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PHILIPPINES: Unfairly sacked farm labourers in Mindanao forced to eat poisonous frogs and corncobs due to abject poverty and lack of food

At least seven families of former labourers who were dismissed in 2003 from their jobs at the Sarangani Agricultural Company Incorporated (Saci) banana plantation for protesting against the company over land claims are suffering from hunger and have been forced to eat poisonous frogs in order to survive.

HUNGER ALERT HUNGER ALERT HUNGER ALERT HUNGER ALERT HUNGER

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

28 September 2005
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HA-25-2005: PHILIPPINES: Unfairly sacked farm labourers in Mindanao forced to eat poisonous frogs and corncobs due to abject poverty and lack of food

PHILIPPINES: Hunger; lack of food; government neglect & inaction; denial of land rights; judicial delays
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received disturbing information that at least seven out of 16 families of farmers who were unfairly dismissed from work at a banana plantation company in Alabel, Sarangani province, Mindanao in 2003 have had to eat poisonous frogs in order to survive. The frogs must be carefully prepared and cooked to be edible. The people's condition is so desperate that they barely eat anything in a day. Some have resorted to grinding up corncobs and cooking these as a substitute for rice.

Although the municipal and the provincial offices of the Social Welfare and Development Department (DSWD) in Sarangani are aware of these conditions, they have done nothing to end the starvation and hunger. No actions have been taken so far to respond to the affected families requests for assistance. The DSWD did not even qualify them for its schemes in the area.

We request your intervention by asking the DSWD to initiate steps to end the starvation and hunger experienced by these families without delay. The provincial government of Sarangani must show sincerity in its campaign to eradicate poverty and in areas of social reform and poverty alleviation.

Urgent Appeals Desk ?Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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DETAILED INFORMATION:

Names of persons in affected families:
1. Leonilo Baldecantos (46), his wife Flaviana (46) and their children Gerlyn (16), Norelyn (11) and Judy Anne (8)
2. Juanito Plenista (48), his wife Prima (39) and their children Jun Ril (20), Juanice (18), Jomar (14), Juanito Jr. (11) and Jamaica (2)
3. Roque Malaras and his three children
4. Felipe Octavio (52), his wife Arlyn (37) and their children Althea Fe, Brenda (16) and Silver Philip (8)
5. Ramon Belgica (44), his wife Marrieta (45) and their children Guian Carlo (19) and Harold (17)
6. Eleazar Alfeche, his wife Marcelina and their children Laicanona (17) and Star Light (5)
7. Juan Escleto, his wife Geraldine and their children Mary Divine (1) and Justine (4 months)
Period of hunger: Since the early months of 2003 to the present
Location: Maribulan, municipality of Alabel, Sarangani province, Mindanao

Conditions of the families:

At least seven families of former labourers who were dismissed in 2003 from their jobs at the Sarangani Agricultural Company Incorporated (Saci) banana plantation for protesting against the company over land claims are suffering from hunger and have been forced to eat poisonous frogs in order to survive.

Since they lost their jobs, the families have been struggling to earn a living. Although they can sometimes earn 70 Pesos (USD 1.10) a day for weeding farmlands, collecting and selling coconut wine, and working in construction, they have not been able to earn enough income to sustain the food needs of their families. Since most of these jobs are seasonal, they are regularly out of work.

Leonilo Baldecantos said that if he does not work every day then he cannot buy rice. Most of the time his family relies on food offered by their neighbors, or are forced to beg for vegetables to cook. They also cook ground corncobs as a replacement for rice. There are times that he and his family have had to drink only boiled water to suppress their hunger at nighttime.

Leonilo said that if they have no other food for the day, they collect Hawaiian frogs at the riverbanks and cook them. Even though they are aware that Hawaiian frogs are poisonous if not prepared and cooked properly, they are forced to eat them to fill their hungry stomachs.

Leonilo shows how he prepares to cook the frogs.

Juanito Plenista, his wife Prima and their five children also experience similar suffering. Jaunito said they can hardly buy rice and therefore they regularly cook ground corncobs. If they do not have enough rice to cook for the whole family, they boil it in a lot of water and drink it as soup. He and his family have also had to eat pieces of banana and coconut for their meals instead of rice.

