Groups oppose palm oil estates in Mindanao
Michael Punongbayan (The Philippine Star) - January 28, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Environmental groups are wary of government plans to establish one million hectares of “palm oil estates” in Mindanao, saying this will involve the burning of forest lands and cause the displacement of tribal folk.

They are particularly concerned about the Liguasan Marsh, Asia’s biggest wetland, which is being targeted by Malaysian companies for conversion into palm oil plantations as they anticipate an improved peace and order situation in Mindanao.

“That will worsen the floods in Mindanao. If they convert the Liguasan Marsh – a catch basin of water – into palm oil plantations, where will the water from the mountains go? They will go to the low-lying populated areas in Mindanao,” said Grace Magdamo-Teoxon, executive coordinator of the Mindanao Environment Forum Inc. 

Citing studies of the University of the Philippine showing that the country’s forest cover has declined to 24 percent when it needs 54 percent, Haribon Foundation’s Maria Belinda de la Paz said more efforts should be taken to “bring back the forest using native species.”

“Instead of planting palm which is known to use too much water, we should restore our native species in our forests. Liguasan Marsh is a very important biodiversity area and still contains lots of forest cover,” she said.

Teoxon and De la Paz were reacting to reports that Malaysian investors last week started visiting key areas in Mindanao where they committed to invest P23 billion in palm oil plantations and other agricultural and industrial businesses.

Secretary Lualhati Antonino of the Mindanao Development Authority told reporters in Mindanao that the Malaysian group was led by the Putraya Chamber of Commerce and Industry which is looking for 68,000 hectares of land to plant palm. 

The Malaysian businessmen were lured to Mindanao in view of the signing of an initial peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. 

The Philippines Palm Oil Development Council earlier said there are one million hectares of grasslands in Mindanao that can be converted into palm oil estates.

GRACE MAGDAMO-TEOXON HARIBON FOUNDATION LIGUASAN MARSH MARIA BELINDA MINDANAO MINDANAO ENVIRONMENT FORUM INC MORO ISLAMIC LIBERATION FRONT PALM PAZ PHILIPPINES PALM OIL DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL
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