We need our land, not oil palms!

A Pala’wan girl carrying Taro, the local vegetable, standing in front of village huts The indigenous Pala'wan families cultivate fruit and vegetables in small forest gardens (© CALG)

The massive oil palm development in the Philippines has grave implications not only for indigenous people’s land, tradition and culture, but also the country’s environment and the lives of future generations of Filipinos. Tell the government and authorities of Palawan and Mindanao to stop Malaysian and other oil palm investments.

Call to action

To: H.E. Rodrigo Roa Duterte, President of the Republic of the Philippines; Hon. Regina Paz Lopez, Secretary, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and others

Stop the oil palm expansion in the Philippines that represents a final blow to indigenous people’s rights and the country’s environment.

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Palawan, a UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve known for its unique rainforests, is witnessing one of the largest-ever conversions of land into oil palm estates. This has inflicted irreparable damage to ecosystems and to the livelihoods of hundreds of communities.

At least 9,000 hectares have been cleared in Palawan, where the best Philippine forest is still found. ALIF, a company based in different Asian countries, is planning to expand on a massive scale. According to information from Manila Bulletin and our partner, the Coalition Against Land Grabbing (CALG), other companies such as the Malaysian Sun Palm Oil Corp. and the Philippine Dubana Resources Dev’t Corp. are also targeting large areas in Southern Palawan for oil palm plantations. In Mindanao, 128,000 hectares of land are being set aside for palm oil in the Province of Agusan del Sur. And now, Malaysian investors intend to set up a $1 billion palm oil investment in both Palawan and Mindanao.

When President Duterte came to power, he began a fight against mining. He asserted that companies should plant trees, respect people’s rights and prevent chemical contamination that wrecks ecosystems. CALG asks: “Why is he now supporting the palm oil industry that is sadly renowned for its huge environmental costs, heavy use of chemicals, for the impoverishment of communities and their indebtedness towards companies and financing banks?”

The joint call of indigenous peoples and farmers asking for a moratorium on oil palm expansion is the only workable solution to stop the appropriation of natural resources that are being taken away from traditional users. If poverty is to be seriously addressed, land should be used for the food security of Filipinos and not for the production of cash crops for the international consumers.

Please support our petition.

Back­ground

The previous Phillipine government was pushing for one million hectares all over the country to be converted into oil palm plantations. They had promised justice and prosperity with the oil palm expansion in both Mindanao and Palawan. Yet social unrest persists together with severe human rights violations, extrajudicial killings of indigenous activists, forced evictions, clear-cutting of virgin forest, loss of biodiversity, genetic erosion of traditional crops, increasing malnutrition, low employment rates and exploitative working conditions.

On July 28, 2016, a petition signed by more than 4,200 farmers and indigenous people was delivered to the Office of Philippine President Duterte and to DENR Secretary Gina Lopez urging them to support the people’s call for a moratorium on oil palm expansion. However, as of now, the response of the government has been slow and inconclusive.

As oil palm expansion continues unabated, the livelihoods of small farmers and indigenous peoples are being severely jeopardized. “San Andres company is now moving towards the forested limestone formation of Tres Marias (Poon it batu), which is one of the most sacred places for us and the very source of our cosmology,” says a member of the Pala’wan tribe of Kadulan, in Barangay Panalingaan (Municipality of Rizal).

The position of members of Rainforest Rescue's partner in the region, the Coalition Against Land Grabbing (CALG), is to “ask Regina Lopez, the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to remain faithful to the principles she has always defended such as that ‘whatever the government does, the welfare of the people must be paramount’. It is in fact immoral and socially unjust to allow oil palm businesses to make money and put the environment, as well as the lives of us farmers and indigenous peoples, at risk”.

“The government should make plans for restoring the livelihoods and the environment of the communities already badly affected by the oil palm industry rather than inviting Malaysian investors to replicate more of the same,” is the position of the Pala’wan tribe of Sarong (Municipality of Bataraza).

The Coalition Against Land Grabbing, the leading local organization in the campaign against oil palm development, believes that the encroachment of oil palm plantations into indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands and domains without their free and prior informed consent (FPIC) represents a gross violation of Section 59 of the Indigenous Peoples Right Act (R.A. 8371). The coalition also believes that it is irresponsible to push for massive oil palm expansion in the absence of clear maps showing ownership, elevation, land classification, etc. of the areas in which such expansion should take place.

More information

‘Washing out Diversity’: The Impact of Oil Palm Development on Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs), Indigenous Livelihood and Artwork in Palawan Island (the Philippines)

The Coalition Against Land Grabbing reports on impacts of palm oil in the Philippines:

Palawan Geotagged Report Part 1

Palawan Geotagged Report Part 2

Sarong Geotagged Report

CALG letter to DENR Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Ms. Gina López

Filipino company mulls 10000-hectare oil palm plantation in Palawan

In Palawan, existing industrial-scale plantations being run by companies such as Agumil, San Andres and CAVDEL have already encroached on timberland and ancestral domains. See:

Philippines CENRO Report Quezon

Philippines CENRO Report Sandoval

Letter by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples

The petition will also be delivered to the following authorities:

Hon. Charito B. Plaza, General Director, Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza),

