Bahrain business execs here to scout for RP lands—groups
The left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and staunch ally Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) on Friday revealed that Bahrain’s business delegation will be in Manila to scout for lands available for production of rice, fruit and vegetable for the consumption of the growing population of Persian Gulf state.
KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos said the business delegation left Bahrain yesterday and will embark on a week long trip to the Philippines and Thailand to look for available lands for rice, fruit and vegetable plantations.
According to Ramos, despite the advise of United Nation’s Food Security expert Olivier de Schutter to call for a code of conduct to regulate the purchase of farmland across Africa, Asia and Latin America by Gulf states and private business, the Bahrain business delegation pursued the trip to acquire if not lease lands abroad.
The KMP leader said Bahrain businessmen will stay in Manila until June 28; however Malacañang still refuse to reveal the details of the trip and the detailed agenda accompanying the week long business trip in the country.
“Malacañang continues to treat its business talk with Bahraini investors as top secret confined to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and to the national security syndicate, despite mounting calls from all affected sectors for the administration to disclose the agenda and come aboveboard with this highly secretive agreement,” Ramos said.
Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap saidthe initial agreement between the Philippines and Bahrain was signed in May 2008 after Bahrain trade minister Hassan Fakhro visited Manila to secure vast plots of land to grow Basmati rice for Bahrain’s consumption.
According to Hicap, details of the agreement was finally clinched on June last year, and it was signed by the minister of agriculture of Bahrain and agriculture secretary Arthur Yap for the Philippines, but the two agriculture officials agreed not to release the details of the agreement. However, according to Hicap, Fakhro was quoted as saying that several Bahrain companies will come in the Philippines to invest in rice production and livestock processing.
“While 70 percent of the peasant and fisherfolk population is still landless, Ms Arroyo entered into a secret, unlawful and immoral deal with Bahrain that will offer the country’s agricultural lands at bargain prices to foreign investors. Now, we have the business delegation from Bahrain coming in to formally scout for the country’s agricultural lands. This is treason to the highest order,” the Pamalakaya leader said.
KMP and Pamalakaya said, aside from the Philippines, the Manama-based General Trading and Food Processing Company, one of Bahrain’s largest public trading corporation is also interested in securing lands in Australia, India and Sudan to develop supplies of Bahraini market, which is composed of not less than 750,000 people.
“Secretary Yap and his lady boss in Malacañang have a lot of explaining to do over this highly secret agricultural deal with Bahrain. No official statements from the government side have been issued to the public and the entire Filipino people are kept in total dark about this escapade of President Arroyo and her agriculture secretary,” both groups added.
Pamalakaya noted that in 2007, the Bahraini food giant set up a $ 2.7 million joint venture food processing venture in Qatar with the Qatar Company for Meat and Livestock Trading, which is expanding its overseas operation.
The group said aside from the Philippines, the Bahraini government has also secured an agreement with the Thai government for the production of Jasmine rice for direct export to Bahrain. Hicap said a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by Bahrain and Thailand in May 2008, simultaneously with the visit of Fakhro in the Manila.
“Is this country for sale? Does President Arroyo maintain and execute a policy of selling the country’s agricultural lands to those who want to come to invest for agri-business undertakings? Is there such a policy? This seems to be the trend now with foreign groups coming in either to secure lease arrangements or buy lands in the country for production of agricultural products for super profits,” said Pamalakaya.
Pamalakaya noted that a Japanese holding company based in United Kingdom and its’ local subsidiary have been allowed by the national government to reforest 400,000 hectares in Northern Luzon with coconut trees for production of biodiesel products. The agreement between the United Kingdom based firm- the Pacific Bio-Fields Holding Plc. and its local counterpart the Northern Luzon based—Bio-Energy NL to utilize some 400,000 hectares of forest areas for coconut plantation was sanctioned by Malacañang, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) for 25 years and renewable for another 25 years.
Pamalakaya lamented that the incident involving the free use of 400,000 hectares of lands for the production of bio-diesel for the use of Japanese users is a clear proof that the Japan-Philippines Economic and Partnership Agreement (Jpepa) is really anti-Filipino and merely intended to address the need of Japanese transnational corporations.
“In exchange for 400 nursing and caregiving jobs in Japan, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will allow the corporate exploitation of 400,000 hectares of Philippine agricultural lands to foreign groups identified with and serving at the pleasure of Japanese car makers. No Filipino can stomach this kind of across-the-nation betrayal of national interest,” it said.
In an announcement in Tokyo which coincided with the state visit of President Arroyo, the Pacific Bio-Fields Holding Plc. said the project would make alternative auto fuel which it plans to sell to Japanese users in five years. Its counterpart the Bio-Energy NL headed by company president Salacnib Baterina denied that the government will allow the use of 400,00 hectares for the production of bio-diesel for free.
Earlier, Pamalakaya and KMP questioned the intervention made by the European Union (EU) pressuring the Manila government from pursuing Charter Change to lift ban on foreign ownership of lands in the country.
“The European Union is committing a national political foul play in lobbying for the passage of Chacha that would lift the constitutional ban on foreign ownership of land. This country is not for sale; its lands are reserved for public ownership and for the common good of every hardworking Filipino. Please don’t touch our lands and quit from conspiring with the government over the national auction of Philippine lands to European business giants,” they said.
“This diabolical economic agenda of the European Union will further exacerbate, complicate and worsen the problem of landlessness and agrarian injustice in the country. Are they trying to colonize this country through economic means under this era of globalization-led modern day slavery?” the groups added.
Former foreign affairs undersecretary Merlin Magallona warned lawmakers calling for the removal of nationalist economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution could be playing into the hands of the European Union.
Magallona, also former dean of the University of the Philippines’ College of Law said that the 27-member of the European Union had formally requested the Macapagal-Arroyo government under the World Trade Organization (WTO) to remove the ban on foreign land ownership.
The European Union also requested the government to allow foreign nationals, particularly lawyers to be allowed to practice in the Philippines, according to Magallona who was a guest speaker at a forum on Charter Change in UP College of Law on Wednesday.
Pamalakaya and KMP also accused the Macapagal-Arroyo government of keeping the details of the EU-RP Partnership and Cooperation Pact, which was done as early as 2002, like what the government did to the RP-Bahrain agricultural pact.