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EXPORT PHILIPPINE BANANAS going bananas

GOING BANANAS. Apart from various problems that surfaced during the pandemic, the banana sector is also dealing with the Fusarium wilt disease that ravages plantations. The Pilipino Growers and Entrepreneurs Association on Thursday (March 25, 2021) suggested that the government look into scrapping or slashing fees, among other solutions. (PNA file photo)

Struggling banana industry seeks lower fees, fewer restrictions

 March 25, 2021, 8:11 pm

MANILA – The Pilipino Banana Growers and Entrepreneurs Association (PBGEA) is calling for fewer government fees and more supportive ordinances to pump up the troubled industry.PBGEA executive director Stephen Antig told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in an interview on Thursday that it would… Read More

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Banana industry leader urges wage hike exemption for ‘ailing firms’

banana-congress-mindanews-photo1A banana firm executive called on the government to help ailing industries in securing exemptions from wage increase implementations, and come up with mechanism that will cushion the impact of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) on the banana sector.

stephen antigIn a press statement on Thursday, Stephen Antig, the Executive Director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), warned that the proposed salary adjustment of PHP56.43 to the current wage levels will adversely affect the banana industry.

Antig described the proposed wage hike as unreasonable, saying the move is not well thought of “considering that the banana industry itself has also been affected by TRAIN.”

“The consultation done by the regional wage board with industry sectors was not thorough, thereby recommending another round of discussion to arrive at a reasonable compromise after all the industry figures have been appreciated,” Antig maintained.

He said the banana industry has been experiencing market and production problems, citing the adverse effects of the United States’ sanction against Iran–a key Philippine banana markets.

“There is wisdom in finding a middle ground to help laborers as industrial partners in earning an added income but finds the haste in implementing a new round of wage increase as untenable and inconsistent with the policy of creating permanent jobs”.

Based on data from the Philippine Statistical Authority (PSA), Antig said the Cavendish banana industry employs the highest number of workers in the agricultural sector.

He said any effort “to burden further an industry that has been paying heavy taxes to the government, sooner or later, can result in dislocation, unemployment, and retrenchment of workers who are dependent on the banana sector for jobs and livelihood.”

“There should be timing in instituting the proposed new round of wage increase,” he added. (Digna D. Banzon/PNA)

Banana growers hope Duterte’s Korea visit results in lower tariff

rodrigo duterte for president

The Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) has expressed hope that President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to South Korea would result in reduced tariff for the export of Cavendish bananas.

PBGEAPBGEA members were elated when they were invited to join the team of the President, through Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, PBGEA executive director, Stephen Antig, said during a press

conference at the Apo View Hotel  in Davao City Friday, June 1.

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The association was given five slots to join the Philippines-South Korea Business Forum and Witnessing of the Exchange of Business Agreement, to be held on June 5 on the sidelines of Duterte’s visit to South Korea.

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Also Read:  FLOIRENDO IN DUTERTE BOAO TEAM TO BOOST DAVNOR BANANAS

“We are happy that the present administration has taken steps to look into the series of concerns that we have elevated to the government,” Antig said.

PBGEA’s participation in the business forum is an indication that the government is giving importance to the banana sector, he said.

“We are hoping that this trip will give importance and focus on the tariff issues that we had been asking long before,” he added.

However, Antig pointed out that the tariff issue is not easy to settle because the Philippines falls under the Asean-Korea Free Trade Agreement (AKFTA) for both plantation products and fresh and dried bananas, which have been classified under Korea’s Highly Sensitive Group E.

Under this category, the tariff lines are exempted from tariff concession, meaning, the tariff for bananas is excluded from reciprocal agreements for reduction and elimination, he said.

But, he said, “our other competitors with regards to tariff will become zero by 2022 or even earlier in 2019 because they have bilateral agreements with Korea.”

“I know this is going to be very difficult with AKFTA but this is also the most opportune time to strike while the iron is hot because the relationship of the Philippines and Korea is improving,” Antig said.

“Korea has imposed a 30-percent tariff on our bananas but we have been proposing for zero tariff on the commodity,” he said, adding that they would welcome a gradual reduction in tariffs.

Trading with Korea in bananas began in 1975 but became official only after the Philippine and Korean governments agreed to follow protocols. South Korea is one of the four major markets for Philippine Cavendish bananas, apart from Japan, China and the Middle East.

