CAGAYAN DE ORO

Land conflict blames for farmers' killings

AN INTERNATIONAL organization advocating human rights and environmental rights released a scathing report, accusing food giant Del Monte Philippines of being complicit to the attacks against activist farmers fighting for land rights in Bukidnon.

In a report released by Global Witness Wednesday, September 18, it uncovered supposed connections between one of the world's biggest fruit producing brands and a pineapple grower and local rancher, Pablo Lorenzo III, incumbent mayor of Quezon town, Bukidnon.

The Global Witness said Del Monte failed to identify historic land conflicts and maintained its agreement with Lorenzo despite violence against indigenous activists on his ranches, including the murder of Renato Anglao in 2017.

The land rights watchdog hit Del Monte for maintaining an inappropriate business relationship with Lorenzo, who is accused by local residents of ordering attacks on protestors and threatening Anglao, prior to his murder.

In 2017, Anglao, the secretary-general of Tribal Indigenous Oppressed Group Association (Tindoga), was shot dead after demanding local rancher and current mayor Pablo Lorenzo III the return of community land, of which Lorenzo's company -- the Montalvan Ranch -- was using for agribusiness plantations.

Global Witness also learned that Del Monte not only had a business agreement with Lorenzo to grow pineapples for them, but also hired him as a consultant.

The group said Del Monte even renewed their contracts with him even after evidence of violence associated with his ranches came to light.

"This means they effectively failed to do adequate due diligence before and during entering into contracts with him and his company. Del Monte Philippines is a major exporter of pineapples to Del Monte Foods Inc. in the United States. The company said it had moved to end the growership agreement when it discovered their supplier was also a public official, but had never become aware of the community claims or violence," it added.

Global Witness said it wrote to Del Monte, but its response "is emblematic of an inadequate approach to due diligence."

"Their admission that they were unaware of the claimants to the Kiantig land, the complaints of historic land grabs and of local violence -- and their excuse that the indigenous groups affected failed to contact Del Monte -- misses the point that it is incumbent upon the company to act responsibly, identify potential human rights violations, and take steps to mitigate them," it said.

"Whilst Del Monte Foods boasts of its cozy relationships with family farms in the US, there are clear questions to be answered regarding apparent inadequacies in Del Monte Philippines' due diligence, and what that means in terms of the company's association with human rights abuses against indigenous people and attacks against land and environmental defenders," Global Witness said.

Since January this year, there have been at least 16 killings in the province of Bukidnon. The recent is farmer Angelito Marivao, who was shot dead by an unknown assailant while attending a wake of his friend last Monday, September 16, in Barangay Mabuhay, San Fernando.


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