Fifty-two-year old Felipe Octavio has also been living in desperate conditions and suffering from hunger. Octavio's wife Arlyn and their two children were forced to migrate to stay with their relatives in far-away Ilo Ilo City, Visayas, because they could no longer afford to live altogether due to lack of food. Octavio, who is presently living at the house of his friend, where he is shown in this photo, barely eats anything in a day.

 

Ramon Belgica and his wife Marrieta have had to seek refuge at the residence of their friend. The couple has sent their children to be taken care of by their relatives. They cannot afford to buy food for all of their family. Ramon and Marrieta also depend on food offers from friends. Should they earn money from seasonal work, only then can they eat a full meal.

Although a local non governmental organization, the Mindanao Farmers Development Center (MFDC), extended financial support worth 3000 Pesos (USD 55) for the affected families to run a livelihood project, the amount was so meager that it could hardly support them all. They could not rely on the livelihood project and therefore they have had to look for other sources of income.

The other families of Roque Malaras, Eleazar Alfeche and Juan Escleto have had similar difficulties in meeting their daily needs and meals.

The other farmers who were also dismissed from their jobs were Edwin Ebalang, Marcelo Escudero, Nicolas Lariosa, Susisa Salinda, Charlie Bartolome, Dario Llanos and his wife Norma, Renato Cudog and Mario Mata. Although their present conditions are not immediately known, it is believed that they may be suffering a similar plight.

All the victims of hunger are members of a cooperative, the Sarangani Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (Sarbco). Even though some of their members still work with the company, they are hesitant to extend assistance to them. It was reported that the management of the company threatened to impose sanctions on them should they be found to have helped their fellow members.

Additional information:

In April and May 2004, the municipal office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) conducted an interview with each family, after the victims sought assistance from the office. However, the office allegedly did not honor their request. It reportedly refused to qualify them as indigent, which is a criterion for receiving assistance.

The victims are among 186 persons who demanded that 135 hectares of land be given to them as awarded by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp). Their claim is over land that is part of the 1,005 hectares banana plantation owned by Saci. On 9 August 2000 the Department of Agriculture issued an order to the company that the contested land to be distributed to the beneficiaries, but the order has not been implemented.

Some of the workers, including the victims of hunger, staged a protest against Saci, which is owned by the relatives of the incumbent governor, Mr. Rene Miguel Dominguez. Subsequently they lost their jobs. In April and May 2004, several disgruntled workers attempted to forcibly occupy the contested area, but they have failed. Several protesters, including four children, were seriously injured during the attempt. Both parties filed criminal charges against the other following the incident and these are still pending in court.

The Supreme Court of the Philippines has yet to decide over the contested land. While the case in dragging on in court, the farm labourers and their families are going hungry.


SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write to the provincial governor and the DSWD calling for immediate steps to end the hunger of these families. The governor should also consider initiating a dialogue between the company and the affected families to address the problem. The provincial campaign to eradicate poverty and hunger must produce results.

Suggested letter:

Dear __________,

Re: PHILIPPINES: Unfairly sacked farm labourers in Mindanao forced to eat poisonous frogs and corncobs due to abject poverty and lack of food

Names of persons in affected families:
1. Leonilo Baldecantos (46), his wife Flaviana (46) and their children Gerlyn (16), Norelyn (11) and Judy Anne (8)
2. Juanito Plenista (48), his wife Prima (39) and their children Jun Ril (20), Juanice (18), Jomar (14), Juanito Jr. (11) and Jamaica (2)
3. Roque Malaras and his three children
4. Felipe Octavio (52), his wife Arlyn (37) and their children Althea Fe, Brenda (16) and Silver Philip (8)
5. Ramon Belgica (44), his wife Marrieta (45) and their children Guian Carlo (19) and Harold (17)
6. Eleazar Alfeche, his wife Marcelina and their children Laicanona (17) and Star Light (5)
7. Juan Escleto, his wife Geraldine and their children Mary Divine (1) and Justine (4 months)
Period of hunger: Since the early months of 2003 to the present
Location: Maribulan, municipality of Alabel, Sarangani province, Mindanao

I am writing to raise my concern regarding the desperate conditions experienced by at least seven families in Maribulan, Alabel, Sarangani since mid-2003. I have learned that these families have been suffering severe hunger. Some of them have had to eat Hawaiian frogs, which could be deadly if not cooked properly, just to survive. Others have had to grind up corncobs and cook these as a substitute for rice.

