Rural groups slam defense chief 10k rubber plantion project

Rural groups slam Teodoro’s disposal of 10K hectares of land for rubber plantation project

Four of the biggest rural based groups in the country– the activist peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pamalakaya, the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and the Amihan peasant women federation on Wednesday questioned the move of Defense Secretary and Lakas-Kampi-CMD presidential bet Gilbert Teodoro to lease 10,000 hectares of prime agricultural lands in Bukidnon province for a rubber plantation project.

The 10,000 hectares set aside for rubber plantation is part of the 42,000 hectare military reservation in the province, The project which will cost P 72-million is in joint partnership with the Department of Agriculture (DA), but the defense and the agriculture departments did not divulge the name of the investor on the rubber plantation project.

Apart from rubber, the cash crops like corn and coffee are also considered to be planted in the 10,000 hectare plantation.

“The project is highly irregular, patently illegal and grossly immoral. The AFP has no right to engage in the selling and disposal of prime agricultural lands. The military reservation should have been distributed to landless farmers and jobless farmworkers, but the AFP is keeping it as their own private property exactly similar to what warlords and big landlords are doing in Mindanao,” the groups said in a joint statement.

KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos reminded Secretary Teodoro that the prime agricultural lands do not belong the military but to the Filipino farmers and the general public, and he has no right to act like big landlord or real estate operator.

Ramos also lambasted the silence of Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Nasser Pangandaman on the AFP-DA 10,000 hectare rubber plantation deal.

“It seems to us this DND-DA project has the seal of approval of the Office of the President and the office of Mr. Pangandaman. This transaction is treated like a best kept secret among officials of the AFP, the agriculture department and the of course, the office of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the agrarian reform department,” he said.

For his part, Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap assailed Secretary Teodoro for endorsing the anomalous rubber plantation project, adding that he and and agriculture secretary Arthur Yap acted as brokers of the highly anomalous landgrabbing deal.

“We want honest-to-goodness explanations from Teodoro and Yap. They cannot get away with this latest agrarian crime. They must be held accountable for this anti-farmer deal,” added Hicap.

The Pamalakaya leader said the sell out of 10,000 hectares of prime agricultural lands inside the military reservation in Bukidnon is a preview of what a Teodoro presidency has to offer. “We will continue to lose this country to all time landgrabbers, real estate speculators and foreign and domestic landed monopolies,” Hicap said.

Representatives of DA and AFP are set to sign a memorandum of agreement in mid-September upon completion of project documents such as project proposal and area development plan. The project is envisioned to provide livelihood to people residing close or within the military reservation.

The project according to AFP will showcase production technology for rubber and other agricultural products. The military said the project will also serve as template for the development of other military reservations such as Tumandok military reservation in Panay Island and the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Laur, Nueva Ecija.

The project will tap the services of engineering brigade of the AFP based in Bukidnon to help building access roads to the plantation and put up facilities such as irrigations systems. Secretary Teodoro is optimistic the project would promote the government’s peace and development programs in Bukidnon and other parts of Mindanao.

Meanwhile, the spokespersons of Amihan peasant women federation and UMA said Congress should investigate this emerging trend in t he agrarian homefront, where the military is dispatching thousands of hectares of lands inside military reservations for business purposes.

Amihan spokesperson Zen Soriano and UMA media officer Jay Calaguing in a joint statement said lawmakers should look into the alleged real estate activities of Secretary Teodoro and other military officials encouraging the disposal of public lands inside military reservations to big agri-business corporations and other big ticket ventures.

“The auctioning of prime agricultural lands inside military reservations for business adventures negate the true essence of genuine agrarian reform and social justice in the country. This practice should be stopped and let farmers acquire these lands inside military reservations under a free land distribution scheme,” they said. #

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