Farmers decry 'plunder' of land in southern Philippines

Activist groups aim to resist expansion of corporate-run agricultural plantations
Farmers decry 'plunder' of land in southern Philippines

A peasant leader speaks at the launch of a network that aims to resist the expansion of agricultural plantations in Mindanao. (Photo courtesy of Uma)

Philippine farmers have decried what they called the "plunder" of farmland through the "unbridled expansion of corporate agricultural plantations" in the southern region of Mindanao.

"There will be no more land in Mindanao even for cemeteries if plantations are allowed to expand," said Ranmil Echanis, secretary-general of the Union of Agricultural Farmworkers. 

Farmers, trade union activists, and a group of priests and nuns launched a network on Oct. 28 that aims to "resist the expansion of agricultural plantations" in Mindanao.

In a statement, the group said the expansion of giant agricultural plantations has become too aggressive.

The launch of the Network Resisting Expansion of Agricultural Plantations was held days before Filipinos mark All Souls' Day, a Catholic religious holiday when people troop to cemeteries to visit their departed family members.

Echanis said "casualties and fatalities due to mining plunder, plantation expansion are piling up" so that "there might not be enough land for the victims."

"It is a fight for their very survival," said a statement signed by the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, an organization of priests and nuns working in hinterland communities, the Peasant Movement of the Philippines, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, and the Asia Monitor Resource Center.

Ariel Casilao, the network's spokesman, said the expansion of plantations has given birth to "investment defense forces" — paramilitary groups that have been accused of human rights violations in rural communities in Mindanao.

Some 500,000 hectares, about 12 percent of Mindanao's agricultural land, have already been covered with plantation crops for the export market. 

The government targets for plantation expansion include 256,360 hectares for sugarcane; 150,000 hectares for cacao by 2020; 116,000 hectares for rubber; 87,903 hectares for coffee plantations; and about 1 million hectares of oil palm plantations by 2030.

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