Paquibato, Marilog as oil palm country
Foreign investors want about 50,000 hectares of Davao City’s far-flung districts of Paquibato and Marilog for large-scale oil palm plantations.
Occupying more than a third of the city’s 244,000 hectares, Marilog and Paquibato remained largely undeveloped with investors stymied by the presence of an active communist insurgency.
The far-flung districts are frequent scenes of bloody encounters between government troopers and the armed New Peoples Army (NPA). Several rebel fronts operate in the districts which share boundaries with Bukidnon, North Cotabato. Davao del Sur and Davao del Norte.
Already two investors from Malaysia and Singapore expressed intention to pour multi-million pesos investments in the districts populated mostly by indigenous people.
Marilog is southeast of the city carved by a highway towards Bukidnon; Paquibato is a hinterland area in the north bounded by Davao del Norte.
Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has welcomed the investments and is clearing the way for the investors to start off the projects in the agriculture-rich districts.
Duterte seeks rebels’ approval
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is taking the cudgels for a Malaysian firm proposing an oil palm plantation in farflung mountain district Paquibato, a stronghold of communist rebels.
Getting in the way of the Malaysian investment is the New People’s Army (NPA) and Duterte plans a to discuss the Malaysian project with leaders of the National Democratic Front (NDF), the umbrella of leftist organizations in the Philippines.
To join Duterte in the meeting with the NDF is I-BAP Party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III, who is from Davao City who chaired 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 Ata, Bagobo and Matigsalog tribes. Paquibato 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.
Critics told to find work for Paquibato residents
Mayor Rodrigo Duterte slammed militant progressive groups which questioned a local government plan to allow foreigners to invest in oil palm projects in the city’s undeveloped far-flung districts of Marilog and Paquibato.
The Farmers’ Association of Davao City (FADC) said oil alm is not the solution to combat poverty in Paquibato with only the foreign investors profiting from the project.
Panalipdan, an environmentalist group, echoed the same warning adding that the project would place environment at risk and threaten indigenous people.
But Duterte dismissed the criticisms saying developing Paquibato’s agricultural potentials is the only hope of its residents.
He dared the groups to themselves find alternatives to lift up the economic future of the hinterland area and its residents. Paquibato is populated mostly by indigenous people.
“If you are smarter than I am, then go ahead,” said Duterte in the Gikan sa Masa para sa Masa television program on ABS/CBN.
FADC spokesperson Pedro Arnado said the project is not welcomed by the farmers.
What the farmers want are simple: farm-to-market roads, schools, fair prices for their farm products and protection of ancestral lands, said in a report in davaotoday.com.
Belen Galleto, Panalipdan Southern Mindanao spokesperson, said the oil palm project would impact on biodiversity, watershed areas and the indigenous people.
But Duterte would have none of the critics, which he described as the same groups who make noise every time the city government embarks on developmental projects that would benefit the people.
You look for alternative programs that can help the people instead,” he said.
Investors need 50,000 hectares
Other than a Malaysian firm who wants to invest in Paquibato, a Singaporean company also wants 30,000 in Marilog, another Davao City hinterland district, for an oil palm project.
City information officer Leo Villareal said, Koljan from Singapore, recently met with City Administrator to discuss the investment.
VillareaL said tribal communities of Marilog had already endorsed the project but would still require the approval of the Davao City Council.
City councilor Danilo Dayanghirang said the oil palm projects fit the agricultural development plan of the city government and efforts to diversify investments to rural areas.