What’s happening in Davao del Norte?

Mindanao biggest dollar-earning agricultural industry is (cavendish) bananas. At an average of one employee for every 1-1/2 hectares, not counting the administrative staff, the industry accounts for the biggest number of labor force. Last year’s January to November export revenues contributed $1.345-billion to the country’s gross domestic product. These are significant contributions to the country as a whole but the events that happened recently is threatening the industry to extinction.

The cultivation of cavendish bananas in the Philippines was pioneered by the late Antonio Floirendo, Sr. circa 19t9. Taking advantage of the government offer to pioneers in Mindanao to develop family and corporate farms, Floirendo who opted to settle in Davao saw exciting potentials in agriculture. He leased 1,020 hectares in Davao del Norte. He saw this while he was setting up his business as dealer of Ford Motors, the first outside of Luzon. Before he ventured into cavendish Floirendo started off with abaca in Marapangi, Toril, Davao City and then expanded in Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte. Abaca fibers was best seller in the world market then. But in the midst 1960’s abaca was hit by double whammy: dreaded mossaic disease wiped out abaca and synthetic nylon fiber, a byproduct of oil, emerged and it was cheaper and can withstand any weather condition. This prompted Floirendo to shift to cavendish bananas. When the Bureau of Corrections offered part of its land grant for development, Tagum Agricultural Development Corporation made a bid and the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee then chaired by the late Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino favored the offer of TADECO over Gomez Cellulose.

Floirendo’s TADECO proceeded to undertake a yeoman’s job of transforming the swampland of BUCOR to the world’s best producer of bananas in terms of best practices and in number of boxes harvested per hectare.

Banana cultivation however is not a walk in the park. Despite its contribution to the economy and labor force the government has not created a special agency that would look into the needs of the industry. The biggest challenge that the industry faces these days is the emergence of fusarium wilt which had wiped out the entire banana plantations in Panama and threatened other cavendish banana producers in Latin American countries. By latest count over 15,000 hectares of banana plantations which are mostly grown by small growers had been destroyed by the Panama disease which is caused by soil-borne fungi. Corporate farms like TADECO, Sumifru and Dole had so far managed to keep their plantations away from the menace of fusarium wilt by establishing quarantine stations in all ingress and egress of their plantations. The Department of Agriculture also had raised warning on the lethal disease by structly enforcing all available options to control the dreaded fungal menace.

But all is not well in Davao del Norte. In strange defiance and arrogance, the newly elected governor Edwin Jubahib himself led a phalanx of government personnel with a number of provincial engineers’ heavy equipment with a retinue of military contingent purportedly to dismantle the quarantine stations. This is the second attempt at forcibly removing the quarantine stations. When he was the Chief of Staff of then Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jubahib also led a contingent of DPWH and police contingent allegedly on orders of a congressman from Surigao del Sur. Why the manic move to focus on TADECO which has a joint venture agreement with BUCOR to set up and develop a banana plantation in the later’s land grant defies imagination.

Both attempts at dismantling the quarantine stations did not materialize despite the show of force. TADECO employees are out to deter the highhanded enforcement of an order which is patently illegal and plainly a display of idiocy. But it is not only TADECO and its workers who will suffer if in case those sanitary measures will be removed. There are several corporate and cooperative farms in Davao del Norte alone. If Governor Jubahib thought that fusarium wilt will only put to risk TADECO alone then maybe he must be off his rockers.

The Philippine banana industry has regained its position as the second biggest exporter of cavendish bananas in the world. Thanks to the joint efforts of the people in the industry. We have the biggest share of Japan consumer market and we enjoy a preferential trade in China. I would attribute this too to the inroads of Duterte’s brand of diplomacy. As I write this, the President is hobnobbing with Pres. Vladimir Putin of Russia and expect that new markets for Philippine bananas will be in the works.

The success of banana industry translates to the economic stability and development of the Davao region which has the distinction of registering the highest growth of economy in the entire country.

The national government, particularly the Department of Interior and Local government should look closely at the behavior of the officials of the provincial government of Davao del Norte. The military and police authorities too should investigate the presence of their personnel in TADECO instead of running after the New Peoples Army which are still harassing private companies and government road contractors. The decadence has become disturbing. Tagum City, which is also the seat of power of the provincial authority, has become the scam capital of the Philippines. Just last week a manager of one of about a dozen get-rich-quick Ponzi pyramiding schemes was shot dead. There were sevceral other killings attributed to the business scam which were reported to be carried out by investors who were hoodwinked to place their money in the shady transactions. The problem persists because the local government is perceived to be tolerating the grand estafa. In fact one of the firms is said to be operated by a ranking official of a politician. KAPA, the grandest of them all is said to have started in General Santis City but it flourished in Davao del Norte because of the obvious tolerance of local authorities.

