Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is taking the cudgels for a Malaysian firm proposing a 100-hectare oil palm plantation in farflung mountain district Paquibato, a stronghold of communist rebels.
Even as still in the drawing board, environmentalists are criticizing the project for alleged potential risk to people and environment.
Getting in the way of the Malaysian investment is the New People’s Army (NPA) and Duterte on Monday, June 16, will be in Manila to discuss the Malaysian project with leaders of the National Democratic Front (NDF), the umbrella of leftist organizations.
To join Duterte in the meeting with the NDF is I-BAP Party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III, chair of the Philippine government panel in peace negotiations with NDF during the administration of the late President Corazon Aquino.
The NPA, the armed wing of the NDF, has a heavy presence in Paquibato, with population of more than 58,000 mostly indigenous people (lumad) of the Matigsalog tribe, which is the home base of Leoncio Pitao aka Kumander Parago, head of the First Pulang Bagani Command, the rebel front that operates at the tri-boundary of Davao City, Bukidnon and Davao del Norte.
Big stake agri-business investors are stymied by the presence in Paquibato of the communist guerillas who exact revolutionary tax and engage military in sporadic gun battles.
Duterte on Thursday, led the celebration of Independence Day and the unveiling of a peace monument in Paquibato.
He was joined AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel T. Bautista; Eastern Mindanao Command Commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier G. Cruz III; 10th Infantry Division Commander Maj. Gen. Ariel B. Bernardo; and Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Director Chief Supt. Wendy Garcia Rosario.
In his speech, Duterte told residents about the Malaysian investment and his plan to meet with the NDF leaders to discuss the project. ROGER M. BALANZA