AUGUST 24, 2015 | FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Reference: Gi Estrada, UMA media officer, 0916.611.4181
Presidential Adviser for Food Security Francisco “Kiko” Pangilinan drew criticism from agricultural workers under the national federation Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), for zealously promoting the government’s disastrous plan to allocate one million hectares for oil palm plantations in the country within the next ten years.
UMA Deputy Secretary General Ranmil Echanis slammed Pangilinan’s speech during the 9th National Oil Palm Congress in General Santos City last week, where Pangilinan said that “Palm oil production is key to poverty alleviation.”
“As a government official ensuring food security, Pangilinan must know that oil palm plantations have brought only hunger and extreme poverty in peasant areas, especially in Mindanao,” said Echanis.
“Agricultural workers employed in the country’s oldest palm oil plantations in the Caraga region suffer hazardous working conditions and very low wages. Even after 30 years of hard toil, many remain as casual workers,” said Echanis, referring to reports from UMA’s local affiliate in Agusan del Sur, the Pinagbuklod na Lakas ng Manggagawa sa Plantasyon ng Agusan Plantations, Inc. or PIGLAS-MAPAPI.
According to a 2012 study by the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), poverty, poor working conditions and the high level of unemployment particularly among women have pushed children to work in various capacities as plantation workers – 24 % of plantation workers in Agusan del Sur are children between 5 to 17 years old.
UMA strongly disapproves of Pangilinan’s proposal for the “massive conversion” of so-called “idle lands” for oil palm, and pointed out that the history and the aggressive expansion of these plantations especially during the past few years led instead to massive landgrabbing and dislocation of peasant and indigenous peoples’ communities.
Extrajudicial killings and other rights violations were reported by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in areas such as Opol, Misamis Oriental where lumads believe that the palm oil firm A. Brown is behind the killing of the local leader of the Higaonon tribe, Gilbert Paborada, in 2012.
UMA also claimed that crop conversion and the use of toxic chemicals in oil palm plantations resulted not only in the destruction of traditional food sources in communities, but in the massive loss of agricultural areas devoted to food production.
“The Php 50 million government budget for oil palm expansion will benefit only foreign companies, investors, corrupt landlords and bureaucrats, and will push peasants deeper into poverty,” Echanis concluded.
UMA, KMP and CTUHR are part of a task force for the formation of a broad network opposing the aggressive expansion of oil palm plantations (NO PALM) in the country.