Antig said that with the entry of other players, the Philippines’ banana exports to Korea had gradually declined to 78 percent from 99.8 percent in 2012.

“Our market is slowly eaten up by our competitors,” he said, adding however that once the tariff is reduced, banana exports to South Korea would increase.

“There is no short cut for the elimination of tariffs but a study must be undertaken that will pave the way for the forging of a bilateral trade agreement with South Korea,” Antig said.

The PBGEA chief said the value of the Philippines’ imports from South Korea is greater than its exports to the country.

As such, Antig proposed the harmonization of policies, particularly among the agriculture, trade and industry, and agrarian reform departments, to ensure the sustainability of banana production for export to traditional and new markets.

“This can likewise help address the poor performance of the country’s agriculture sector,” he said.

To further strengthen the industry, Antig recommended the improvement of infrastructure support, such as ports in potential production areas like in Negros Island, and that government must have specific or better climate forecasting for agriculture to appropriately mitigate weather concerns. (PNA)

PBGEA SENDS RELIEF MISSION TO MARAWI CITY

The Pilipino Banana Growers & Exporters Association (PBGEA) embarked on a relief mission to help displaced people severely affected by the war in Marawi City.

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Dubbed “One Love, One Mindanao, Help Marawi,” the relief mission  was organized by PBGEA member companies.  Volunteers from the companies accompanied the three-truck convoy that brought relief goods to the beleaguered Lanao del Sur capital city on June 18.
“We are one with Mindanao and we are one with our fellow Filipinos in Marawi,” said PBGEA executive director Stephen  Antig
Escorted by the military,  the relief mission convoy left  Davao City on June 17 and safely arrived at Camp Ranao in Marawi City on June 18 after some 14 hours of land travel.
The mission immediately turned over the relief goods  to the military for distribution.
“We have an active “Sagip Pamayanan” program which extends disaster relief and rehabilitation in calamity stricken areas that is not only limited  to where we plant bananas, said Antig. Member companies of the Davao City-based PBGEA operate mostly in Southern Mindanao.

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Naturally, the mission brought bananas donated by PBGEA member companies.
“If there is one crop that bears a heart, it’s the bananas. And it’s what members of the PBGEA embodies and live by,” said Antig. “PBGEA has a heart for the distressed.”
“The bananas are actually a convenient and a good source of energy for the evacuees and our troops on the ground. It is a grab and go food. There’s no need to cook it,” pointed out Antig.
Antig said PBGEA is ready all the time to extend help to those who need it.  
PBGEA with its Corporate Social Responsibility arm has placed support mechanisms in the community to achieve inclusive growth not only in banana production and trading but also in health development, educational assistance, environmental protection, infrastructure support, and disaster mitigation and relief assistance, he said.
He says PBGEA champions  the concerns of the banana industry while delivering the gains through socio-economic interventions in areas where member-companies are operating in 15 provinces in Southern Philippines. 
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Upon their arrival, mission volunteers were shocked to find Marawi a ghost town but still braved entering the area to bring assistance “to our Maranao brothers and sisters,”
“We heard gunfire and bombs from cannons and airstrikes, ” says Betty Francia, one of the volunteers who joined the convoy, “but we are extremely honored to be in a position to extend some form of assistance to our brothers and sisters. I just wish this fighting will end soon.”
The convoy consisted of three trucks with hundreds of boxes of bananas, medicines, sacks of rice, ready to eat halal food packs, drinking water, clothes, blankets, toiletries and personal hygiene package, toys and others. 
The mission also provided care packages and other goods for the troops to boost their morale.
The goods, donated by PBGEA member companies, farmers and other industry stakeholders, amounted to over a million pesos.
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PBGEA sought the assistance of the Davao City-based AFP Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMinCom) to deliver the relief goods in the evacuation centers in Marawi.  
Ltc. Ronaldo G. Valdez, of the EastMinCom, expressed how they are “grateful to get extra hand and support from the civil society. We appreciate the partnership wherein civilians help our soldiers.”
Thousands of Marawi residents fled their homes after the terrorist Maute group laid siege on the Muslim city on May 22. The attack by the terrorist group linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare Martial Law in Mindanao on May 23.
Thousands of people fled the city as troopers continue to engage the terrorists in fierce firefights.
Massive relief operations have been launched by government and the private sector for the thousands of evacuees in temporary shelters in nearby Iligan City in Lanao del Norte and in Lanao del Sur.