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte must crack the whip on DILG, AFP and DILG to address the virus of insanity that is devouring Davao del Norte and mayblead to a veritable banana republic where people may eventually have to subsist only on saba bananas.


LETTERS FROM DAVAO: Bato’s Waggly Tongue

By Jun Ledesma

Because of simple math that theoritically extrapolated numbers of rare days of good conduct by an inmate that serves seven life sentences, the nation went agog when rapist and multiple murderer Antonio Sanchez was said to be a candidate for deliverance.

It would have just been a conjecture except that neophyte Sen. Ronaldo “Bato” dela Rosa advanced an opinion that Sanchez “deserves” a second chance. For his knee-jerk reaction and an equally repulsive statement, the Senator was subject to public stoning that he gets from the social media and barbershop talks. That simple math applies only to a reformed convict but not for one who was sentenced to seven life imprisonment for heinous crime committed but remains to be a hard nut to crack.

Sanchez notoriety inside the reformatory is just too grave it is simply loathsome that he be given clemency. Add to that bestiality is what Director General Nicanor Faeldon of the Bureau of Prison revealed that the convict was stocking up on drugs. Such effrontery should in fact extend his confinement. Was Gen. Bato dela Rosa not aware of this during his term as watchdog of the penitenciary? Was his statement taken out of context when he said “nareform na yong tao”? That usually is the over-used line to cover up for one’s slip of waggly tongue. That should have a soft impact except that the convict is far from being reformed. Next time around look before you leap, and in this blunder think what emotional breakdown it will cause to the kin of the victims of Sanchez and what damage will it do to the President who endorsed you.

The booboo could have been a veritable canon fodder for the opposition that had been incessantly on the lookout for issues to discredit Pres. Rodrigo Duterte. What obviously reined them in was the fact that the law that grants life-termers pardon for good behavior was, afterall, signed by former Pres. Benigno Aquino III. Sanchez deserves death verdict not a seven life terms which under that law are served simultaneusly. It’s incredible but true! In law seven is equals one (7=1). It defies logic and algebra.

It will be wise for Senator Bato to pursue his pet legislation of reviving the death penalty. Steady the course because it was this stand that the public elected you Senator. And by the way my friend, get yourself a good PR man. You badly needed one.

Our take on Gretch Diez

The harrowing experience of Gretchen Diez in the hands of people and mall management who should know better is deplorable, to say the least.

We commiserate with her. We call for equality and respect among all, to borrow from Senator Tito Sotto, “homo sapiens”. (Pun intended)

As the story unravelled, there were claims that what the public thought what happened was not at all what actually happened. Then there was also this side story about a transgender lawmaker berating the janitress without hearing her side of the story during a confrontation.

A lot had been said by a lot of people.

Now the real issue here is the comfort room, to be specific, privacy in a public CR.

Others see nothing wrong in allowing the LGBTQ use the comfort room for ladies. After all, there are supposedly closed cubicle in each toilet bowls of a ladies CR.

But some ladies feel uncomfortable to the idea considering that most of the LGBTQ members still have that ever deadly and dangling tool between their legs. So basically, they still urinate standing rather than sitting.

And because of too much attention brought about by the “Diez incident” some people are already abusing the situation. Take this incident reported on a Facebook account for example:

No matter how legit the issue would be, there will be people who would exploit it one way or another.

Thus the best way would be to really separate and segregate.

Have separate comfort rooms for male, female, LGBTQ. After all, what’s a separate room amidst all the “Build Build Build” that’s happening all around us?

But other than the infrastructure, what is more important is to inculcate among the people the sense of respect.

There will always be contradicting opinions in the society, but if we all have that sense of respect in all of us, I think we can all live harmoniously.

