Land converted for biofuels, farmers in
Misamis Or harassed
PUBLISHED ON SEPTEMBER 29, 2011
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
As the debate on biofuels and whether or not it is an effective
alternative source of energy to mitigate the impact of climate change
continues to rage, the effect of converting thousands of hectares into
biofuel plantations is already being felt. Agrarian reform advocates and
patriotic scientist and environmental groups are highlighting the
activities of corporations involved in biofuel and alternative fuel
production, and their reports are not good.
Recently, an organization championing the cause of indigenous peoples is
up in arms against what it alleged to be a landgrabbing campaign of a
giant palm oil company in Opol, Misamis Oriental.
Pangalasag is fighting against the attempts of the A. Brown Company to
take-over hundreds of farmlands that the Higaonon tribe of the Mindanao
Lumands have long planted with bananas, coconuts and other crops.
According to Pangalasag, the A. Brown Company is bent on planting the land
with palm oil, a project that did not go through any consultation with the
residents, much less secure their free, prior and informed consent. (1)
Now, the company wants to take over the land in Misamis Oriental and start
a palm oil plantation.
Palm oil is found in almost 50 percent of the world’s packaged supermarket
products, including shampoo, biscuits and detergent. Like other vegetable
oils, it can be used to produce biodiesel for internal combustion engines.
It can be either a simple high quality processed palm oil mixed with petro-diesel,
or processed through transesterification to create a palm oil-methyl ester
blend of biodiesel. This can can be used in any diesel engine when mixed
with petroleum diesel.
Last September 24, farmers and members of Pangalasag reported to the
Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization that they are being harassed and
intimidated by personnel of the ABCI. They alleged that the harassment
began late last year and have since continued. Local officials of the
indigenous people’s organizations have also been reportedly placed under
surveillance. They said they have been constantly been receiving harassing
text messages, and some have been been accosted by ABCI security guards in
Around 10 am last March 10, 2011,Pangalasag members Edwin Baranggot, Jemar
Armilla, Fausto Magpulong, Raul Magpulong, Jose Paborada, Dante Paborada
and Ruel Tagupa headed out to gather “bagacay,” a kind of bamboo. They
were prevented from proceeding to the bagacay harvest grounds by guards
employed by ABCI.
The farmers then went to Sitio Limpasan in Barangay Tingalan, Opol,
Misamis Oriental where they had a makeshift shelter. After almost an hour,
and to the surprise of the resting farmers, a dump truck, two pick-up
trucks and a jeep arrived. A man alighted from the jeep and ordered the
farmers not to run. No sooner had the farmers absorbed what was happening
when they found themselves being shot at. They attempted to run and
Magpulong, the two Paboradas, and Tagupa were able to flee, but Baranggot
and Armilla were caught by the gunmen.
Armilla, who headed towards a grassy area to hide, was taken at gunpoint.
The man who held a gun against him taunted the victim, saying “Let’s just
kill him. He will just rot, nobody would look for him.”
Another man reportedly handcuffed Armilla, and they told the victim that
they were members of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Baranggot who was hiding nearby surrendered himself after he saw the man
pointing a gun at Armilla. He was also handcuffed and punched on the leg.
Both Baranggot and Armilla were then taken to the Opol police station
where they were detained for two hours while their captors ate lunch. One
of the alleged NBI agents also punched punched Armilla on the chest three
times. Throughout their ordeal the two farmers said they were subjected to
threats and verbal abuse.
After a few hours, the two men were transferred to the NBI office at the
Provincial Capitol Grounds in Cagayan de Oro City where they were further
detained for one night and a day. There, the NBI charged them with direct
As of September 25, the two have been released after posting bail. The two
victims, their families and the other farmers who were with them during
the attempted massacre continue to demand justice for what they suffered.
This case, observers say, is not an issue to strengthen arguments against
palm oil as a fuel source or as a cash crop; what it is is a case that
adds to the long list of massive land conversions for cash crops wherein
the rights of farmers are severely attacked and violated.
Last September 27, the regional chapter of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng
Pilipinas (KMP) in Northern Mindanao announced that 13,000 farmers coming
from various municipalities in Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon would
converge at the Capitol grounds in Cagayan de Oro on October 21 to start a
protest march dubbed “Lakabayan” highlighting the Peasant Day.
The group said the protests were in condemnation of the “continuing
oppressive and anti-farmer land reform program of the Benigno Aquino
government.” It said that the demands of farmers continue to fall on deaf
ears. Among their demands are an increase in the minimum wage of farm
workers; and increase in prices of farmers’ products; and a to stop land
Expanding palm oil plantations
In December, a business report came out in Sunstar.com that ABCI has begun
to expand expand its 30-hectare palm tree plantation in Cagayan de Oro
inside the Xavier Estates in Upper Balulang. The report quoted the
company’s manager on special projects Ruffy Magbanua who said that the
palm tree project was providing jobs to local residents.
The report stated that the ABCI has already planted another 700 hectares
of palm trees in Impasug-ong, Bukidnon, and employed 200 regular workers.
The workers were said to make a living from making decorations and bahay
kubo-type rest houses from the leaves and branches of the palm trees. In
the meantime, palm fruits can be converted into soap, crude oil and
biodiesel and are used in pharmaceuticals, among others.
Sunstar.com quoted Magbanua as saying that there was a need to plant more
palm trees in the Philippines because only 10,000 hectares were devoted to
it as of 2010. This is, he said, a very small area compared to the nine
million hectares in Malaysia and Thailand that are planted with palm
In the report, Magbanua said ABCI is also targeting to plant around 20,000
hectares of palm trees in Misamis Oriental.
Global protests against palm oil companies’ landgrabbing
In Indonesia, cause-oriented groups are fighting to defend communities
against companies that want to get their share of profits from the booming
palm oil industry.
