Tagum Agricultural Development Company (TADECO) has “re-opened” a farm road inside its banana plantation in Davao del Norte that Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez claimed as a public road closed for public use by the banana company.

Alvarez, who represents the province’s First District, has been assailing Tadeco over the alleged closure even as the company said El Canto road in Barangay Balagonan is not public but a farm road inside its plantation. Tadeco also said the road has never been closed to the public. The company, however, in compliance with a government order established bio-security facilities against banana disease along the farm road to avert entry of the deadly Fusarium Wilt aka Panama Disease.

Tadeco  “re-opened” El Canto after officials of barangays, led by Balagonan village chief Don Magallanes, which share boundaries with the Tadeco plantation, asked the company to “re-open” El Canto  so that the Speaker would stop using the issue for political purposes and in his “war” against the giant banana grower.

Tadeco and the barangay officials agreed that the bio-security facilities remain, being fully aware of the continuing threat of Panama Disease, whose attack on Davao del Norte  farms in the past cost millions of dollars in lost revenues from exportable Cavendish bananas.

Last week, El Canto road was “re-opened” with a “blessing and ceremonial ribbon-cutting and re-opening” led by Tadeco officials and barangay captains.

Tadeco before “re-opening” the road, widened El Canto and improved the bio-security facilities against Panama Disease.

The company said it would spend about  P1.7 million yearly to maintain the facilities consisting of security personnel, foot baths and tire dips. People and vehicles are allowed to pass as they did in the past contrary to Alvarez’s claim.

We call this event as  blessing and ceremonial ribbon-cutting and re-opening. It is ceremonial because El Canto has never been closed to the public, said a Tadeco official who asked anonymity at the sideline of the occasion officiated by a priest and witnessed by a large crowd of barangay people.

‘We also have to bless the facilities to drive away evil spirits including a politician,” the official joked, without naming Alvarez.

“We hope that with this, Alvarez and his mouthpieces in media would now shut up their mouth as we already have satisfied the whims and caprices of the honorable Speaker,” the official said.

Alvarez has raised the alleged road closure issue after filing a House resolution looking into the Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) between Tadeco and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) covering 5,300 hectares of the Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) in Sto. Tomas.

Alvarez has also filed a graft case with the Ombudsman in connection with the JVA against Second District Representative Antonio “Tonyboy” Floirendo, Jr., whose family owns Tadeco.

Alvarez sought the House inquiry into the JVA and filed the case against Floirendo, his longtime friend, political ally and benefactor, following a public quarrel between their girlfriends.

Both belong to the ruling PDP/Laban party of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Floirendo was a major campaign donor to the Duterte presidential campaign in 2016, and reportedly bankrolled the First District congressional run of Alvarez in that election. Alvarez, whose term in Congress was short-lived by his appointment as transport secretary during the Arroyo administration, was twice loser in previous bids for the same post before the 2019 polls.

Floirendo is said to have lobbied with President Duterte to have Alvarez as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The alleged road closure is being widely played up by print and broadcast media personalities in Davao del Norte and Davao City suspected as under the command of the Speaker, who is seeking reelection in the 2019 polls.  

The  closure claimed by the Speaker has become a side-issue to the House inquiry he has initiated inquiring into the legality of the Tadeco-BuCor deal.

Tadeco has developed the penal reservation area into a banana plantation with BuCor getting shares from the produce.

According to the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) El Canto road is not public road and within the coverage of the Tadeco-BuCor JVA.

BPI made the declaration during a public hearing in 2012 by the Davao del Norte Provincial Board at the height of a Panama Disease attack and suggestions to establish bio-security measures against the deadly disease.

In 2012, BPI issued a Special Quarantine Order that mandated banana plantations to install bio-security facilities in their farms to ward off spread of the Panama Diseases.

In compliance with the order, Tadeco in 2014 as the disease further ravaged banana farms in Davao del Norte, set up the bio-security facilities in El Canto.

Tadeco did not close the road to the public but required people and vehicles to pass through a metal swing beam at the entry to the farm and chemically-treated foot baths and tire baths.

The House Committee on Justice and the Committee on Good Governance and Public Accountability, which are conducting a probe into the Alvarez resolution against the Tadeco-BuCor JVA, has ordered conduct of an inventory of public roads in barangays around the JVA area.

Early last month, instead of complying with the order to inventory, Davao del Norte public works district engineer Noel Basanes and Edwin Jubahid, chief of staff of Speaker Alvarez, led a team that destroyed a metal swing gate at the entrance to the Tadeco farm in El Canto.

Tadeco has filed various charges against Basanes, Jubahid and several others. 

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