MANILA, May 11, 2015— Farmers, indigenous peoples, and the environment are in trouble if unbridled expansion of oil palm plantations is allowed in Mindanao, says an organization of Catholic missionaries.
The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Sub-Region issued the call for better engagement by government leaders, companies and stakeholders as oil palm development swells.
They are particularly concerned about how people’s access to food and land ownership has been “undermined” by massive crop and land use conversion from staple food production to oil palm.
“Thirty years of the palm oil industry only proved broken promises of development, livelihood, and food security,” the RMP-NMR said in a joint statement with the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights and the Hong Kong-based Asia Monitor Resource Centre.
The statement was released on Monday following National Oil Palm Conference held in Davao City on May 9 to10.
The conference was attended by 30 representatives from 20 organizations of indigenous peoples, farmers, trade unions, agricultural workers and advocates from different provinces of the country and from Indonesia.
They said that palm oil plantations in the country made expansion through land accumulation.
However, the groups lamented that this drive became more aggressive in the past years resulting in the dislocation of entire peasant and indigenous people’s communities.
“Oil palm plantations forced their way into these communities without respect for indigenous peoples’ ancestral domain, desecrating ancestral burial sites and other important aspects of indigenous peoples’ tradition and culture,” they said.
Violence, unfair labor
They claimed that “militarization has spawned at an alarming spate” of human rights abuse of civil and political rights.
According to them, people and groups opposed to oil palm expansion have become targets of threat, harassment, and extra-judicial killings.
Farmers and supposed agrarian reform beneficiaries, they said, have been relegated to being landless agricultural workers “heavy toil, enduring hazardous working environments and slave wages”.
“Agricultural and mill workers are made to accede to unfair labor practices and labor flexibilization policies,” the statement read.
Environmental problems, health hazards
The groups also warned against the use of harmful agrichemicals in oil palm cultivation such Furadan, Glyphosate and Paraquat.
These chemicals, they said, “pose health hazards not only to farm workers directly handling these toxic materials but also to entire communities affected by the contamination of water systems”.
They also warned against allowing foreign companies to develop a million hectares of palm oil plantations.
The statement said it will result in massive destruction of forests, loss of biodiversity, and will inevitably contribute to the problem of climate change.
“Critical issues surrounding oil palm must be effectively tackled with urgency in light of the irreversible ecological impact that will affect future generations,” they said. (CBCPNews)