not only the lack of coordination between insurgents on the ground and their political counterparts based overseas, but also the lack of sincerity by the communist group to forge genuine peace with the government.
According to the report by Police Senior Insp. Merlito Tubog of the Davao City Police, some 30 NPA members led by Rolando Sagcaan (a.k.a. Ka Lando) and Roberto Rosete (a.ka. Kumander Bobby) burned two tractor-type boom harvesters worth some P4 million at the Del Monte plantation and ran off with an Armscor shotgun worth P20,000 issued to the security guard on duty at the time of the attack.
A frustrated businessman said, “Government should rethink their peace efforts if it will work or just wage an all out war, which apparently is the only language the NPAs understand.”
The incident at the Del Monte plantation is only the latest in the series of attacks perpetrated by the NPA on Mindanao’s pineapple and banana plantations. Such attacks have intensified over the past few weeks even while backchannel talks to get the peace negotiations restarted were being held between the government panel and the NDF.
President Duterte had called off the peace talks last Feb. 4 after many government soldiers died in attacks perpetrated by the NPA, which continued to ignore aceasefire that was then ongoing between the government and the communist group.
Agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) based in Mindanao have expressed alarm over the heightened series of attacks by NPA rebels on banana and pineapple plantations, saying that these could jeopardize the country’s dollar earnings from its top fruit exports and place at risk its standing as one of the world’s biggest banana exporters.
Latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority show the Philippines produced 9.1 million metric tons (MT) of bananas in 2015. The cavendish variety, a top export, accounts for half or 4.57 million MT of the total production.
Philippine fresh bananas are exported to South Korea, Iran, Hong Kong, Singapore, Russia, New Zealand, San Diego in the United States, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, China, Mongolia, Ukraine, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and niche markets in Europe.
NPA rebels have resorted to burning equipment and facilities in fruit plantations in Mindanao to force companies to pay them “revolutionary taxes.”
President Duterte had earlier hesitated in resuming talks with the communists, saying that they should first stop with their extortion activities, release all captives and resist from claiming any territory.
Eduardo Maningo, a spokesman for the Mindanao ARBs, has called on the government to step up its efforts to protect farm workers and agribusinesses vulnerable to NPA attacks.
“The safety of our families and our livelihood are threatened. If the government fails to address this problem, businesses can leave and we will lose our jobs,” Maningo said.
“Our industry is already hampered with problems. We have low productivity because of pests and diseases, drought, flooding…but the insurgency is most alarming. We are scared for our lives,” he added.
Communist insurgents have focused their attacks in Mindanao’s lucrative fruit farm businesses, with the aim of paralyzing their operations by burning or destroying equipment if their owners refuse to pay “revolutionary taxes.”
Their attacks have resulted in killings, arson and the disruption of business operations.
Among the facilities that the communists have destroyed include Dole’s cold storage plant and other equipment in Barangay Sinawal in General Santos City last March 30; a banana processing plant in Pantukan, Compostela Valley last Feb. 5; a pineapple plantation in Bukidnon on Feb. 25; and three container vans loaded with fruits in Maragusan, Compostela Valle y on March 25.
The following day, the NPA opened fire on a spray plane in Tagbina, Surigao. The insurgents continued with their attacks in Sumifru (Philippines) in Malaybalay, Bukidnon on March 27.