‘We will not be cowed by any design of judicial harassment’-A A +A
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
WE, FROM Kalumbay, express alarm over media releases by A. Brown Company that warn a possible lawsuit for support groups that call for justice for the slain indigenous leader, Gilbert Paborada, and cry foul against the documented cases of land-grabbing and human rights violations among lumad farmers in Bagocboc and Tingalan, Opol in Misamis Oriental.
In a statement published in a local daily, the company declared that they are convinced to file charges against the people who were spreading allegations which accordingly "maligned" the good name and reputation of the company.
We strongly argue that the documentations compiled by local, national and international support groups clearly expose the anti-peasant and anti-environment practices that already stain A. Brown Company’s name.
In August 2010, community people have learned that a subsidiary of A Brown Company Inc., Nakeen Corporation, was given permission to establish an oil palm plantation on a 520-hectare land situated in the villages of Tingalan and Bagocboc in Opol.
Since the establishment of the plantation, Higaonons and other villagers have experienced gross human rights violations such as forced displacement, illegal arrest and strafing.
Villagers opposing the plantation even reported that their crops were either uprooted or destroyed using toxic chemicals by company security guards; and have also witnessed degradation of other productive resources due to the plantation’s heavy utilization of pesticides and herbicides.
We also reiterate that A. Brown's legitimacy to operate the 520 hectares of land is questionable. In a dialogue with officials of the DENR’s Forest Management Bureau last May 9, 2012, Joey Austria, head of the Indigenous Community Affairs Office, said the agency’s national office has not yet received, much less approved, any application under the Upland Agro-Forestry Program, ever since the FLGLA No. 614 with Paras was cancelled.
Also in a dialogue with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) last May 9, 2012, NCIP Commissioner for Northern and Western Mindanao, Cosme Lambayon, said that the agency’s national office has not yet been informed of A. Brown’s project, which is required if the project is undertaken within an ancestral domain area.
The company’s documented violations against economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights are as follows:
Last March 10, 2011, eight farmers, including a minor, who refused to plant palm oil and leave their land, were shot at by more than 20 members of the NBI and A. Brown security guards. One of the farmers (Raul Magpulong) hid for more than 12 hours and was traumatized by the incident. Another farmer suffered a gunshot wound on his left knee area. Two were illegally arrested, charged with direct assault and detained for two weeks.
Sometime in November 2011, the house of Victoria Tabubo, 64, who was amongst those who were forced to leave by the shooting incident earlier, was burned down by A. Brown security guards. They took her coconuts and planted palm oil on the land.
Security guards of A. Brown pointed their guns at Gilbert Paborada, leader of Pangalasag, on February 11 and 12, 2011, because he was asserting their rights over the land. One of the guards even threatened Paborada that he will be shot if the farmers do not leave.
Sometime in September/October 2011, Kagawad Jimiterio Sharot along with plantation laborers and armed security guards when to the farm of Amadeo Payla, 66, and uprooted and destroyed his crops with chemicals while holding the latter at gunpoint. Sharot is the principal manpower provider of A. Brown;
Leoncito Mabao, 34, was held at gunpoint by around 20 armed security guards while his crops (e.g. bananas, cassava, corn and coconut) were being uprooted and destroyed with chemical.
The environment has also suffered much damage in A. Brown’s operations. A traditional sacred area of the Lumads were desecrated and destroyed by A. Brown Company and sacred hill was quarried for A. Brown’s road construction. Trees are also being cut in remaining wooded areas in Sitio Migdaha (Tingalan) to make way for the plantation’s expansion.
The villagers’ health has also been grossly affected. It has also been noted that ever since A. Brown started operations, a stream that served as a water source for cooking and washing became contaminated with agrochemicals. They have since stopped using the stream because they noticed that people were getting sick with abdominal pains and diarrhea.
Residents have also reported that the company use highly hazardous pesticides, carbofuran (insecticide) and glyphosate (herbicide), which are known to be carcinogenic, neurotoxic and destroys the immune system.
During spraying of chemicals in the plantation, residents also experience nausea and headache. Residents around the plantation experienced an increase in incidences of cough and colds and various skin diseases.
Laborers in the palm oil plantation are being exposed to pesticides and are not provided protective equipment while spraying.
Many of the farmers could no longer return to their land and they have lost their means of livelihood and cannot properly feed their families. Their livelihood is also severely affected by pests and diseases that have afflicted their crops, which is due to the use of agrochemicals in the plantation.
Some laborers, who were promised regular jobs in the plantation, were only given contractual work or work on a piecemeal basis. Laborers are also paid below the minimum wage (P247/day) while the minimum wage for agriculture work in Opol is P264/day.
The plantation is reported to have employed minors as laborers, one of which died in an on-the-job vehicular accident in April 29, 2011.
Children are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of pesticides. Women are also doubly burdened by the lack of food with which to feed their families.
Recent reports have informed us that company personnel and some local government officials continue to spread fallacious statements against members of support groups aiding the affected lumad farmers of Bagocboc and Tingalan. The Progressive groups and members of the church are not spared from the red-baiting perpetuated by the pro-plantation individuals in the locale.
We believe that the company’s actions are done in an effort to A. Brown Company to suppress the legitimate dissent of the affected community and support groups against their operations. The official’s threats has instead strengthened the conviction of the Paborada family and the broad support group to seek for swift justice for the slain IP leader.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on October 17, 2012.