THE PHILIPPINES’ BANANA INDUSTRY

The total arable land of the Philippines is estimated at 15,000,000 hectares. These are allocated/for various agricultural crops, namely: Coconut – 7,000,000 has., rice and corn – 5,000,000 has., sugarcane and other crops – 3,000,000 hectares and BANANAS – 443,370 has.

The 443,370 hectares are in turn alloted for the following varieties of bananas:
Saba———————————182,000 has.
Lacatan—————————— 56,000 has.
Cavendish—————————85,800 has.

Cavendish – Cavendish bananas account for the biggest export receipts in the banana industry which is estimated at $1.14-billion annually. That account for the banana industry as the second dollar earner in the agriculture sector. (The first being Coconut Oil). Of the 85,800 hectares dedicated to Cavendish, 44,670 hectares are corporate farms and members of the Philippines Banana Growers and Exporters Association, 30,000 are small and contract growers while the remainder are independent growers. The plantations are spread all over Mindanao provinces namely Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Occidental, Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley Province, South and North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Surigao del Sur, Agusan Provinces, Bukidnon, Lanao del Sur and the cities of Davao and Tagum.

Davao region accounts for the biggest volume of production. Davao del Norte pioneered in Cavendish spearheaded by the late Don Antonio Floirendo Sr. who started with his Tagum Agricultural Development Corporation (TADECO) about half a century ago. Tadeco’s has 4,000 hectares which was awarded to CARP beneficiaries who in turn leased these back to TADECO. In addition, TADECO, through a Joint Venture Agreement with the Bureau of Correction, developed 5,308 hectares of the Davao Penal Colony idle swamp land.

Today, despite the complex problems that confront the banana industry it is still the top employer in the country with an estimated 515,000 farms laborers and office workers directly hired as permanent employees. It pays an annual tax of P6.5-billion, spends P100-million for corporate social responsibility outreach program, and wages amounting to P46.4-billion. So far about P150-billion had been spent by the industry as capital investment on the 85 thousand hectares of cavendish banana plantations.

THE PRESENT STATE OF BANANA INDUSTRY

Threats from diseases and infection, pestilence, climate change, global banana competition and unfair imposition of unconscionably high tariffs are major hurdles in the industry. It used to be the second biggest cavendish banana producer and exporter in the world but a compendium of natural and man-made problems dragged the Philippines down to number 6.

The most recent scourge that hit the banana industry was the entry of the dreaded Fusarium wilt that devastated the entire banana plantations in Panama. The highly infectious disease which is also known as Panama disease hit both corporate farms and small independent growers which do not have technical support from the government or from the other industry players who were busy fending off the disease.

It is a sad commentary that while the banana industry is a major dollar earner and top employer in the country, the government has no agency that could render technical assistance and address its problem in the competitive export market. Not a single piece of legislation had been passed supportive on the industry.

THE BIGGEST THREAT

If fosarium wilt can wipe out the entire banana industry in three to four years Politics and Politicians can shorten that in one to two years. The worst agression that partakes of lunacy was the dismantling of footwashes in various entry points in TADECO on orders of Speaker Bebot Alvarez through his marionette, Congressman Johnny Pimentel, a Liberal Party stalwart who is a new convert to PDP from Surigao Province. This on the pretext that provincial roads are blocked by TADECO preventing ingess and egress of motorists and commuters. Pimentel was actually refering to the quarantine stations that require people and vehicles to step on virus and pathological contaminants foot and tires washes to prevent and control the spread of diseases.

In another show of brute force and authority, Pimentel was joined in by Reps. Rey Umali and Gwen Garcia and led by no other than House Speaker Alvarez. Pimentel, Umali and Garcia are total strangers to the province that they do not represent. Umali, in his usual braggadocio, suggested that they will hold their Committee meetings in Tagum City.

The agenda of Umali’s committee (Justice) and Pimentel’s Good Governance is utterly ridiculous and petty but is the single biggest threat to the industry. They demand to open two roads in TADECO which they claimed and advertise in public as public roads. The truth is the two roads, Bugtong Lubi and El Canto, lwhich they assert are government roads are actually two-meter wide access roads for tractors that cut across the plantation farms and are private roads. The section of the Tadeco-Bucor plantation is closely guarded and monitored because it is near Fusarium wilt ravaged farms of small independent growers some of which had been abandoned and suspected to be heavily contaminated. The provincial roads that meanders through the Bucor plantation areas are opened. The roadsides moreover had adequate safeguards like canals and fence to deter entry on the plantations. The ingress and egress of the roads had foot and tire washes serving as quarantine which Pimentel ordered dismantled and Umali wants to be permanently removed. .

FUSARIUM WILT

The Panama disease had ravaged cavendish banana plantations before it was discovered two years ago. Badly hit were independent growers as they lack technical support. Banana wilt is endemic in the Philippines but good farm practices controls the disease. Panama wilt variety however is soil-borne and extremely difficult to eradicate. Small growers either abandon the plantation or shift to other crops not susciptible to the disease. Corporate farms on the other hand impose strict quarantine regulations and a parralel strategy of replacing the infected plantations with disease resistant cultivars. The Philippine Banana Gowers and Exporters Association and the independent and contracrual growers are dealing with the Panama disease without any help from the government. Sadly congress is exacting the death knell of the industry with men who are not even from Davao delivering the fatal blow.