TADECO: DAPECOL BANANA FARM DEAL LEGAL, ADVANTAGEOUS TO GOVT

BUCOR TO REPLICATE TADECO-DAPECOL JVA IN IWAHIG PENAL COLONY

BY ROGER M. BALANZA

TADECODue to its success as a rehabilitation program for prisoners, the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) is planning to adopt for implementation in Iwahig Penal Colony in Palawan, its Joint Venture Agreement (JVA) with Tagum Development Corporation (Tadeco).

The JVA involves about 5,300 hectares of the Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) in Sto. Tomas town in Davao del Norte that Tadeco developed into a banana plantation.

The 25-year deal  is primarily aimed at the rehabilitation of the inmates with Tadeco hiring out Dapecol prisoners as farm hands paid with minimum wage.

“This rehabilitation program has been found to be very successful by BuCor, to the extent that the latter has even requested Tadeco to replicate the JVA program to its penal colony in Iwahig, Palawan,” said Tadeco in a statement.

valoria edge davao

In response to the BuCor request, in a report in BusinessMirror, Alexander N. Valoria, president and CEO of the Antonio O. Floirendo Management and Investment Corp. (Anflocor),  said Tadeco has sent two missions to look into the situation in Iwahig. Tadeco is yet to propose its recommendations to start the project, said Valoria as a resolution was filed in the House of Representatives questioning the Tadeco-BuCor JVA.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has filed House Resolution 867 to investigate the allegedly “grossly disadvantageous” 25-year “lease contract” signed by BuCor and Tadeco.

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Reports say that Alvarez’s motive in filing the resolution was his ongoing spat with Rep. Antonio Floirendo, Jr., top honcho of the Tadeco banana empire.

READ MORE PANTALEON ALVAREZ

In separate statements, Tadeco and Valoria disputed Alvarez’s claim, saying the Tadeco-BuCor deal, a JVA and not a lease contract,  is “legal and advantageous to the government.”

The JVA was first signed in 1956 and was last reviewed by Congress in 2012.

“The JVA has been reviewed, and found to be advantageous to the government numerous times by the Executive and the Legislative departments in past administrations,” Tadeco said.

Tadeco adds that “the most recent review in the 15th Congress in 2012 once again arrived at the same positive conclusion regarding the JVA and its benefits to the government.”

Even  the “Department of Justice said during the congressional review that the JVA is above board,” Tadeco in its statement further added.

For his part, Valoria, in the report in BusinessMirror, said that even former President Benigno S. Aquino III, who was a senator then, “sat at the Blue Ribbon Committee reviewing this agreement.”

The bottom line of the JVA, according to Valoria, is “to help the government in providing a good correctional and rehabilitation program for convicts.”

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Explaining the ground level mechanics of the JVA, Valoria said “prisoners of good standing” are chosen by Dapecol to work in the banana plantation.

Valoria said BuCor deploys every day in the Tadeco banana farm about 600 prisoners from its pool of 900 prisoner workers, “as part of the rehabilitation of the prisoners” under the JVA.

Valoria said the prisoner workers are paid minimum wage by Tadeco.

Many of these prisoners who worked in the Tadeco banana plantation were eventually hired by other plantations after serving their prison terms, said Valoria.

PEACE PACT WITH REDS TO BOOST MINDANAO BANANA INDUSTRY

 

Reeling from decades of rebel extortion and violence, the banana industry in Mindanao is agog over ongoing peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the leftist National Democratric Front (NDF).

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

The banana industry has blamed the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the NDF, for the extortion and raids carried out against banana plantations.

“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,” Duterte said during the closing ceremonies of the 2016 Banana Congress held in Davao City last week.

Duterte hit the ground running to make peace with the communist rebels to end the 40-year old insurgency that is active in many parts of Mindanao.

Vowing to end the insurgency during his term, Duterte promised a final peace agreement with the NDF could be hammered out in a year’s time.

Panels of the government and the NDF are now facing off in the negotiation table in Oslo.  

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Earlier on before Duterte was overwhelmingly elected as President in the May 2016 election, ang as NPA rebels carried out a series of attacks on the plantations, Stephen Antig, president of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), sought help of the government to to stop the violence against one of the major export-earning industry in the country.

Antig expressed worry that the rebel attacks are driving away investors from Mindanao.

