AFP sends soldiers to 'prevent chaos' at Japanese-owned banana plantation

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The military said on Saturday, October 13, that it will deploy soldiers to "prevent chaos" at a Japanese-owned banana plantation in Compostela Valley, which had been beset by a labor dispute since the start of the month.

Major Ezra Balagtey, Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) spokesperson, said the military will send soldiers to the Sumifru plantation in Barangay San Miguel in Compostela town. 

"Let us support the PNP and DOLE to implement Court decisions. We should not allow chaos to reign in this labor dispute, and let us ensure the safety of everyone," said Balagtey, quoting Eastmincom commander Lieutenant General Benjamin Madrigal Jr's order to the 10th Infantry Division.

“We will give our full support to DOLE and other concerned agencies to ensure that legal orders are implemented and enforced in order to prevent chaos," he reiterated.

Balagtey said the deployment was upon the request of the Department of Labor and Employment in Region 11 "for peacekeeping assistance" in the Sumifru plantation.

He said tensions erupted on Thursday, October 11, when militant labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno kept a group of workers from entering the company.  

KMU said at least 7 workers were injured while two others were arrested, but later released, when policemen tried to disperse the protesting banana workers under the Nagkahiusang mga Mag-uuma sa Suyapa Farms (Namasufa). Namasufa is affiliated with KMU.

Harassment

John Paul Dizon, Namasufa president, told reporters that the incident was a clear proof of harassment against the protesting workers.

Balagtey said, however, that the scuffle started when KMU leaders tried to prevent another group of banana workers from carrying out their job at the plantation.

He said instead of heeding the KMU call, the workers urged the protesters to remove their placards and dismantle the picket line.

“The scuffle started from this,” Balagtey said.

Dizon said that they believed the people who wanted to enter the plantation only claimed to be workers. He said they were worried that they were armed and would seriously harm those in the picket line.

Dizon also questioned the presence of dispersal teams in the 7 protest camps inside Sumifru despite the court's dismissal of the company's petition for issuance of preliminary injunction on October 6.

Sumifru had asked but failed to convince the court to eject the protesting workers, whom it said were “blocking the ingress and egress of the banana plantation,” according to Dizon.

“We are not doing illegal here. We are following what’s in the law and the law clearly stated that it is our right to stage a strike,” Dizon added.

Gov't intervention

Sumifru had claimed it was losing P38 million daily from the labor protest. The Compostela plantation, which is over 2,000 hectares, is estimated to produce over 19,000 boxes of Cavendish banana daily.

The DOLE stepped in a day prior to the court's decision and assumed jurisdiction over the dispute, saying the work stoppage had adversely affected public interest.

The workers said they were protesting the company's unfair labor practices.

On October 1, Namasufa launched the protest and demanded that Sumifru management talk to them to forge a collective bargaining agreement and regularize workers.

It also wanted the company to follow the regional wage for agricultural workers, saying the workers had been receiving less than the P365 per day, contrary to what the government had set.

Namasufa claimed that instead of negotiating, Sumifru had resorted to harassment, such as Thursday's incident.

In a statement, Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao said Sumifru "which was certified with Social Accountability 8000 in 2008, denied to regularize its workers and increase wages, to the point of resorting to violence."

Casilao said this was the "epitome of hypocrisy and profit-hunger, this is an added illustration of a foreign monopoly corporation strongly opposing the rights of Filipino workers."

He also condemned Thursday's violent dispersal and hit the military for intervening in the dispute.

Military officials said, however, that they only wanted to ensure a peaceful resolution of the dispute.  "We are calling on all parties involved to respect each other's rights, and let us resolve issues peacefully,” Balagtey quoted Madrigal as saying. – Rappler.com