Philippine president visits site of farmers’ killing as activists demand action

Duterte on Tuesday visited the site where nine farmers were killed while occupying part of a sugar plantation. (Reuters)
Updated 23 October 2018
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Philippine president visits site of farmers’ killing as activists demand action

  • Nine farmers were killed while occupying part of a sugar plantation in the city of Sagay in central Philippines
  • The killings are the latest in the country that is the deadliest in Asia for land and environmental activists, according to Global Witness

BANGKOK: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday visited the site where nine farmers were killed while occupying part of a sugar plantation, according to campaigners who have criticized the government for failing to protect land rights activists.
Two minors were among those killed on Saturday night in Negro Occidental province’s Sagay City, according to the Philippines National Police, which said it was investigating reports that gunmen opened fire on the farmers.
The National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) said the farmers had been staging “bungkalan,” or collective cultivation of idle farmland that they had occupied.
“Bungkalan reflects the failure of the government’s land reform program and the landlords’ refusal to distribute land to the tillers,” the NFSW said in a statement.
The land was earmarked for redistribution under the government’s agrarian reform program, but the plantation owner had used a private security force to intimidate the farmers, according to NFSW.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement that Duterte was “deeply perturbed” by the killings, and had ordered “a thorough and impartial investigation.”
Mike Concepcion, a campaigner with the rights group Bayan Negros in Sagay City, said Duterte visited the spot where the farmers were murdered, and was scheduled to meet with their families in City Hall where the coffins have been placed.
While the president’s visit is “unprecedented,” it does not negate the fact that the government has failed to implement agrarian reform, and protect farmers and activists, said Christina Palabay of the rights group Karapatan.
“We have demanded a genuine agrarian reform program to ensure redistribution of agricultural land and adequate support for farmers,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We are conducting our own fact-finding mission, but we are not confident that these perpetrators will be brought to justice,” she said.
Land reform has long been a contentious issue in the Philippines, where a lasting legacy of Spanish colonial rule is a concentration of ownership — including of farmland — among a wealthy few.
The agrarian reform program, known as CARP, was enacted in 1988, with an aim to reduce inequality and alleviate poverty. Its deadline has been extended several times.
Of a total area of 5.4 million hectares under CARP’s scope, the government has distributed 4.8 million hectares as of December 2017, according to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
But activists say officials accepted thousands of fraudulent claims, and that allocated land remains with private owners and corporations who refuse to honor titles issued by DAR.
The killings are the latest in the country that is the deadliest in Asia for land and environmental activists, according to UK-based advocacy group Global Witness.
Hundreds of farmers have also been arrested, and at least 172 killed since Duterte took office in 2016, according to peasants’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
“The climate of the country is not favorable for farmers and for land and environmental defenders,” said Palabay.
“We are in grave danger.”


Indonesia palm oil growers threaten retaliation over EU ‘intimidation’

Updated 23 March 2019
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Indonesia palm oil growers threaten retaliation over EU ‘intimidation’

  • Earlier this week, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, warned that if the EU implements a ban on palm oil imports, Indonesia would retaliate strongly with possible bans on European products
  • Indonesia and Malaysia together produce about 85 percent of the world’s palm oil

JAKARTA: Biofuel producers in Indonesia called on the Indonesian government and EU to find a “win-win solution” to a dispute over legislation that will phase out palm oil manufacturing in the region, risking jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.
Earlier this week, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, warned that if the EU implements a ban on palm oil imports, Indonesia would retaliate strongly with possible bans on European products, including passengers jets, train coaches, and motor vehicles.
“We want a win-win solution. Retaliation is not a favorable option but, eventually, what else can we do? It could become necessary if we keep being intimidated,” said Master Parulian Tumanggor, chairman of the Indonesia’s Biodiesel Producers Association.
“If they stop biofuel, millions (of workers and farmers) will become unemployed. We don’t want that,” he added.
Pandjaitan said that with Indonesia’s aviation industry expected to expand threefold by 2034, the country will require about 2,500 aircraft in the next two decades — a big market for European companies.
Aircraft demand from Indonesia is worth more than $40 billion and it will create millions of jobs.
“It’s a matter of survival. If they treat us like this, we will retaliate strongly. We are not a poor country, we are a developing country and we have a big potential,” Pandjaitan said in a briefing with the EU ambassador to Indonesia, Vincent Guerend, and European investors.
Darmin Nasution, chief economic minister, said Indonesia is considering a challenge to the EU legislation via the World Trade Organization, and will seek support from the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Indonesia and Malaysia together produce about 85 percent of the world’s palm oil.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi spoke with her Malaysian counterpart, Saifuddin Abdullah, on the sidelines of Organization of Islamic Cooperation emergency meeting in Istanbul on Friday.
“We agreed to work together to fight against discrimination of palm oil in the EU,” she said via Twitter.
Nasution said palm oil contributed $17.89 billion to Indonesia’s economy in 2018 and almost 20 million workers depended on the plantations for their livelihood.
On March 13 the European Commission adopted new rules on biofuels based on sustainability criteria with a two-month scrutiny period. The EU said “best available scientific data” show palm oil plantations are a major cause of deforestation and climate change.
Palm oil plantations in Indonesia have resulted in massive deforestation on the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Guerend acknowledged the importance of palm oil to Indonesia in terms of jobs, but said that there was some flexibility in the regulation.
“It will be further modified in a few years’ time. It’s not cast in stone forever as the industry is dynamic, expanding, and reforming, and we take that into account,” he said.
“Our invitation for everyone is to work on sustainability because it’s in everybody’s interest,” he added.