Duterte’s statement at the Congress was met with elation by banana industry players.

Organized for government policy makers, business leaders, technocrats, farmers and other stakeholders of the banana industry, the two-day Congress served as a venue for the participants to share information on best practices in pests and disease management, value chain development, technology updates, maximizing benefits from trade and tariff agreements and market standards compliance.

Some of the industry stakeholders, particularly big banana plantations, have been seeking government support in fighting extortionists from the NPA who are demanding revolutionary taxes.  

A multinational company – 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.

Duterte said Mindanao is the key to driving developments in Philippine agriculture. While mining industries and export processing zones can sprout “everywhere,” Duterte 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.

Shipping lines carrying agricultural exports from Mindanao indicated that banana exports account for more than 60% of the total volume of agricultural products shipped out of Mindanao. 

“So, at first, even before I took my oath of office I tried to reach out to the communists. And right at the start of my administration we’re also starting the talks, I’m very happy. Now we are freed of the countryside vis-a-vis itong communist party of the Philippines, NDF, NPA,” Duterte told hundreds of delegates to the Banana Congress. 

Incessant attacks from Philippine rebels have prompted Dole-Stanfilco to close two of its banana operations in the province of Surigao del Sur. The NPAs are believed to have carried out the attacks. 

The rebels have torched 19 of Dole’s container trucks since 2010. The trucks are used to transport bananas from the Surigao del Sur plantations to Davao City. The closure affected over 1,500 workers.

The most affected sector of the insurgency in Mindanao is the hundreds of thousands of farm workers in the plantations—not the multinational companies and their executives. The farmers have appealed to the government to do something about them. 

The banana plantations in Mindanao cover about 85,000 hectares and estimated to employ more than 330,000 workers supporting a total of two million people.

The insurgency problem affects almost all industries in Mindanao. It has been a major problem in the last five decades caused by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).

Their atrocities involve arson, extortion, harassment, black propaganda, infiltration of labor unions, meddling with agribusiness venture agreements, etc. There are 52 communist fronts nationwide, 24 are in Eastern Mindanao or 46% while the remaining 28 fronts (54%) are scattered in the rest of the country.

Most of the big industries in the countryside are located near rebel bases. They are vulnerable to CNN-initiated violent and non-violent attacks. Rebels also harass smaller businesses in the areas where they operate. 

Last year, the NPAs attacked Mindanao plantations almost on a monthly basis beginning in January until November. The NPAs burned heavy equipment, container vans and cargo trucks loaded with bananas in various parts of Mindanao, such as T’boli and Surallah in South Cotabato; Barobo and Lianga in Surigao del Sur; Quezon, Bukidnon; Maco, Compostela Valley; and Maasim, Sarangani Province.

After a lull in December because of the annual ceasefire, the NPAs have stepped up their violent activities against the plantations starting late January up to last June. The attacks covering the period January 22 to March 15, 2016, have already surpassed the number of attacks for the whole of 2015.

The turbulent situation in Mindanao could stop further expansion of the plantations, at the very least, but it could worsen when industries start packing up and leaving for other countries eyeing to grab the lucrative fruits export market in Asia and the Middle East from Mindanao exporters.

Duterte said “Mindanao remains to be a valuable agricultural land.” If the revolutionary tax will be remove, “we would be alright.”

“I’m saying this because you are into expansion. If you are into banana and you plant bananas in 20 hectares in 10 years, ay huminto ka nalang. Malulugi ka na lang kung ganon. In banana, in plantations and any other business you have to expand. If you do not expand, babagsak ka!”

“So it’s either we succeed on the talks or we don’t move at all. Because limitado, there cannot be full use of the land until we have the peace that we all desire.

“Having said that, we are open to all issues that you might want to, the government to intervene,” he said.

Anti-aerial spray group linked to communist rebels

aerial spraying

Anti-aerial spray group linked to communist rebels

BY RIGOR ZABALA

Communist rebels and alleged environmental groups batting for a total ban of aerial spraying in banana plantations in the Philippines could be sharing the same agenda to cripple down the banana industry — one of the country’s biggest dollar earners.

npaThe New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP, carried out this year about a dozen attacks on banana plantations in Mindanao, according to reports.