Hon. Ramon M. Lopez, Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI)

Hon. Raphael Mariano, Secretary, Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR)

Hon. Emmanuel Piñol, Secretary, Department of Agriculture (DA)

Mr. Avelino Andal, Administrator, Philippine Coconut Authority - PCA

Mrs. Leonor T. Oralde-Quintayo, Chairperson, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP)

Hon. Jose Chaves Alvarez, Governor of Palawan

Dr. Nelson P. Devanadera, Executive Director, Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD)

Letter

To: H.E. Rodrigo Roa Duterte, President of the Republic of the Philippines; Hon. Regina Paz Lopez, Secretary, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and others

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am writing to express my support for the joint call of Palawan indigenous peoples and farmers to:

- immediately issue a moratorium on the expansion of oil palm plantations in Palawan and nationwide;

- decisively stop Malaysian and foreign agribusiness enterprises from occupying Filipino soil;

- strictly ensure environmental scrutiny of existing oil palm plantations, punctual audits and reviews, in the same way DENR is already doing for mining corporations;

- uncompromisingly shut down all oil palm operations that have been found to have violated environmental and health and safety laws and regulations, as well as indigenous peoples’ rights as stated in the IPRA law;

- carefully plan and implement projects for restoring the livelihoods and the land of those rural and indigenous communities heavily impacted by oil palm development and

- finally push for an agrarian reform that sees farmers making a decent living by producing healthy crops on their land and, hence, does not foster the privatization of the latter by large corporations.

Sincerely,

Topic

The issue – rainforest on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks

At 66 million tons annually, palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil. Its low world market price and properties that lend themselves to processed foods have led the food industry to use it in half of all supermarket products. Palm oil can be found in frozen pizzas, biscuits and margarine, as well as body creams, soaps, makeup, candles and detergents.

Few people realize that almost half of the palm oil imported into the EU is used as biofuel. Since 2009, the mandatory blending of biofuels into motor vehicle fuels has been a major cause of deforestation.

Oil palm plantations currently cover more than 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface. Forests and human settlements have been destroyed and replaced by “green deserts” containing virtually no biodiversity on an area the size of New Zealand.

The impact – suffering and death in producer countries, climate havoc

The warm, humid climate of the tropics offers perfect growth conditions for oil palms. Day after day, huge tracts of rainforest in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa are being bulldozed or torched to make room for more plantations, releasing vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. As a consequence, Indonesia – the world’s largest producer of palm oil – temporarily surpassed the United States in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. With their CO2 and methane emissions, palm oil-based biofuels actually have three times the climate impact of traditional fossil fuels.

Palm oil is not only bad for the climate: As their forest habitat is cleared, endangered species such as the orangutan, Borneo elephant and Sumatran tiger are being pushed closer to extinction. Smallholders and indigenous people who have inhabited and protected the forest for generations are often brutally driven from their land. In Indonesia, more than 700 land conflicts are related to the palm oil industry. Human rights violations are everyday occurrences, even on supposedly “sustainable” and “organic” plantations.

As consumers, we are largely unaware of these broader issues, yet our daily palm oil consumption also impacts our health: refined palm oil contains large amounts of harmful fatty acid esters that are known to damage DNA and cause cancer.

The solution – a revolution on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks

Only 70,000 orangutans still roam the forests of Southeast Asia, yet the EU’s biofuels policy is pushing them to the brink of extinction. Every new plantation on Borneo is destroying a further piece of their habitat. Stepping up the pressure on policymakers is a must if we want to save our tree-dwelling kin. Apart from that, however, there is still a lot we can do in day-to-day life.

Follow these simple tips to recognize, avoid and combat palm oil:

  1. Enjoy a home-cooked meal: Use your imagination: why not try almond-coconut-pear biscuits? Or pizza with potato and rosemary? A meal cooked from fresh ingredients beats processed foods containing palm oil every time. Oils such as sunflower, olive, rapeseed or flaxseed are ideal for cooking and baking.
  2. Read labels: As of December 2014, labeling regulations in the EU require food products to clearly indicate that they contain palm oil. However, in the case of non-food items such as cosmetics and cleaning products, a wide range of chemical names may still be used to hide the use of palm oil. A quick check of your favorite search engine will turn up palm oil-free alternatives, however.
  3. Remember that the customer is king: Ask your retailers for palm oil-free products. Write product manufacturers and ask them why they aren’t using domestic oils. Companies can be quite sensitive to issues that give their products a bad name, so inquiring with sales staff and contacting manufacturers can make a real difference. Public pressure and increased awareness of the problem have already prompted some producers to stop using palm oil.
  4. Sign petitions and write your elected representatives: Online campaigns put pressure on policymakers responsible for biofuels and palm oil imports. Have you already signed all of Rainforest Rescue’s petitions?
  5. Speak out: Protest marches and creative action on the street raise public and media awareness of the issue, which in turn steps up the pressure on policymakers.
  6. Leave your car at home: Whenever you can, walk, ride a bicycle or use public transport.
  7. Be informed and inform others: Big Business and governments would like us to believe that biofuels are good for the climate and that oil palm plantations are sustainable. Spread the word – share this information with your family and friends and encourage them to rethink their consumption habits. It’s in our hands!
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