By VIRGILIO A. CORPUZ
BAGUIO CITY — On May 29, 2011, an international fact finding mission (IFFM) was launched to look into the impact of a bio-ethanol project on the small farming communities in San Mariano, Isabela.In the process of carrying out this mission, members of the IFFM confirmed the findings of the national fact finding mission conducted earlier, from February 22 to 23, by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), DAGAMI and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) about a bio-ethanol project of the Japanese-Filipino corporate consortium Green Future Innovations, Inc. (GFII) and Eco-Fuel Land Development Inc.
In a statement released, the fact finding group said, that it was evident that residents in the area were gravely concerned by the widespread patterns of landgrabbing, militarization and intensive agro-industrial development in the interest of agribusiness corporations.
The concern that emanated from local farmers cultivating small plots of corn, rice, fruit and vegetables was the complete lack of agrarian reform in San Mariano, and the exacerbation of historical injustice by the large scale land acquisitions for mono-cropping of sugar cane as initiated by the GFII.
GFII is expected to be fully operational by March 2012, with the completion of the plantations, nurseries and processing plants spanning eleven thousand hectares of prime agricultural lands and even forest restoration areas.
The corporate operations is currently promoted as an environmentally responsible industry that will bring economic boom to the region; decrease the Philippines’ reliance on imported fuels; and a unique investment which will make Isabela the site of the largest bio-fuel project in the country.
According to Danilo Ramos, KMP secretary-general, a large percentage of the 11,000 hectares plantation project was previously and is currently still occupied and tilled by thousands of farmers here and in neighboring towns.
Residents and small farmers in these lands are being displaced by the sugarcane plantation. This includes beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), indigenous peoples with claims to ancestral domain, and land patent holders.
“We recorded first-hand cases of how unscrupulous persons in connivance with government officials took advantage of farmers and indigenous peoples who lack knowledge on land titling laws and engaged in fraudulent titling schemes,” Ramos said.
“Based on the interviews and focus group discussions held in San Mariano, it is important to underscore that the entry of the bio-ethanol project has meant that these communities have become increasingly vulnerable to land grabbing and land speculation schemes. More so, that most of the CLOAs are facing foreclosure proceedings by the Land Bank,” added Ramos.
The targeted project area of 11,000 hectares has a potential crop yield of 80-90 cavans/hectare of irrigated lands and 60 cavans/hectare for upland rice.
If the project pushes through, it will significantly reduce the food production capacity of the community and cause further encroachment into forest areas as farmers will clear new lands to farm for food,” remarked Diony Yadao, Chairperson, DAGAMI-San Mariano.
The conversion of lands that were once allotted for diverse cropping and forest cover will lead to significant carbon emissions and biodiversity loss.
It is also a threat to the declared protected areas such as the Sierra Madre Natural Park the covered forest ecosystems of San Mariano.
The forest ecosystem, specifically the watershed nourishes the river systems that provide water to the food production of the communities.
Being located in the north of Luzon, an area where typhoons typically strike on a seasonal basis, also means there would be increased vulnerability of the area to landslides and flooding.
The long term social and economic costs to the country, as enumerated above, compounded by the ecological impacts will be disastrous,” pointed out by Tanya Roberts from the Philippine Solidarity Network-Canada.
Recommendations forwarded to both Houses of Congress and concerned National Line Agencies (DENR, DA, DAR) based on the IFFM findings that needed attention are focused on the respect and recognition of the peasants, farm workers and IP human rights to own and till their land. And, putting a stop on landgrabbing and processing of anomalous land titling.
The Government should withdraw state support and endorsement of the GFII bio-fuel project, as well as de-militarize the affected barrios.
Composing the fact-finding team are Jill Richardson of Organic Consumers Association (USA), Simone Lovera of Global Forest Coalition (Paraguay), Yasuo Aonishi of Action Center for Development and Rights (Japan), Hozue Hatae of Friends of the Earth (Japan), Tanya Roberts of Philippine Solidarity Network (Canada), and from the Philippines, Feny Cosico of Agham, Edna Maguigad of Searice, Cesar Arellano of Sentra, Danilo Ramos and Wilfredo Marbella of KMP, Rhoda Gueta of APC, Cita Managuelod and Diony Yadao of DAGAMI. # nordis.net