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article imagePhilippines: 'Our environment is worth more than palm oil'

By Anne Sewell     May 6, 2013 in Environment
The rainforest land and ancestral homes of small farmers and indigenous peoples of the Philippines are under threat, as the Philippine government plans to promote oil palm plantations on a vast scale.
The tropical islands of Mindanao and Palawan are the latest target in the promotion and mono-cultivation of palm oil in the Philippines.
At present, the residents own the land. They grow fruits, vegetables, rice and coconut palms, they use the forests as a source of food and materials for crafts and house construction.
Artiso Mandawa of the ALDAW Indigenous Advocacy and Networking group on Palawan said, “The spreading oil palm plantations are a tragedy for us. They are destroying our ancestral lands and forests and are leaving us destitute.”
“The forest is our children's future. Oil palm plantations only make us poor.”
At the present time, Philippine oil palm plantations cover an area of 50,000 hectares. However, with the latest National Development Plan, a further 304,000 hectares will soon be added, apparently in an effort to eradicate poverty and reduce edible oil imports. According to policymakers, this earmarked land is “unused” or “underdeveloped”.
What the government neglects to mention, however, is that this “unused” land actually belongs to small farmers and indigenous peoples who live there, grow rice and vegetables, and gather fruits, medicinal plants and building materials in the neighboring forests. The rivers in the area provide them with clean water.
Rainforest Rescue spoke to Rubenson Batuto, a member of the Higaonon tribe of Mindanao, who explained, “When they take our land, leave our families to starve and violate our rights, we have no choice but to fight.”
“As an indigenous people, we have a right to our land, even if we have been denied it to this very day,” he added.
Due to the sustainable way of life of these indigenous tribes, the unique biodiversity of their ancestral lands has been preserved intact. Their mangroves and rainforests offer a home to 49 animal and 56 plant species that are threatened with extinction, including the Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis), the Palawan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron Napoleonis) and swallowtail butterfly (Graphium megaera).
The entire island of Palawan was declared by UNESCO to be a Man and Biosphere Reserve in 1990. But this doesn't stop the Philippine government from spreading these destructive oil palm plantations that contribute little to the people of the country and destroy the natural environment.
ALDAW has started a petition, calling on the Philippine government to put an end to its oil palm plans and protect the rights of the indigenous peoples.
More about Philippines, Mindanao, Palawan, Island, Plantations
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