IMPACT OF THE DEMISE OF THE BANANA INDUSTRY

TADECO alone directly employs over 12,000 people. In addition to this permanent labor force are 1,2O0 prison inmates plus one custodial guard for every five inmates. In addition to these are 250 women inmates who are employed in packing houses. While they undergo rehabilitation through Farm Training Program these inmates in the Davao Penal Colony enjoy a daily wage of P335.00. Not a few of the members of the families of the inmates have settled in barangays where the TADECO-BUCOR banana farms are located. In addition to the salaries of the inmates, family members found modest livelihood. They become part of an estimated 48,000 indirect beneficiaries of TADECO alone.

Wages and revenues derived from the industry circulate within the region accounting for the dynamic growth of the regional economy which enjoys an enviable 12% growth. With the success of the pioneering venture of TADECO in the cultivation of cavendish bananas, other corporate farms and family-ran landholdings converted to cavendish and each have established marketing agreements with multi-nationals. Del Monte, Dole, Chiquita and Sumifru including some seasonal buyers operate in the area. Most of them have grower-marketing agreements.

LOVERS QUARREL?

It is popularly known that Rep. Antonio “Tonyboy” Floirendo, Jr. and Spkr . Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez are intimate and inseparable friends. Against what had been agreed amongst politicians in Davao del Norte, Tonyboy opted to support Bebot in the congressional race instead of the unity candidate Baby Suaybaguio (who later withdrew his certificate of candidacy) and ran instead for governor. It is also a known fact that Tonyboy bankrolled the candidacy of Bebot all the way to his bid for Speakership.

In the beginning the falling out of relationship between buddies Tonyboy Floirendo and Bebot Alvarez was perceived to have started with their lover’s quarrel. As the issues however unraveled it became apparent that there is more to it than what meets the eye. People close to the duo who begged not to be identified alleged that it is more of greed than frayed friendship and their women’s petty quarrel. Between the two, women are no hindrance. So close were the two that despite the agreed political alliance forged amongst outgoing Gov. Rodolfo del Rosario, Vice Gov. Victorio “Baby” Suaybaguio Jr and Tonyboy Floirendo that include an agreement that Suaybaguio will run for congress in the 1st District of Davao del Norte, Floirendo declared that his candidate for the district is his friend Alvarez.

Alvarez friends are Tonyboys friends and that includes Bebot’s other intimate business partner Kenneth Shaw who is married to the daughter of Palawan Governor Pepito Alvarez. Kenneth and Alvarez was awarded by TADECO/Tonyboy a contract to market their banana production in Don Mariano Marcos, in Davao Occidental. The friendship of Alvarez and Floirendo is known in the region. And until today the air is rife with speculations that it was Kenneth who wanted more than what they were accommodated with now that Alvarez has become Speaker.

When Speaker Alvarez declared he will initiate a probe on the operations of TADECO it shocked his buddy Tonyboy and Davaowenyos in disbelief. Alvarez described Tadeco as if the plantation in BUCOR/Dapecol was not a marshland before and that the late Floirendo and his partners did not spend billions to make the swampland arable. (This is the same mindset of congressmen Umali and Pimentel). Alvarez went for the jugular of Tonyboy Floirendo by filing a case against him for allegedly influencing the members of the awards committee that reviewed the JVA which was up for renewal in 2012. Speaker Alvarez got wind of an information that Floirendo has shares in Anflocor which he failed to relinquish. The questionable share was less than 1%. Just the same the speaker filed the information with the Ombudsman which consequently elevated the case to Sandiganbayan.. Floirendo is out on a P30,000 bail..

FLASHBACK

Before TADECO was awarded the joint venture agreement by BuCor in the late 1960’s the plantation area including the vast expanse around it were virtual swamplands. The towns of Carmen and Panabo City were like the classic frontier nipa hut settlements constantly flooded all year round. When Tadeco got the award, the company dredged the narrow and heavily silted Ising river all the way to Davao Gulf and effectively draining the marshland. In the 70’s what used to be a virtual wasteland became prime agricultural land dedicated to bananas, rice and coconut plantations.

What the millennials and Congressmen see today are the fruits of the efforts of the late pioneer Antonio Floirendo Sr. assisted by his brother-in-law Rodolfo del Rosario (who later became provincial governor) and Anthony Sasin, the incumbent Chairman of Anflocor, the holding company of the Floirendo conglomeratws.

Nearly 5 decades had elapsed not a single legislation was passed to assist the industry despite its contribution to the economy and the biggest employer on record. Coconut has Philippine Coconut Authority, rice and corn the Department of Agriculture and other line agencies, Fishing has Bureau of Fiferies and Aquatic Resources, sugarcane, abaca, cotton and jatropha have government agencies that nurture them but banana industry has none. It help bridge fractious Muslim, Lumads and Christian communities as demonstrated in Maguindanao, sultan Kudarat, North and South Cotabato provinces and Lanao.. The players in the industry find their own markets and address problems like diseases and quarantine. The Philippines is losing their primary markets like Japan because it pays huge tarrifs while their competitors enjoy zero tarriff. The Department of Trade and Industry has yet to lift a finger to help the players.

For several decades moreover, the banana industry successfully grappled with the complex problems but it might ultimately lose the battle because Congress itself has become the biggest enemy. Meantime, neighboring countries like Indonesia has opened its doors to leading Davao-based banana firms. When this happens Davaowenyos can kiss the economic bonanza in Davao region goodbye.
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