All of the victims of hunger fell into these problems after they were unfairly dismissed from their jobs at the Sarangani Agricultural Company Incorporated (Saci) after a protest over the failure of the company to distribute 135 hectares of land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp). Although the municipal office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Alabel, Sarangani, interviewed the affected families in April and May 2004, after they lodged requests for assistance, the department reportedly denied assistance on the grounds that the families did not qualify as indigent.

Considering the victim’s present condition, I urge both the municipal and provincial office of the DSWD to take immediate action to address the victims' plight. They must be afforded with appropriate assistance, in particular food and government-sponsored alternative livelihood programs, without delay. The department must ensure that such assistance can sustain the affected persons until they obtain alternative means of livelihood and enough income to support their families. It is important that regular monitoring of the victims' conditions be taken to ensure their food requirements are met, and hunger prevented.

I also request the provincial governor to consider sponsoring a dialogue between Saci and the affected families in an attempt to address the situation. It is the responsibility of the governor to take steps to advance the interest of his constituents, particularly where there is an urgency caused by the grave poverty afflicting many of the persons affected by this land dispute.?

Under Section 2 (1) of the Republic Act 8425, also known as the Social Reform and Poverty Act, the government is mandated by law to intervene to ensure that basic needs of the poor Filipino, in particular farmers, are met. I am aware of Sarangani province's present campaign against poverty and hunger. However, this can only be realized when concrete results are being produced and victims are given attention.

I trust that you will take action in this case.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND LETTERS TO:

1. Governor Miguel Rene A. Dominguez
Provincial Capitol Compound
9501 Alabel, Sarangani Province
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 83 508-2165
Fax: +63 83 508-3537 / +63 83 508-2258

2. Mr. Hermelo Latoja
Provincial Officer
Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO)
9501 Alabel, Sarangani Province
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 83 508-2174
Mob: +639206722856

PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:

1. Ms. Rosalinda Tolosa
Regional Director
Commission on Human Rights (CHR XII)
Sy Compound, Leon Llido Street
Barangay Lagao
9500 General Santos City
PHILIPPINES
Tel/Fax: +63 83 553 8887
Cotabato City extension office
Tel: +63 64 482 0384 / +63 64 421 6307

2. Ms. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
President
Republic of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace
J.P. Laurel St., San Miguel
Manila NCR 1005
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +632 2929 3968
Email: pgma@compass.com.ph or opnet@ops.gov.ph 

3. Sec. Datu Zamzamin L. Ampatuan, CESO I
NAPC lead convenor
3rd Floor, Agricultural Training Institute (ATI)
Elliptical Road, Diliman, Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Trunkline Nos: +63 2 426-5028/ +63 2 426-5019/
+63 2 426-4965/+63 2 426-4956
Fax No: +63 2 927-9838

4. Dr. Nicolas Alipui
Resident Representative
United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF)
31/F Yuchengco Tower, RCBC Plaza
Ayala Ave. cor. Sen. Gil J. Puyat Ave.
Makati City, Metro Manila
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 2901 0173
Fax: +63 2901 0195
Email: manila@unicef.org?

5. Mr. Jean Ziegler
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
Attn: Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066, C/o OHCHR
CH-1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND
Tel.: +41 22 917 9300
Fax: +41 22 917 9010
Email: sect.hchr@unog.ch;
[Please mark attention Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food]

6. Mr. Anthony Banbury
Regional Director
World Food Programme
Unit No. 2, 7th Floor
Wave Place Building
55 Wireless Road
Lumpini, Patumwan
Bangkok 10330
THAILAND
Fax: +66 2655 4413
Email: Bkk.unescap@un.org 


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Desk -- Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

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