LETTERS FROM DAVAO:STL and Lotto are legal fronts

By Jun Ledesma

THE gospel in last Sunday Mass was about the total destruction Sodom and Gomorrah on account of the detestable things they do before the eyes of God. The story of the annihilation of these degenerate towns appeared not only in the Bible but also in the Koran. When Abraham heard of this severe punishment, he pleaded to God to spare the towns if he can find 50 persons who are innocent. He bargained after finding it difficult to see 50 and bargained some more to which God agreed to spare the towns if there are even 10 innocent people. There was none and so God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah by fire and saved only the family of Lot. His two sons-in-law who refused to leave the places of sin were among those who were incinerated and even Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back in the burning inferno.

The Gospel provides an uncanny semblance to why and how Pres. Rodrigo Duterte ordered the sudden and immediate closure of PCSO franchise operators of Lotto and STL (Small Town Lottery). I surmise that he may have been forgiving about some malfeasance in the operations of lotto and STL but when later discovered that of the billions of pesos collected by the operators only a morsel was remitted to the government, he finally decided it was time to shut down the operations of lotto and STL. The people in Sodom and Gomorrah, not only indulged in bestial lustfulness they too never help the poor and the needy. The semblance reeks.

By the time lotto and the lottery was legalized and placed under the supervision of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, the conservative estimates were that it should have remitted to the government about P50-billion. By the time the Commission on Audit alerted the PCSO, the lotto and STL is accountable for P8.7-billion and yet not a single centavo was remitted to the government coffers.

In short, some people are having Roman holidays with the income from Lotto and STL while the government is helping them promote the games on all media outlets.
Duterte loathes gambling but tempered this because of the national proclivity of Filipinos to gamble. Cockfighting is a nationwide delight, “jueteng” a favorite pastime in Luzon, “masiao” a poor man’s sweepstakes in the Visayas while “Last Two” is an opiate in Mindanao. Billions are collected by the operators from these illegal gambling games ergo the government decided to supplant these with small town lottery on top of Lotto.

In a rare chance meeting I interviewed Gen. Alexander Balutan (ret.) who was then appointed Chairman of PCSO and asked him how he would convince the illegal game operators and gamblers to migrate to STL. His explanation was brief but I found it to be easily doable.

General Baltan said that all police officers including the barangay councilman knew who are behind the operations of the illegal games. They are also aware as to how much bets are being collected by every operator every month. The Philippine National Police plays the most crucial role in stamping out illegal gambling, he said. Enforcement is the key to the success of STL.

Balutan’s strategy was to impose a collection/sales quota to every STL operator equal to the estimated amount of bets before they were awarded the franchise. Short of the quota would mean suspension or cancellation of the franchise. Balutan moreover expressed apprehension that the STL operators might just use their franchise as a legal front and continue with their illegal gambling operations would still continue. He stressed that PCSO would rely heavily on PNP in stamping out illegal gambling. Obviously, it did not.

The good general knows exactly what to do but that lavish Christmas party did him. Sandra Cam turned out to be a pain in his neck until it was time for him to go. To my mind then his exit was the triumph of illegal operators. “Last Two” games in Davao region proliferate with strange impunity. Not a few radio stations openly promote the illegal game and anyone can place their bets for “Last Two” on STL and lotto outlets or with ambulant collectors of bets.

President Duterte’s order to close STL and Lotto was expected. Lotto operations should have been spared but since most lotto operators are mostly STL franchise holders too and are operating in the same outlets where bets for illegal games are also accepted then both had to be closed. Rightfully so while the members of the Board of PCSO condone the venality and while PNP is in deep slumber.

LETTERS FROM DAVAO: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Jun Ledesma

In his State of the Nation Address, Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte leafed through the pages of his performance report. Despite the magma of critical issues that were highlighted by organized coteries of critics that are out to discredit his administration, Duterte read through the pages among these were written in blood. He assured his domestic and foreign critics that there will be no let-up in his war against drugs. So Iceland and the rest of European countries that signed the UN Commission on Human Rights resolution to investigate what they claimed are human rights resolution in the Philippines can go fishing for evidence as they please. Not only has the angry Duterte said he will fight to the end of his term, among the first legislation he asked during the joint session of Congress is to pass a legislation that would revive capital punishment in the country. He made his message even simpler for the drug syndicates to understand and that if they escape the bullet for fighting it out with the law they will still end up in the gates of hell. That part of the SONA is for the Bad which in the context of Duterte’s message includes the drug lords and the 18 countries headed by Iceland that wants to conduct a probe the mythical 27,000 victims of extra-judicial killings in the country.

