Ceasefire not working for plantations, other businesses in Mindanao – stakeholders

The New People's Army (NPA) is still harassing agricultural plantations while there is an ongoing peace talks between the government and the communist rebels, according to businessmen and agricultural stakeholders in Mindanao.

They claimed that rebels continue to extort money from companies in Mindanao, among them agricultural plantations, private contractors, quarrying operators, public market stallholders and small-time entrepreneurs. The amounts range from as low as PHP5,000 to as high as PHP5 million a month.

Some NPA groups allegedly ask "commission" ranging from 5 to 10 percent from private contractors doing multi-million peso projects for the government and private companies.

In some provinces of Mindanao, the extortionists even demand revolutionary taxes from barangay captains, municipal mayors and councilors. A number of politicians were also reportedly asked to settle unpaid permits to campaign (PTC), which became due during the elections last May.

The affected businessmen are asking themselves whether or not to pay. "If we pay, we will lose our shirts and would be forced to close shop; if we refuse to pay, our lives and that of our family members will be in danger," said a businessman in Toril, Davao City.

Hardist hit

Among the hardest hit are banana plantations, big transportation companies operating passenger buses and contractors.

Just a few months ago, one banana company had to close its plantation in Surigao del Sur after losing a total of more than PHP20 million to the NPAs burning their equipment and packing plans since the start of its operation in 2010. The firm's decision resulted in worsening of joblessness in the area.

Dole-Stanfilco recently shutdown its plantation and packing plants in the northern part of Mindanao after the rebels torch container trucks early this year because the company refused to pay the revolutionary taxes.

Even President Rodrigo R. Duterte acknowledged that the banana industry is hampered by the continuous harassment of lawless groups in Mindanao.

"The greatest challenge of the banana growers in the Philippines is really the law and order. Until and unless you can put together a country that's bereft of any revolutionary tax, extortion and everything, sinusunog ang property, it's all because of the taxation. If it's not taxation of the communists, it's extortion of the roving bandits in Mindanao," said President Duterte during the closing ceremonies of the 2016 Banana Congress held in Davao City last October.

Big banana plantations, have been seeking government support in fighting extortionists from the communist rebels who are demanding revolutionary taxes.

The President noted that Mindanao is the key to driving developments in Philippine agriculture.

While mining industries and export processing zones can sprout everywhere, he said, "what would make the industry valuable is actually agriculture in Mindanao, and only in Mindanao."

He added that he is bullish about agriculture in the country, and sees that the sector will "make it big in the span of the next 30 years," provided the country is able to iron out law and order, and stop extortion attempts of bandits on farm owners.

According to these businessmen who requested anonymity for security reasons, the biggest adverse impact of revolutionary taxes, apart from the unchecked government red tape and corruption, is on foreign investors who were invited to do business in the Philippines. Now the business community would logically wished that the administration find solutions to this worsening scenario in the countryside.

The rebels allegedly are also harassing other businesses in the countryside. Last November 24, the rebels burned a bus of the Yellow Bus Lines (YBL) in Kiamba, Sarangani. The unit, which could easily cost Php5 million, was not the first YBL bus burned by the rebels.

The burning is just one of the four communist attacks that happened recently in Region 12, including the burning of two heavy equipment used in building a road. This was after the November 14 torching of another YBL bus in Tupi, South Cotabato.

The same fate is being suffered by telecommunications companies, which could set up cell sites fast enough partly because of the big amount being demanded by rebels in areas selected for the cell sites.

Globe Telecom had openly admitted that the high cost of setting up cell sites due to local government units' demand, generally red tape in many levels of the government and the rebels' extortion activities are partly to blame for the difficulty in setting up cell sites and the telcos' inability to improve connectivity in the country.

Businessmen asking for protection from the military are disappointed that the military and the police can't help to stop the extortion activities after the government declared a unilateral cease fire as part of the ongoing peace process. They have been ordered to stay in the barracks.

Worried businessmen are concerned what could the peace talks really mean to their businesses since the rebels are taking advantage of the government's unilateral ceasefire.

Source: Philippines News Agency

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