In a report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs, more and more people are fighting the companies who
are conducting massive landgrabbing campaigns and land conversion.
As of July 2010 and since 2006, the agency reported that 632 communities
in Indonesia have clashed with palm oil operators because of a lack of
community consultation, required as part of a project’s environmental
In March 2011, Greenpeace International issued a report about the village
of Long Teran Kanan in Sarawak, Malaysia where farmers blocked roads to
stop global conglomerate Neste Oil´s palm oil supplier IOI from
trespassing on their lands. The government of Malaysia had then announced
that it will open one million more hectares of land for new palm oil
“Expansion of palm oil plantations is taking place in lands that are
important for the culture and livelihoods of indigenous people. And the
driving force is growing demand for palm oil, for instance the massive
biofuel plans in Europe,” said Greenpeace.
Palm oil is still an underdeveloped industry
In the Philippines, groups like the Philippine Palm oil Development
Council, Inc are lobbying with the government to improve the palm oil
industry in the country, saying that it is being “neglected.”
In a paper prepared for the 7th Philippine Palm Oil Congress 2011 last
August 25-26, 2011, the PPDCI said the continued government failure to
support the palm oil industry in expanding to at least 144,000 hectares by
the year 2017 would mean that by 2022 the country will be forced to import
576,596 metric tons of palm oil valued at $ 634.26 million or P27.26
“It shall also forfeit in favor of the Malaysians (through imports) the
opportunity of giving high farm income to 60,000 would-be oil palm farmers
and direct employment of 288,000 rural workers (sic),” the group said.
The PPDCI is insisting that even if the Philippines’ palm industry is very
underdeveloped compared to the coconut industry, there is a great
potential in it as the local demand for palm oil is steadily increasing at
2.18 percent per year.
“Palm oil can replace part of the coconut oil consumption to allow more
exports of the more expensive coconut oil.
Nevertheless, the Philippines is now starting to expand and develop its
palm oil industry, preparing to be one of the major exporters from the
East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA),” it said.
The BIMP-EAG a subregional economic cooperation initiative in Southeast
Asia by the governments of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the
Philippines which are all members of the Association of Southeast Asian
Private-sector groups like the PPDCI and government agencies like the
Philippine Coconut Authority and the Philippine Council for Agriculture,
Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development have issued
reports that there is a need to expand the country’s palm oil industry and
“to meet local demand for export, promote access to capital; promote joint
ventures with foreign investors; and gain access to markets.”
In the meantime, reports have it that the Land Bank of the Philippines now
has a financing package for palm oil. The loan ceiling is about P 144,000
(US$3,349) covering the development costs for the first three years and
for working capital for the fourth year. The loan ceiling is for
cooperatives and small and medium enterprises, and loan terms is 10
years.Even small landowners are being encouraged to use their lands for
cash crops such as oil palm.
Fight against land conversion for biofuels
For the most part, there have not been many protests against palm oil
companies in the Philippines, but farmers organizations and human rights
groups continue to campaign against the landgrabbing of various
corporations that have jumped on the biofuel production bandwagon. Groups
like Peoples’ Coalition for Food Sovereignty, the Asian Peasant Coalition
(APC), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, and Danggayan Dagiti Mannalon ti
continue to fight against massive land grabbing and conversion of
agricultural lands into biofuel plantations.
During the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, the Philippine Agribusiness
Development Corporation Center (PADCC) was able to earmark six million
hectares of supposedly “idle” lands for the production of sugarcane,
coconut, cassava, jathropa, oil palm and other high-value export crops.
Groups like the KMP said the country is now facing a situation wherein a
significant percentage of agricultural lands are in the hands of foreign
investors and their local business partners engaging in biofuel products.
As the months pass, the proportion of produce retained for domestic
consumption is being tragically reduced.
The claim of the KMP is bolstered because of government policies
supporting land use conversion for biofuels.
In 2008, Joint Administrative Order (JAO) No. 2008-1, Series of 2008 was
issued. These were the the Guidelines Governing the Biofuel Feedstocks
Production and Biofuels and Biofuel Blends Production, Distribution and
Sale , and it was enacted by the Departments of Energy, Agrarian Reform
(DAR), Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources, Finance, Labour and
Employment, Science and Technology, Trade and Industry, Transportation and
Communication, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the
Philippine Coconut Authority, the Sugar Regulatory Administration and the
National Biofuels Board.
The Center for Agrarian Reform Empowerment and Transformation, Inc.
pointed out that the order not only expanded the scope of coverage of
lands that may be converted, it also exempts from DA certification
landowners whose “effective area is twenty five (25) hectares or less.”
” This means that all landowners with 25 hectares or less can arbitrarily
and unilaterally decide to convert his landholding to a biofuel production
site. The DAR estimates that 1.3 million hectares of land are
undistributed. If these hectares of lands are made up of landholdings
bigger than the retention limit of five hectares but less than 25
hectares, then they may immediately be converted into biofuel sites, no
questions asked and no certification process required,” it said.
The joint order made no mention of the farmers and tenants who cultivate
the land, and by extension, it gave no assurance that the tenure security
of the farmers is protected should there be an agri-business arrangement
between the landowner and a foreign corporation. In the meantime, seeing
how the government continues to take a position of apathy towards demands
of farmers for genuine agrarian reform and actual land distribution, the
human rights, economic welfare and the very future of millions of farmers
and the country’s food security is all the more threatened.
(1) According to business profile posted on the net from the Securities
and Exchange Commission (SEC Form 17-A (2008) A. Brown Company,
Inc.(registered as BRN in the SEC, but its acronym in business report
profiles in ABCI) is a producf of a merger between three companies that
focused on chemicals and real estate development.