President Duterte did not mince words in describing the pervading corruption and inefficiency in the government bureaucracy. His words cut through the thick hides of those present in the halls of Congress. In the feat of frustration and disgust he wished for an earthquake with a magnitude strong enough to bring down the concrete walls of the Batasan to all those present in the SONA so that the nation can have a new beginning. Of course the hyperbole is characteristic of Duterte’s language but that gives us how the barnacles of corruption are still very much around not only in the government but in private enterprises. He specially made mention of the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Health. DOH? I thought it was only about the rip-off engineered by PhilHealth functionaries and Wellness! I got this persistent information the source refused to be identified for fear of reprisal from DOH. There is in fact another looming controversy involving anti-rabies vaccines. Twice DOH conducted a bidding for the supply of the vaccines but it comes as a surprise why no purchase had been made. Will DOH conduct another bid for a favored supplier to win, never mind if the anti-rabies campaign is a national program and who knows the supply had dwindled?

Talking of inefficiency, while President Duterte makes Davao his showpiece in terms of how government efficiently process documentations and how 999 quickly responds to emergencies, that, I concede is only true to functionaries under the City Government supervision. The national government agencies are another story. It can take eons for the Register of Deeds to transfer a simple land title of a 150 sqm-lot from the seller to the buyer.

These are among the Ugly residues of corruption and inefficiency that mar the image of our country.

President Duterte made special mention of PAGCOR which significantly delivered the biggest share of revenues to the government coffers. PAGCOR Pres. Andrea Domingo took a bow. I think the secret of Andrea is in the data monitoring. She must have finally found a way to track to the very last centavo how much revenues flow into the gaming enterprises especially off-shore gaming operators. It can be recalled that among the first order of the day issued by Duterte when he became President was to close the operation of online gaming following the scandal surrounding the Philweb operations. When she took control of the helms of PAGCOR Andrea moreover, put in place monitoring mechanisms that audit offshore gaming operations in a manner ATMs and food franchise operations work. What maybe excited the President is that the Philippine Off Shore Gaming Operations (POGO) which is played online cannot be accessed locally. “Magpasugal ka pa”, the President who hates gambling quipped during the SONA. I will not be surprised anymore if there will be a long line of POGO applicants lining up. If the Chinese haters thought that it is China who dominates POGO they better think again. They might just turn out to be a minority. In fact I can bet on that.

The National Bureau of Investigation under Dir. Dante Gierran also received an accolade during the SONA. There are matters of course that only the President and the NBI know so we should take the President’s statement at face value.

There are items in the President’s report that are still blank spaces simply because these would need legislation. Among these are the creation of the Department of OFW and the Department of Water. These are long overdue. DOFW because our foreign workers are the biggest contributors to the nation’s coffers. DOW because water is life and while we are visited by at least 20 typhoons that bring rains can cause devastating floods every year many parts of the country, particularly Metro Manila and Cebu are always on the brink of running out of water. In the preSONA forum in Davao City, I pointed out that while the participants were talking of disaster preparedness there is a louder prayer for natural disasters like typhoon and rains to avert shortage of water supply in our taps.

There are of course solutions but Metro Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System had ran out of ideas on how to address the problem. The concessionaires leave it to MWSS and mother nature to solve the shortage of water supply. The irony is that when it comes to supply of potable water there are overlapping agencies mandated to insure the sustainability of water. What happens however is that they play different roles and read different script which result in paralysis. Let’s name them. Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) whose members of the board are from other government departments and regulators. They hardly meet because they cannot muster a quorum. We are not surprise if they have conflict of interest. Then there is this National Water Resources Board which has regulatory and quasi-judicial functions on how water will be allocated. And then MWSS which has regulatory power over the water concessionaires in Metro Manila but the members of the board, I heard, are actually being paid by the concessionaires. So how can you supervise, exact sanctions or order these firms which feed you?

All these agencies should be collapsed and all their regulatory and quasi-judicial powers should be placed under DOW. Government through DENR should delineate the protected area from the watersheds which are identified as recharge areas of aquifers, rivers and lakes where surface waters are sourced from and cede these vital protected areas to DOW. These suggestions for starters.

I was hoping the President would take up the plight of the rice farmers but I do not mind it for now as he focused more on the strict implementation of agrarian reforms. But I still hope that he will give impetus on increasing the rice productivity of our farmers. As I write this I have it from unimpeachable source that there are more than 150 silos all over the country that had been idled when the regime of Cory Aquino took over. Silos or dryers are one of the vital infrastructures that could double rice productivity. But that is another story.