DAVAO -- An environmental group urged the Davao City Government on Friday to also look at the perils of foreign corporate-controlled oil palm plantations based on people's experiences and not only the companies' promises of economic development.

Panalipdan Southern Mindanao expressed its concern after Mayor Rodrigo Duterte told Paquibato residents to engage with Malaysian and Thai companies in thousands of hectares of palm oil plantations to supposedly address poverty and joblessness.

In a statement sent to Sun.Star Davao, Belen Galleto, Panalipdan Southern Mindanao spokesperson, pointed out several international and local experiences with corporate-controlled palm oil (sic) plantations that are allegedly "not that good."

One of the experiences he cited was the plantation in Sarawak, Malaysia.

"People have experienced its negative impacts such as biodiversity loss, degradation of forest and watershed areas, unequal profit-sharing, poor working conditions, water pollution, and soil erosion and nutrient depletion," he said.

Galleto said the group fears that the farmers and indigenous people in Paquibato would end up shouldering the social and environmental costs of plantation expansion but the benefits are skewed in favor of the foreign companies like in Malaysia.

"There is not much evidence to show that local communities benefited from the agribusiness ventures with foreign companies," he said.

"Paquibato is supposedly one of the important water resource base areas of the city while palm oil is not grown organically but dependent on chemical inputs, which might pollute the local water resources in the uplands and affect the water supplies in the lowlands, a concern that we both shared," Galleto said.

Galleto said the partnership that Duterte envisions for local development in Paquibato and Marilog "may work if the National Government policies make sure that benefits accrue equally to the poor and marginalized masses and that the environmental sustainability will not be taken for granted."

Sun.Star searched through the Internet for the so-called effects of oil palm plantations on the environment and got over 700,000 entries, the first among which are those from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warning of the environmental and social impacts of large tracts of oil palm plantations.

WWF lists the two most serious impacts of oil palm plantations as large-scale forest conversion and loss of critical habitat for endangered species.

The other impacts include soil erosion, air pollution, soil and water pollution, and climate change, while it says that "new plantations can also create social conflicts if the rights and livelihoods of local communities are ignored."

These include marginal farmers who rely on forest resources for free, but who stand to lose the little left once the vast tracts are cleared for oil palm alone.

Duterte on June 12 told Paquibato residents regarding the proposal of the foreign investor.

"Ug musugot ang NPA [New Peoples’ Army] ana, akong sirad-an ang Paquibato. Aron ang tao may kwarta may trabaho. Dili mi manghilabot ana. Mao ra akong gipangayo (Once the NPA will agree, I will close Paquibato so that only residents here will benefit, get jobs, earn a living)," he said during his speech after the unveiling of the peace monument in Paquibato Proper.

"Tago-i lang inyong armas, mga NPA, magstorya ta ug langyaw. Wala ko miingon mu-surrender mo. Pag storya mo sa mga tao nga musulod nga naay kwarta. Ayaw lang pud mo anang taxation (Keep your firearms. I'm not saying you will surrender, just sit down with inventors, but refrain from exacting revolutionary taxes)," Duterte added. (Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)