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Gov’t action could harm banana industry: PBGEA

The country’s biggest banana producers are condemning recent moves by the provincial government of Davao del Norte to destroy biosecurity installations used to protect farms from a virus feared worldwide to cause the eradication of Cavendish bananas.

The Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) wants cooler heads to intervene in what the industry sees as coercion by local politicians who may be unaware of the danger their actions bear on the future of the country’s top agricultural export earner.  

PBGEA Executive Director Stephen A. Antig pointed out that the provincial government of Davao del Norte—in its zeal to clear all road obstructions—may inadvertently help destroy the same industry that are paying huge amounts of taxes that pay for the services provided to their constituents.

Target of the road clearing operation allegedly ordered by Davao del Norte Governor Edwin Jubahib are the gates to the plantation managed by Tagum Agricultural Development Co. (Tadeco) in Bgy. Tanglaw, Dujali; El Canto Road in Bgy. Balagunan; and, Bugtong Lubi Road in Bgy. Bobongan in the said province.  The provincial government allegedly wanted to remove are biosecurity features such as temporary entry barriers that help guide the public to go through “tire dips” and insecticide sprays for passing vehicles and “footbaths” for pedestrians entering the plantation. The biosecurity facilities are crucial in preventing the spread of the Panama disease or fusarium wilt.

Alberto F. Bacani, chairman of the PBGEA, pointed out that biosecurity facilities as a matter of national concern should not be seen as traffic obstruction. “These should be seen as a protective measure which helps the community in its income generation,” he pointed out. “If you remove these facilities, you destroy the people’s source of income.”

In areas where there are no biosecurity facilities, Panama disease has affected banana plantations in Davao del Norte barangays of Kimamon, La Libertad, Salvacion, Talomo, Lunga-og, Casig-ang, Balagunan, Tibal-og, and Kinamayan. About 2,402 hectares of banana plantations are reported to have been affected by this disease and packing houses covering 300 hectares had already shut down. Antig pointed out that this could have been prevented had the local government imposed biosecurity facilities in the villages traversed by the plantation roads.

Victor S. Mercado Jr., president of PBGEA, said perhaps this incident should help the public appreciate the role and distinction of the local government against national policies on food safety and biosecurity.

The Panabo City Regional Trial Court (RTC) on October 9, 2019 granted Tagum Agricultural Development Co. Inc.’s (Tadeco) prayer for the issuance of a 72-hour temporary restraining order (TRO) against the removal of the firm’s biosecurity facility.

For his part, Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) chairman Emmanuel Pinol said his office is preparing a memorandum of agreement between Tadeco and the DavNor provincial government. “[It will be a] compromise agreement where Tadeco will agree that people as well as vehicles will be allowed to pass through [the road] provided that they will undergo quarantine procedures,” the former Agriculture secretary told a national newspaper.

The Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Special Quarantine Administrative Order 01-2012 declared the province of Davao del Norte as infected with Fusarium wilt (Panama Disease) and placed the entire area under quarantine. Under this order, banana plantations are obliged to implement quarantine and border control measures such as checkpoints and installation of wheel and foot baths.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo M. Ano clarified that Memorandum Circular 121-2019—as ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte during his State of the Nation Address in July—should only be used for road clearing of public roads and not for purposes other than intended, including demolishing structures in private lots without notice and just compensation.

The Bureau of Corrections’ Davao Penal Colony (Dapecol) is the owner of the contested land which is being planted to Cavendish bananas by Tadeco under a joint-venture agreement. Dapecol has already issued a letter to the DavNor provincial government explaining that the farm roads where the biosecurity structures are located are privately owned. 

Tadeco fears that they may face penalties if the biosecurity facilities are removed, since these installations were mandated not only by a special quarantine order from BPI, a national government agency, but also by a Davao del Norte provincial ordinance issued in 2012.

Antig noted that the provincial and local governments should in fact promote the industry since the banana companies are top taxpayers in their respective areas of operation. “Their constituents are largely dependent on the banana industry for their livelihood. They should help the banana growers, and not interfere in their operations.”

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