EastMinCom sends troops to protest-hit banana plantation in Comval

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DAVAO CITY – The military’s  Eastern Mindanao Command will send  soldiers to a tension-gripped  banana plantation in Compostela Valley as clash between militant labor groups and local growers broke off the other day.

Major Ezra Balagtey,  EastMinCom spokesperson, said the military would be sending soldiers to the Sumifru plantation in Barangay San Miguel in Compostela town to “support DOLE and PNP to prevent chaos,” referring to the Department of Labor and Employment and the Philippine National Police.

Quoting Eastmincom Commander, , Lt. General Benjamin Madrigal, Balagtey said   “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.

Madrigal  ordered the 10th Infantry Division based in the said province to send its troop.

Balagtey said the deployment was “in relation to the request of DOLE XI for peacekeeping assistance.”

He said that tensions erupted on Thursday when the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) “prevented Banana Coop Laborers from working by establishing picket lines in different packing plants” of Sumifru in the village.

The KMU said at least seven workers were injured while two others were arrested – and later freed – when a commotion took place as policemen tried to disperse the protesting banana workers under the Nagkahiusang mga Mag-uuma sa Suyapa Farms (Namasufa). Namasufa is affiliated with KMU.

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

Balagtey said 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 call for them to stop working, the second plantation workers’ group urged the protesters to remove their placards and dismantle the picket line so they could pass and proceed to their work assignments. “The scuffle started from this,” Balagtey said.

“These people are not workers as what they are saying,” Dizon said. He said they were worried that the group claiming to be workers were armed and would seriously harm them.

He also questioned the presence of dispersal teams in the seven 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 anything 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.

Sumifru had claimed it was losing PHP38 million daily from the protest. The banana company produces over 19,000 boxes of Cavendish banana from its Compostela plantation – measuring over 2,000 hectares.

DOLE stepped in a day prior to the court’s decision and assumed jurisdiction over the dispute.

DOLE said the stoppage of work had adversely affected public good and interest.

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

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

They also wanted the company to follow the regional wage for agricultural workers, saying they had been receiving less than the PHP365 per day, contrary to what the government had set.

Namasufa said instead of negotiating, Sumifru had resorted to harassment, such as Thursday’s incident.

Sumifru has not released any statement so far.

“The firm, which was certified with Social Accountability (SA) 8000 in 2008, denied to regularize its workers and increase wages, to the point of resorting to violence. (It) is (the) epitome of hypocrisy and profit-hunger, this is an added illustration of a foreign monopoly corporation strongly opposing the rights of Filipino workers,” Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao said.

Casilao also condemned Thursday’s violent dispersal and hit the military for intervening in the dispute.

But Balagtey said Madrigal only wanted the situation to be peaceful.

“We are calling on all parties involved to respect each other’s rights, and let us resolve issues peacefully,” he quoted Madrigal as saying.

“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 added.-PNA

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