Farmers, militants protest bioethanol project in Isabela

SAN MARIANO, Isabela, Philippines—Some 400 farmers and activists on Tuesday staged a protest march to oppose the construction of a bioethanol plant here, a project that is supported by the provincial government.

Diony Yadao, leader of the farmers’ group Danggayan Dagiti Mannalon iti Isabela-San Mariano, said the project would turn landowning farmers as tenants under a 15-year contract growing agreement for sugarcane.

Yadao also said most farmers feared that their farmlands would never be returned to them.

He said they found the yearly rental fee of P5,000 a hectare for their lands small and protested a provision in the lease contract that would make them as lessors who are required to pay real property taxes.

Gretchen Valdez, Bayan-Isabela spokesperson, said farmers in at least 846 hectares are in danger of being displaced from their own lands.

But Mayor Edgar Go dismissed the protesters’ claims.

“These … are barren lands and the owners have voluntarily entered into a contract with the companies [involved in the project]. Some militant groups and losing candidates [in the recent barangay elections] have been leading the protest to air their personal interests and grievances,” Go said.

He said most protesters are not residents of the town. “They are just riding on the bioethanol production issue to gain mileage and favorable public opinion,” he said.

Capital infusion for the bioethanol plant was one of the good news that President Aquino brought home from his visit to Japan last year.

Alexander Uy, Green Future Innovations Inc. (GFII) chief executive officer, said the plant’s projected annual production of 54 million liters of ethanol, worth $27.5 million (roughly P1.5 billion), would lessen the country’s dependence on imported fuel.

“With world crude prices averaging $81 a barrel, the foreign exchange saving is estimated at $27.5 million a year,” he said in an earlier interview.

He said the investment’s multiplier effect would benefit local communities.

“There will be businesses established to take care of the logistics for sugarcane and ethanol, canteens and restaurants will be put up, groceries and agriculture-related stores will be established. Every peso and dollar spent on this project will ultimately benefit the province,” he said.

Gov. Faustino Dy III said contract growing for sugarcane in at least 9,000 hectares for the plant would assure 20,000 farmers in the province a steady income. Additional 2,000 hectares of sugarcane fields will be managed by the company’s corporate farm.

Farmers in San Mariano, Benito Soliven and Ilagan towns have agreed to enter into contract growing, Dy said.

Generoso Mallari, 50, a farmer, said he wanted to first see the bioethanol plant built in Minanga village and benefit farmers.

“Let us wait and see. For all we know, some companies may just be enticing investors to come in to solicit money and [when they get it], they [would leave],” he said.

Dy said Isabela officials are waiting for Mr. Aquino’s administrative order declaring San Mariano as an economic zone to signal the construction of the plant. “We are upbeat that this will improve the province’s economy,” he added.

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