Early this year, the Mamamayang Ayaw Sa Aerial Spraying (MAAS), a non-government organization (NGO) and a partner of another anti-aerial spraying NGO, Interface Development Initiatives (IDIS), renewed calls for a ban on aerial by prodding the Supreme Court to fast-track decision on Davao City Ordinance 0309-07 which banned serial spraying in the city. MAAS and IDIS front-lined the lobby for the passage of  the ordinance which was approved by the Davao City Council in 2007. The Davao City aerial spraying ban has reached the High Court as the banana industry questioned the legality of the ordinance.

The NPA attacks on the banana plantations where they burned equipment and raided company armories have taken a severe toll particularly on workers.

Over 1,500 farm workers and employees have lost their jobs when Dole-Stanfilco, a multinational banana firm in Tagbina, Surigao del Sur, shut down its operations on its 400 hectare plantation this year. The closure followed a series of attacks against the company by the NPA allegedly for refusing to pay revolutionary taxes.

 Severely affected workers displaced by the closure are questioning the real motives of NGOs against aerial spraying who claim to be for the people, now that agricultural plantations are being attacked and its employees harassed by the NPA.

The rebel atrocities are risks to people’s health and the environment which are the same concerns raised by the NGOs in opposing aerial spraying said Eduardo Maningo, a spokesman for the Agrarian Land Reform Beneficiaries  (ARBs).

Maningo said  said he sees a mutual pattern of destruction in the series of attacks by the NPAs and the renewed calls by MAAS and IDIS on the ban on aerial spraying.

“Why is it that (MAAS and IDIS) which have always been vocal about their apparent concern about the welfare of farm workers are silent about the atrocities committed by these lawless elements? Why are they not indignant that these workers’ livelihood and well beings are being threatened by the rebels?” Maningo asked.

Reports said that a dozen attacks were carried out by the NPA from late January to February this year, almost the same as the total for the whole of 2015.

“Are these NPA bombings and torching of farms and equipment not an alarming immediate threat to lives and the environment?’” Maningo added.  

“We can’t help but think that these groups (MAAS and IDIS) are one with the rebels with the same goal – which is to shut down the banana industry. The workers are just poor collaterals,” Maningo lamented.

Aerial spraying is an agricultural practice accepted by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Aerial spraying ensures farm productivity and quality and prevents diseases in banana plantations. The practice is the strongest armor of banana plantations against the deadly leaf diseases Sigatoka, which crippled the banana industry in South America years ago.

MAAS and IDIS in lobbying for the ban claimed aerial spraying posed risk to people and environment, which was refuted by PBGEA.

Stephen Antig, PBGEA executive director, earlier said the claims are “unsupported and baseless.”

These groups are fond of parroting claims they cannot support. The case is already in the Supreme Court, we want the truth to actually come out. Let the Supreme Court decide based on the merits of the case, said Antig as the NGOs renewed their call for the ban.

PBGEA said all allegations against aerial spraying have been refuted by scientists. On the ground,  farm workers and residents around the plantations assert that their environment have remained highly conducive for healthy living, farming and raising animals. The residents also swear, during public hearings conducted by the Davao City Council, that they have been living healthy lives for more than three decades, even with the plantations employing aerial spray.

A report published in Biz-Buzz Inquirer a year ago cited that environmental groups pushing for the ban of aerial spraying in the Philippines are being financially backed by some organizations in Netherlands with vested interest in the banana growing and exporting industry in Indonesia, once a colony of the Netherlands. 

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CLOSURE OF MORE MINDANAO BANANA PLANTATIONS FEARED

Antig said the NPA attacks are now driving  away from Mindanao local and foreign investors in banana growing.

The government should pay more attention to the insurgency problem because “it is driving the present and prospective investors away from Mindanao. Obviously, the closure of plantations will lead to unemployment and then poverty,” said Antig.

The government will also lose revenues from property taxes, business permits, VAT and income taxes, among others if the threat to the banana industry continues and investors pack their bags and close down their plantations.

Antig said the banana industry is serious on its corporate social responsibility to ensure the health of people and the environment as they operate under strict compliance to government regulations.

“Those who are pushing for a ban on aerial spraying should see for themselves how the industry is mindful of the health of the people and the protection of the environment,” said Antig. 

Banana plantations account for 83,000 hectares in Mindanao and at an average of four direct and indirect workers, the banana industry employs 332,000 workers. Together with the workers’ families, more than three million individuals are dependent on the banana export industry.