DAR BLAMED FOR DECLINE OF BANANA INDUSTRY
BY ROGER M. BALANZA
The Philippines has lost its standing as the world’s second largest banana producer and exporter due to unreliable government policies, the communist insurgency and unstable weather patterns.
Banana industry players fear these negative factors could further weaken the industry, one of the country’s top export earners.
While the communist New People’s Army and the extreme weather patterns El Niño and the La Niña deal deadly blows, the industry specifically blames the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and its “unreliable policies that disregard established practices and contracts” as a key contributor in the decline of the export Cavendish banana industry. Rafael Mariano is the DAR Secretary.
The country’s export earnings from banana plunged to $440 million in 2015, down by about 60 percent from $1.1 billion in 2014.
“We used to be the world’s second largest banana producer and exporter next to Ecuador. But today the Philippines has been edged out by Costa Rica,” said Antero Sison, Jr., president of Marsman Estate Plantation Inc. (MEPI).
The Philippine banana industry faces the triple woes as it also misses export opportunities from new markets.
“Ironically, this (is supposed to be) the best time for us to recover because of the increasing demand from large markets like China, but unpredictable state policies are pulling the industry down,” said Sison.
The unpredictable government policies is the worst enemy facing MEPI now, according to Sison.
“We can learn to cope with extreme weather phenomena like the El Niño and the La Niña by applying and developing climate-resilient technologies,” Sison said.
“But (there is) no technological application (that) can be developed against the inconsistency of the DAR policies,” Sison said in jest.
MEPI is fighting off DAR’s order to revoke the banana company’s long existing Agribusiness Venture Agreement (AVA) with Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs).
AVAs between cooperatives formed by ARBs and banana plantation developers are among the most successful partnerships in the agriculture sector. The AVAs have enabled ARBs to earn more than farmers planting rice or other crops.
Hernando Rivero, a member of the Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Cooperative (DAMARBDEVCO) said “DAR officials, whether deliberate or not, have been contributing to the decline of the banana industry, which has helped tens of thousands of agrarian reform beneficiaries significantly improve their living standards and that of their families.”
The DAMARBDEVCO has an AVA with MEPI, which donated the land cultivated by members of the cooperative.
Another banana company, Lapanday Fruits Corporation (LFC), is in the same boat as MEPI, battling DAR over the company’s AVA with ARBs.
Hernani P. Geronimo, spokesperson of LFC said that “the DAR’s move to break legitimate AVAs that have enabled many ARBs to earn better than decent wages and that have provided well for their families, violates the non-impairment clause contained in Section 10, Article III of the Constitution.”
Sison said the DAR appears to be unconcerned over the plight of banana ARBs when its head, Secretary Rafael Mariano, ordered a blanket review of all AVAs or leaseback agreements despite these deals already upheld as legal, fair and aboveboard by government authorities and the courts.
The DAR has been after the cancellation of the AVA of MEPI and LFC.
“It saddens us to think that the DAR doesn’t care whether our ARBs and other workers in our plantation lose their jobs. Their officials are indifferent to their plight and couldn’t care less if our farmers and their families go hungry,” Sison said.
LFC and its workers, and the ARBs, are lamenting the “attempts by officials of the DAR to scuttle legitimate and valid agribusiness venture deals between banana plantation developers and ARBs, in blatant disregard of President Duterte’s policy of honoring all contractual obligations of the government,” said LFC spokesperson Hernani P. Geronimo.
He said that “the DAR’s move to break legitimate AVAs that have enabled many ARBs to earn better than decent wages and that have provided well for their families, doesn’t just violate the non impairment clause contained in Section 10, Article III of the Constitution. It also apparently has emboldened the communist insurgents to continue with their extortion activities and attacks against banana plantations.”
On April 29, NPA rebels attacked LFC’s two packaging plants and farm in Mandug, at the outskirts of Davao City. The rebels burned plant equipment and exploded an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that killed a fish vendor.